The Value of Little Free Libraries

By Britten Follett – Senior Vice President of Marketing and Classroom Initiatives, Follett School Solutions

little-free-librariesEach morning on my run, I pass three Little Free Libraries. While I admit it might be an excuse to grab a breather every now and then, I sometimes stop to see if there’s anything in the little libraries on my list to read. Since running with a book isn’t the most effective workout, it’s probably good that I’ve repeatedly left empty handed.

At first, I found the concept of Little Free Libraries a little confusing. I couldn’t understand why we needed little libraries outside of people’s homes. Don’t get me wrong—I love libraries. My family business has thrived for 140 years serving school and public libraries and working with the unique intellect possessed by librarians. I listen to audiobooks from my public library every day on my run, commute, and when I cook or clean the house. Repeat: I love libraries. Yet whether we’re talking about a traditional library, classroom library, university library, or eBook library, every type of library seems to have a critic. But why? Libraries in every form exist to get people to read.

Most communities have big beautiful libraries with tens of thousands of books. Libraries of eBook and audiobook collections can be accessed from anywhere with a wifi or mobile connection. All for FREE! (Or at least we pay for them in our taxes!)

Libraries adorn kindergarten through college campuses, as well. These libraries are staffed in many cases by masters-degree holding educators who have expertise in ensuring the collection of books matches the needs of the school population and supplements the curricular needs in the classroom. So, if my thirteen-year-old self had asked Mrs. Tippins (my high-school librarian) for help learning more about training to run longer distances, she would have no doubt prescribed the perfect set of print and digital resources at my reading level.

As schools shift away from teaching a traditional textbook cover to cover, teachers and curriculum directors are developing classroom libraries that often contain fiction and non-fiction collections, which act as supplemental resources to enhance or fill gaps in the curriculum. In some cases, teachers stock their classroom libraries with popular fiction titles to encourage pleasure reading when students finish an assignment or during free time.

Much like my confusion over the need for Little Free Libraries, some librarians have questioned why we need classroom libraries. Here at Follett, we’ve received queries and responded to concerns that strong classroom libraries might erode the role of the traditional school library.

What we’ve learned is this couldn’t be further from the truth. No classroom library will have enough variety to meet the needs of every reader, at every reading level. If a student gets excited about a book or a topic they discovered in the classroom library—or in a neighborhood Little Free Library—he or she will be much more likely to head straight to the traditional library to explore that author or topic further. And there will be a Mrs. Tippins there to help.

In the end, it doesn’t matter where the library is located. Whether traditional, classroom, digital, or little, free and on the street corner… any environment that encourages someone to pick up a book is a step toward reading enjoyment and improved literacy, which in turn leads to academic and life-long success.

As for those 75,000 Little Free Libraries that have sprung up across the country? While each may hold only a small collection of books, curated by only the library owner or the last person to take a book or give a book, it just may convince the neighbor kid or his parents to check out the Big Free Library down the hall or down the road.

And that’s a good thing.

Britten FollettBritten is a journalist. A marketer. A storyteller. A board member. A philanthropist. An advocate for libraries and education. Britten spent 10 years as an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning television journalist. In 2010, she made a tough decision to give up a career she loved and embark on a new career as a 5th generation family member working for Follett Corporation. At Follett, she started as the marketing manager for the International team and has held various roles in marketing and communications throughout the organization. Today she is the senior vice president of marketing and classroom initiatives for Follett’s K12 education business.