Little Free Library project expanding

With financial backing from the city of Iowa City, area neighborhoods soon will be opening their own Little Free Libraries, a program that has been spreading books around the globe — including right here in Iowa City.

Will Thomson, Longfellow resident, said the grant from the city will be used toward at least nine libraries, which hold 20 to 30 books for borrowing based on an honor system.

“It’s like building a birdhouse, only bigger,” Thomson said. “Each of the boxes is sponsored by a steward, someone who allows it to be installed on their property and then they check on it and maintain it. And we ask when people take a book, they leave a book.”

Johnson County’s first Little Free Library was installed in Chris Rohret’s yard earlier this year at 2305 Banbury St. N.E., north of Interstate 80 off of Prairie Du Chien Road. Rohret’s library, constructed using materials from her father’s barn, was the first certified in the state.

Last month, the Iowa City Council approved a $3,600 Program for Improving Neighborhoods grant to be used for the creation of Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods including Miller Orchard, Northside, Grant Wood, Longfellow, Goosetown and Melrose.

Although the money could be used for the purchase and installation of nine completed libraries, Iowa City Neighborhood Services Coordinator Marcia Bollinger said it is likely that through donated materials and volunteer work, the overall number of libraries made possible by this grant will by much higher.

“I would expect we see at least double that number, if not more,” Bollinger said.

The Little Free Library Project began in early 2010 with a single free library on the east side of Madison, Wis., and since has expanded to more than 20 states and six countries including Germany, Canada and Afghanistan.

Thomson also noted that workshops are being planned to show area residents just how simple it is to get started.

“If you can make one, you can make three,” Thomson said. “It’s pretty easy.”

As one of six UNESCO Cities of Literature in the world, Iowa City was perfect for the Little Free Library Project, said John Kenyon, interim executive director at Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.

“It feels like the only UNESCO-designated City of Literature in the United States ought to have these around,” Kenyon said. “It’s very much a natural fit for us.”

– Mitchell Schmidt, Press Citizen


Little Free Library is a book sharing program whose mission is to “promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.” As well as to “build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.”

The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, its board members, and volunteers will be actively collaborating with Little Free Library to add more locations citywide. All libraries registered with the LFL and the City of Literature websites will be added to location maps and receive plaques recognizing them as official City of Literature sponsored libraries.

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