Little Free Libraries

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Abstract

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, bring a book” free book exchange. The libraries come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box, mounted in front of a house, that the individual fills with books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share. I examine how little free libraries change our relationship to books that circulate on loan. Public and private lending libraries have clearly articulated conventions that establish a contract between library and borrower. Little Free Libraries, on the other hand, forego a contractual relationship. I interrogate, for example, what it means for a book to be deemed “free” from cataloguing, from membership requirements, from records of circulation, from return. There is a playful anarchy in the world of these libraries. Through interviews with stewards in Takoma Park, Maryland, I analyze both what these sites of exchange mean on a personal level and what they mean on a community level. In this community study, I explore what custodianship means to various stewards—from learning why they choose to stock particular books to interactions they have with those who take books from their libraries.