This post is part of Little Free Library’s steward spotlight series! Being a Little Free Library steward can yield some surprising insights. On her Little Free Library’s first anniversary, steward Tara Choate reflected on what she’d learned over the past year. She reached out to us to share her takeaways, which we’ve shared below. All stewards, both new and experienced, will find some helpful tips here!
Lesson 1: Enjoy your surroundings
Many stewards create social media pages for their Little Free Libraries; Facebook pages and Instagram accounts seem to be the most popular. Social media can be a great way to engage with people in your neighborhood and encourage them to stop by your Little Library. But the key is to post regularly; no one will interact with a social media account that’s never updated. Following that logic, Tara decided to do “Shelfie Saturday/Sunday” on her Library’s Facebook page.
“I occasionally make a book recommendation or post a cartoon … and I post pictures of happenings around the neighborhood. This has made me more aware of what is happening in my little segment of the world,” Tara said. “I’ve posted pretty flowers, interesting skies, and children’s chalk art. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy coming across a pretty little site on walks around the neighborhood and snapping a quick pic on my phone to post later. Many times over the last year I have seen families come down the sidewalk, mom, dad, stroller, dog, and kids. They selected several items and I had a nice chat. I was so happy ‘my’ Little Free Library was a local family stop.” Tara also added a geocache to her Library, which has been successful in bringing new people to visit.
Lesson 2: Ponder sharing books
Sharing books can be exciting and fun, but like so many other stewards, Tara realized that giving books away in her Library was a bit of a gamble. There was no guarantee that whoever took the book would appreciate it. And many of us have emotional connections to books we loved; it can be hard to give them away! For exactly that reason, we don’t recommend putting any books in your Little Library that you can’t bear to part with. Recognize that any book you put in your Library may never come back.
Tara shared, “I put a book [in my Library] I had really enjoyed and that I had kept for several years, but felt I didn’t need to keep any longer. Then I paused. I didn’t want the book to go. But I didn’t want it to stay either. As I thought about it, I realized I wanted it to go to a ‘good home,’ and my reluctance had more to do with not being able to choose the home than about releasing the book itself.
“It’s still hard to see the books disappear. One day I took out a batch of my personal books that I was ready to release. The next day, all of them were gone. Someone had come along and taken all the newer books (the kind that sell pretty easily at the local bookstore). So I ordered a stamp to discourage that kind of behavior … there’s an entire system behind the individual choices we make. I think Little Libraries are a tiny step to try to make that system better.”
Lesson 3: Let go of your expectations
Most long-term stewards have adopted a “let go” kind of attitude towards stewardship. A Little Library is a community resource and people may treat it differently than you expect. That’s what Tara discovered within a few months of having her Little Library up and running.
“I’d always wanted a Little Library, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I just loved the idea of books going to people and neighbors and children,” Tara said. “I quickly learned that you can’t count on what will happen with your ‘customers.’ As I mentioned before, my Library has been cleaned out a few times. I never expected adults to use it, but I have a gentleman who comes over a couple of times a week and carefully selects a book … but only a certain kind. I’ve had to start shopping westerns just for him. My proudest moment was when a neighbor told me that her grandson finished his first book ever on his own, and it was a book from my Library. My most confusing moment was when I went out one morning to find the little metal owl I had affixed to the post had been ripped off.”
Lesson 4: Embrace the new
“From the first moment, book turnover in my Library has been good, but periodically things just started sitting there,” Tara reported. “After a few weeks of no movement, I’ll swap books with another nearby Little Library or my inside stash, and things began to ‘sell’ again. From the beginning I’ve tried to keep children’s book in stock, but there are weeks when nobody touches them and it’s all about the adult books. Then I’ll get a few new items and suddenly there is an overflow of board books.”
Little Free Libraries are full of surprises. Every neighborhood is different, and every steward experience is a little different. Being a steward means embracing the unknown; you put up a Library, you hope for the best, and then you adapt if things don’t go according to plan. No matter what, by starting a Library you’re providing a wonderful resource to your neighbors. And that’s something to feel good about!