This post is part of Little Free Library’s Steward Spotlight series! This series delves into the diversity of steward experience and uncovers the challenges, surprises, and best practices of Little Free Library volunteer stewards around the world.
Laurel Malialis stewards Little Free Library #49788, located in her front garden in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She’s started more than one Little Library, but she sees herself as a “sower of Little Free Libraries” that grow and eventually get taken over by others.
How long have you had a Little Free Library?
“We built our first Library in 2015. I built it with help from my husband, my mother and my aunt. I had never made anything like that before! We had no tools and no space. We borrowed everything and we cut the wood on our front step. It was a smaller Library with two shelves that could hold about 20 books.
“When we moved into our new house the first thing I wanted to do was build a new Library! This time I wanted a Library that would fit all sizes of books, specifically large children’s books and hard covers. After doing some research I built my latest Library from cedar boards and put cedar shingles on top. It ended up over four feet tall and can hold over 60 books!
“But, back in 2015 when I built my first Library, I had been volunteering at the community garden and worked with the association to place a second Library in the park next to the local playground. It was the ideal location for a Library, near a large transit station with tons of foot traffic. The area was really struggling with vandalism and we were told by police that the best method to fight vandalism was to bring people to the area.
“I reached out to everyone I could to see if we could get a local community member to build a Library for the playground and garden. Someone finally volunteered to build one! I painted it and my husband installed it. I stewarded both Libraries until we moved in 2016. The new home owners took over ours, and the community association took over the other.”
What books did you stock in your first Library?
“As soon as the Library went up, we had neighbours using it. I lived in a lower-income area at the time, with a large population of first-generation immigrants and tons of young families. Books were flying off the shelves. I stocked mostly adult paperbacks in genres like fantasy, science fiction, and romance. I had a dedicated shelf for kids books, but it was always depleted, especially board books. Although there are hundreds of Little Free Library book-sharing boxes in Calgary, ours was the first one in that community and the next closest was over 20 minutes drive away.”
What kind of books move the fastest in your Little Free Library?
“Currently hardcover thrillers and hardcover kids books are the biggest movers. I have a theory that it is because grandparents like reading John Grisham-type books for themselves, and when they have their grandkids over, they take a book home to read with them. I also have a decent population of teens in the area; Manga and comic books generally disappear immediately.
“The number of books coming and going seems to be very regular; I’d estimate that 5-10 books come and go weekly. It varies because our winters are pretty cold so traffic is slower then. I’ve asked people how often they stop by, just out of curiosity. Some come daily, some come weekly, and I had one lady tell she comes every month to get a new read—like clockwork!
“I’m really fortunate in that I have become involved in a community improvement project which involves creating native pollinator gardens in unused green spaces throughout the city. I asked the project manager if we could install Little Free Library book-sharing boxes at the sites because they’re ideal locations; close to schools with heavy foot traffic. So far we are going to build three that will be near the gardens with a bench in different communities. The designs for the libraries haven’t been determined yet however they will be using nature materials such as fallen tree logs or built with green rooftops to fit the natural theme. They will be maintained by a volunteer member of the community who wants to take it on.
“Deciding to become a volunteer steward has, I can honestly say, changed my life. I have learned new skills such as woodworking, I’ve become very connected to my community and involved in improving my city. And I’m finding that I am the best read I’ve ever been in my life. For me a Little Free Library is a way to give back to my community and leave it better than I found it.”
What was the biggest challenge you faced with your Library?
“The biggest thing I struggled with was vandalism—mostly because it was so disheartening. The Library in the park had been vandalized at least twice a month for the first few months after it was installed. It would range from graffiti to the door being smashed or the books being ripped up.
“So we installed lights, we engaged the police, we worked with neighbours to help keep an eye on it. We started using the park space for community events to bring people there. It got better, and as the community engagement took off the vandalism dropped because more people were in the area for longer periods of time. I’ve been back a few times since we moved and it’s still in good shape.”
If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking of starting a Library, what would it be?
“To anyone else considering becoming a Library steward, I can say that you won’t regret it. It’s so rewarding, every time you see your Library you’ll smile. It will bring your neighbours closer and you will be amazed at how a little box of books can change lives.”