Start a Little Free Library on a Shoestring Budget

By Megan Hanson

How can you build a Little Free Library on the cheap? It’s easier than you think! I’m here to share some easy, cheap Little Free Library designs. These little libraries are an option for any budget or skill level and are perfect if you’re looking for a DIY Little Free Library book-sharing box.

DIY Super Cute Little Free Library

One idea I love is purchasing a vintage bread warmer, bread box, or camping oven. If you start regularly searching through Goodwill, garage sales, antique stores and even junkyards, you can find beautifully detailed and sturdy old appliances that you can brighten up with a coat of paint and maybe a window sticker. The result? An adorable DIY Little Free Library that will likely last for decades.

Make the Easiest and Cheapest Little Free Library Ever

Buy a simple plastic storage container, stick your official charter sign on top, set it next to the sidewalk and fill it with books. Voila! You’ve created a little library for free or cheap. The next level up would be to purchase a plastic storage bench so you can stock the books inside and also provide seating!

Using an old mailbox is another affordable Little Free Library idea. Check local scrap yards and re-sale stores. You can even find them on Ebay and various other websites for a few dollars if you don’t want anything fancy.

Turn an Old Appliance into a Little Free Library

A mini-fridge, microwave, or any reasonably small appliance with space inside is a great choice for a Little Free Library. Think about what you have lying around the house—there is probably something lying around that would be a perfect DIY project. You can buy previously owned appliances very cheaply on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace or at stores like Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul.

What about weatherproofing the library? Consider using a piece of metal, old lunch tray, plastic sled (seriously, you know the disc-style sleds meant for one person to go really fast?) or other such item as a roof to provide extra protection. Get more great tips on how to weatherproof a Little Free Library.

Turn a Newspaper Vending Box into a Little Free Library

In this digital age, many print publications like magazines and newspapers are going out of business. Don’t worry! The tremendous growth of Little Free Library book boxes is one great indicator that print books aren’t going out of style any time soon.

Still, what happens to all those metal newspaper dispensers around town? Well, there’s a good chance they’re just sitting in a warehouse somewhere, waiting for you to come pick one up and turn it into a little library. Start with Craigslist. Then call the local newspapers and ask if they have any extra dispensers to get rid of. If they don’t, they will likely know who you should talk to. Check out our blog post that shows you exactly how to turn a newspaper box into a little library.

Repurpose Old Furniture into a Little Free Library

This is a really fun project, especially for teachers, artists, and librarians. Purchase an old armoire or dresser and make it a project with the grandkids or your students. Have the kids draw on it, paint it, bedazzle it, or cover it in bottlecaps. This is community service and creativity rolled into one awesome afternoon. A more affordable option would be to turn a filing cabinet into a little library—even an old school locker set at the end of your driveway would work. Whatever you choose, make sure that your library is weatherproof before you put it outside!

Create an Indoor Little Free Library

Who says a library has to be outdoors? I know of dozens of little libraries placed indoors in waiting rooms, vestibules, schools, daycare centers and coffee shops. As long as your book-sharing box is registered with an official charter sign, it doesn’t have to be a small wooden box. It can be as simple as a bookshelf, wheel barrow or plastic tub of books. One of the libraries pictured above is located in a VA clinic waiting room and has been a valuable resource there. Here’s another idea: if you have a covered porch, take a cabinet or night stand and fill it with books.

Start a Mobile Little Free Library

Here’s a competitor for the easiest Little Free Library ever: find a vintage suitcase at any of the stores we’ve mentioned above, fill it with books, and carry it around with you wherever you go. Do you drive a cab or a shuttle for the elderly? Put the suitcase in your vehicle and off you go. 

Another option is to purchase a simple red wagon (or use your kid’s old wagon) and a plastic storage unit or cabinet from a craft store. Put the cabinet in the wagon and take it on your morning walk. Caution: Kids may joyfully run after you in the street. You’ll be more popular than the ice cream truck. Author Jane Green (pictured above) created The Remarkable Bookcycle which regularly tours her Connecticut neighborhood.

For even more creative ideas, check out our Instagram page. Are you ready to start a library right now? Get our Insider’s Guide to starting your own Little Free Library or check out our free step-by-step library plans and blueprints.

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