To say that the city of Lake Worth, Florida, has a lot of Little Free Libraries would be a huge understatement.
With a population of around 30,000 people, Lake Worth is home to over 80 Little Free Library book exchanges, with another two dozen on the way at the time of this writing. That’s one Library per 300 residents; an impressive accomplishment!
No one person can take all of the credit, but Little Free Library advocate and local resident Mary Lindsey is undoubtedly the heart of the Lake Worth Little Free Libraries project.
Mary’s enthusiasm and creativity are an inspiration! When Mary offered to share her expertise, we jumped at the chance to write a post full of her tips and advice to others looking to start Little Free Libraries in their towns.
How Did the Lake Worth Little Free Libraries Project Get Started?
Mary shared, “I saw a picture of a Little Free Library on Facebook, Googled it and found [LittleFreeLibrary.org] … and decided this was a project for Lake Worth. I purchased one Library and took it to the city administration to make my case.
“The city was heavily influenced to support the project based on the success of LittleFreeLibrary.org and they support you all offer! It was important to the City Manager that trial and error had already been done … and we had a successful model to follow. This was around January 2015, and at the time, there were already over 25,000 Libraries worldwide.
“This speaks a bit of why I’m adamant that our Little Libraries will always be registered [with LittleFreeLibrary.org]. Honoring the genius and hard work that has made Little Free Libraries a worldwide phenomenon is important to me!”
How Did You Get Funding for the First Several Little Libraries?
“Initial funding came through a $15,000 neighborhood improvement grant I applied for through the Palm Beach County Office of Community Revitalization,” said Mary.
“In hindsight, I would would have started with less than two dozen Little Libraries all at once. These little magic book boxes proliferate like bunny rabbits! Subsequent funding has come through donations from private individuals; local businesses like bars, restaurant, art galleries and Credit Unions; other nonprofits; Neighborhood Associations and civic groups like Rotary Clubs.”
Who Built the Libraries?
“In the beginning, we purchased all of our Libraries through LittleFreeLibrary.org, but the last three dozen have been built by our Vice Mayor, costing us only the price of materials.
“Several neighbors did build their own while we were waiting for grant approval and shipping. We provided the [charter signs and] registration, and they were the first Lake Worth volunteer sewards up and running,” said Mary.
“The way our Libraries are masterfully painted has been a huge part of creating community support and community-wide pride.
“All of our artists are volunteers (we provide the paint) and many of them are so grateful to have their work on permanent public display that they go above and beyond to help us.”
How Did You Find Locations and Volunteer Stewards for Each of the Libraries?
Mary reported, “We started with public spaces like parks, greenways, our beach, and nature areas. Soon, everyone wanted one. Our mission is to have a Little Free Library within safe and easy walking distance of every neighbor in our city of seven square miles.
“We estimated that we would need 100 Libraries, and we allocated 25 for each of our city’s four districts spread out in such a way to achieve our goal. People who wanted to be a steward and have one in their yard were assigned on a first come first served basis according to our distribution plan.
“Anyone who wanted one that was too close to one already planted could get one and be a part of our project for a $300 donation. It’s remarkable that so many people, businesses and organizations have donated funding for Libraries and asked that we place them wherever they are needed most!”
How Do You Keep the Libraries Stocked With books?
“We have received tens of thousands of books from people all over our city and beyond those borders … many restaurants, one nightclub and multiple local businesses regularly run a ‘Bring a Book—Get a Discount’ promotion to help us.
“The Barnes and Noble bookstore in a neighboring city chose the Lake Worth Little Free Library project as a beneficiary of the their holiday book drive last December, and we came home with over $20,000 worth of brand new children’s books.
“Another great source of books has been through our local realtors—people move and leave acres of books behind.
“In addition, we now have an unlimited and perpetual supply of gently used children’s and tween’s books through an arrangement with the Palm Beach County School District.
“Our central supply depot is on my own front porch. There are eight waterproof Rubbermaid cabinets that hold in excess of 2,500 books sorted into categories … At the moment, we also have some 30,000 grown-up books all sorted, boxed and stored at the District warehouse—another incredibly generous accommodation the school district has provided us.”
Tip: Your local school district may have tons of extra books, but you have to ask the right person to get them! The school librarian often is NOT the right person. Try calling your school district and asking speak with the Library media service person, or whoever is in charge of book disposal. Once you have them on the phone, ask if they have any weeded books that they would be willing to recycle within the community through Little Free Libraries.
How Did You Publicize Your Libraries and Increase Community Awareness?
“We have dozens of events; at least one or two every month. Creating our big Little Free Library on a trailer for parades, neighborhood and city events has been a huge promotional plus!
“We submit articles at least every other week to our local weekly newspaper. These articles highlight recent Grand Openings, extraordinary donations, our amazing Little Free Library artists, etc.
“Facebook is also a very important tool for us. We maintain a public page as well as private, closed group for Lake Worth Little Free Library stewards only.
“We also hold a ‘steward summit’ every quarter where stewards come together in person to share ideas, concerns, solutions and heartwarming stories.
“I have given slideshow presentations to church groups, public libraries … civic groups like Kiwanis Clubs, parent teacher organizations at several of our schools, and at Palm Beach State College.
“Also critical to our success has been the unqualified support and tremendous assistance from our city administration, our electeds, and even our individual city departments. Of course our public library is our most valued ally and we collaborate on dozens of programs, services and events.
“When anyone asks me, and people ask me all the time, how we did do what we’ve done in such a short time, I tell them it was easy. We started with a fully engaged community from the get-go. And then I tell them, stewards! stewards! stewards! They are the critical component.”