Fueled by a love of books, Middlebury resident Amy Graham installed a small box on a post outside of her home in summer 2018. Behind the hinged door is a rotating selection of books, all of which are available for the community to borrow for free.
The box on Graham’s residential cul-de-sac is one of Middlebury’s five Little Free Libraries — book collection boxes where community members can take or leave books for free. The boxes are typically maintained by the person who installs them, and those in Middlebury are located in a mixture of residential and commercial areas. The registered libraries closest to the College sit on 8 South St. at the Fletcher House and outside the Middlebury Eye Associates on Main St.
Little Free Library is an international nonprofit organization based in St. Paul, Minn., dedicated to promoting literacy, increasing book access and fostering tightly-knit communities, according to its website. The organization has over 150,000 collection boxes in 120 countries — including five Little Free Libraries registered in Middlebury. The town of Middlebury also features some unregistered community-sharing boxes, such as the museum and art box outside of the Sheldon Museum.
Graham said that installing her library felt like an extension of the work she does for her day job. She runs a children’s literacy foundation in her mother’s memory called Bonnie’s Book Foundation, which provides books nationwide to children who may not have access to them on their own.
Graham’s partner built the physical library container, and Graham works to maintain the library and keep it well-stocked. While Graham had known about the nonprofit for some time, she said it wasn’t until she moved to Middlebury that she lived in an area suitable for a sustainable Little Free Library.
Graham said she considers her Little Free Library a success in the Middlebury community. “It’s heavily used. There are people who will drive up to our cul-de-sac just to park and go to the Little Free Library. I see people looking at it all the time, I see kids on their way home from school stop and pick out a book as they walk home,” Graham said.
The library is popular enough that it has become self-sustaining, she added. Graham rarely needs to restock it to maintain the book supply, although she occasionally changes out books to diversify the content. People in the community appreciate the library, and Graham said it has been a fun project for her household.
“I think they’re fun, and I think they create a community spirit of people sharing books and making books more readily available to people in their neighborhoods,” Graham said.
She added that the joy that the library brings, particularly to children when they discover books that they love, is one of the best parts of the library. The community-driven nature of the Little Free Library, where everyone contributes, makes it a vital source of town bonding.
The Little Free Library organization aims to have a library in every community and believes in a book’s ability to recognize and empower every individual. On its website, Little Free Library states that over 30 million adults in the U.S. cannot read past the third-grade level, and two-thirds of children living in poverty do not have access to books.
The Little Free Libraries in Middlebury have benefited the community beyond their purpose as book collection boxes in recent years. Some libraries were also converted into food pantries during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Graham, to make shelf-stable food available to families in need. Meanwhile, Graham’s library has become a staple in many childrens’ walks home from school and family outings.
While the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury is not affiliated with Little Free Libraries, Ilsley Director Dana Hart expressed her enthusiasm and support for the nonprofit’s programs.
“These libraries build community, support literacy, and are just plain fun. It is always uplifting to see one,” Hart wrote in an email to The Campus.
Ilsley Public Library has a “free table” outside of the building stocked by The Friends of Ilsley Library as well as monthly used book sales where books are sold at discounted prices. Hart suggested that both options could be an excellent way to stock Middlebury’s Little Free Libraries and give the community easy access to reading materials.