Little Free Library on Highland: Inspiration and creativity in a box / by Michael Graves

When the Little Free Library on the corner of Highland and Michaux (946 Highland) opened for service in 2014, the first books donated came from the collection of the library’s founder, Laura Meadows. Her title in the Little Free Library movement is “steward.”

The Little Free Library movement began in 2009. Today, there are some 50,000 Little Free Libraries in the U.S., and in 70 other countries. In addition to Laura’s library, there are two others within the boundaries of Woodland Heights, with others located in nearby neighborhoods.

The operating concept of the libraries is simple: “Take a book. Leave a book.” Stewards like Laura operate the exchanges and maintain the libraries’ premises (usually, but not necessarily, a wooden box). Laura’s library is decorated for Halloween and has recently undergone roof repairs and a refreshing paint job inspired by the Jackson Pollock technique.

Creativity and innovation by way of community involvement have kicked in for Laura’s library. When she sorts donations, she finds not only books, but other objects as well, especially toys. “It’s become like a toy exchange,” she said. Toys that have been donated range from GI Joe dolls, stuffed animals and toy vehicles to finger puppets. People sometimes leave videos. Donated books have not been limited to English. There have been books donated in Spanish, French and Korean, among other languages.

In the sorting process, Laura sets aside materials that are not suitable for placing in a Little Free Library. She does not circulate books of a religious nature or X-rated publications, for example.

When someone leaves an actual library book belonging to a public library (we cannot refer to such a book as a donation), Laura tries to get the book back to its proper place. Books belonging to Houston Public Library and Harris County Public Library systems have turned up in her library, as have books from other states.

Due to the volume of donations, Laura has added “an annex” (a box on her front porch) to house classics. An anonymous library supporter installed a set of steps to help small kids reach the library’s entrance. Big kids like to visit the library, too. “Skateboarders stop on their way to wherever they’re going and check out the library,” Laura said.

Children’s books are donated and withdrawn in greatest quantity. Weekly circulation (book turnover) is normally 20 to 30 units. “But occasionally, I get an entire library.” That happened when a woman donated the library that had belonged to her recently deceased mother.

Anyone may take a book from her library, but what you may not do is request a “hold,” a service provided by Houston Public Library. If you are hoping to find a favorite title or genre, it will be up to you to visit the Little Free Library frequently.

Little Free Library is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization, whose mission is to promote a sense of community, reading for children, literacy for adults and libraries around the world. Most Little Free Libraries are placed in front yards, parks, gardens and other easily accessible locations. They are built to withstand weather and to hold 20 to 100 books. To learn more, visit littlefreelibrary.org.

P.S. - In the pictures you'll notice a small stool. This was donated by a patron of the little library. They needed it to get access to the books, and felt that other might appreciate it as well. It's become a permanent feature of the installation.