Little libraries deliver big benefits

This column, part of the monthly Heavy Metal Librarian series, originally ran in the Get Out! section of the Green Valley News on April 5, 2023. The series is authored by Charlie Touseull, Tween/Teen Librarian at Joyner-Green Valley Library. 

Last weekend I was out walking my dogs and I came across a cool looking little library on the side of the street. It was in the shape of a big red phone booth, one that reminded me of the time machines in Doctor Who. It was jam-packed with an eclectic collection of books and even some DVDs. I did my best to make my dogs behave while I browsed the contents of the fantastical looking structure that sits just off 17th St & Stone near Downtown Tucson.

Here in Green Valley, my favorite little library is at Desert Meadows Park. It sits inside of the wonderfully cultivated garden that is maintained by volunteers from the community. It is the perfect place for a nice walk, to have lunch, and of course, read a book.

You might have come across a "Little Free Library" before, often a small box or cabinet that unassumingly stands in front of a neighbor’s house, near a public park, or on a busy city street. They are often cute little places that make one pause and look to see what sort of gems lay inside those small treasure chests.

These places have items that can be taken by anyone at no cost, and no library card is required! Often the libraries are seeded by an individual or group who donates a bunch of books from their personal collection to share. Sometimes a neighborhood or organization gets together to start one.

They are fun ventures to undertake. With the assistance of my brother and my buddy Dave, we installed a little library in my neighborhood several years ago, and it has been a perennial success ever since. My neighbors take items home and donate books to the collection quite often, making the neighborhood feel that much more communal. Just knowing that we are all unified through book sharing makes our neighborhood a bit more colorful, welcoming and fun.

Little free libraries are one of those cool little things that always make me smile when I see one out in the wild. It is a small symbol of community love that all can participate in, a token of joy that has the aim of equitable education, entertainment and individual growth at the core of its mission statement.

The organization behind little free libraries says that there are over 150,000 registered in over 120 countries. While it is not a requirement to register, doing so supports the underlying principles that drive their vision of access, equity, respect, increasing literacy, and providing a book for every reader. If you go to the website, opens a new window, it is easy to use the map tool and find one in your area. Visit for more information. 

According to International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) there are 17,227 public libraries in the USA, and 410,301 globally. While this proliferation of human knowledge and collective will to document, store and share stories is virtually without barrier in our age, it cannot be understated how important it is for the mind to be nurtured and cared for, regardless of what zip code you live in or how much money you make. That is why these little libraries are important. They are symbols of communal empowerment, small places that encourage one to find agency and self-determination. They are analogue beacons that encourage life-long learning and personal entertainment disconnected from the web, but still tied to the ever-evolving human consciousness.

Henry Miller wrote, “A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation.”

So, next time you are out and about and come across a little library, take a minute to stop and browse, borrow something, maybe leave something to share. Always know that in this vast and ever-changing world, we are all clamoring to understand our place in it and these places help make it all just a little better.