People are starting to emerge from quarantine and as the weather becomes milder.  It gives me joy to meet a neighbor at the Little Free Library box I installed in front of my house.  Little Free Library boxes typically are perched on posts that passersby may take books from and donate books to as well.  There are more than 100,000 Little Free Library boxes around the world.  There are only two in my ZIP code on the Bay, twenty miles south of Annapolis.

The Little Free Library at Maria Leonard Olsen’s house. (Maria Leonard Olsen)

Thanks to the Little Free Library, I have cleared room in my house, gained new books from neighbors’ bookshelves, and added to the bonhomie of my community.  You can either build one yourself or buy one online.  The benefits may convince you to start one in your neighborhood:

Building Community

People long to talk about positive things that do not involve the pandemic.  Sharing books provides a wealth of alternative topics.  Some library stewards put benches near their free libraries, to encourage people to browse, rest and gather.  Perhaps you will meet new neighbors who stop at your library.  Maybe you will have richer conversations with neighbors you already know over books you both read.  A book club may spring from folks who find that they enjoy reading similar books.  Some Little Free Library stewards hold events at their libraries, or dress up their libraries according to holidays or literary occasions, like Shakespeare’s birthday. 

Spring Cleaning

When my father passed away, I spent a great deal of time clearing out a lifetime of his accumulated belongings.  Let’s save our children the trouble when our time comes.  Having fewer things is liberating.  There are fewer things to clean and to keep track of in my house now.  Books, for me, are easy to give away.  I enjoy sharing good reads with others and am unlikely to read the same book more than once.  Ask neighbors to contribute to your Little Free Library.  They likely will be grateful to have a place to donate books, especially while many public libraries remain closed.

Exercise Your Mind

Multiple studies have shown that keeping our brains challenged keeps us healthy and may stave off dementia.  So keep those neurons firing by reading more books.  I try to learn something new every day. Books provide an easy opportunity to do that.  It is delightful to find a new book in my Little Free Library..  And since I am not traveling during the pandemic, I travel via books.  I love to curl up with a good book set in an area or country I have not yet visited.  Travel without leaving your armchair (or hammock!).

I am grateful to have added something positive at a time when so many people are stressed and suffering because of the pandemic.  Maybe you will consider lifting yourself—and your neighbors—with this act of goodwill.

A little free library box sits near a house.
The box sits on a wall by Marua Leonard Olsen’s house, enabling passersby to leave or take a book. (Maria Leonard Olsen)

Helpful Resources

Little Free Library is a worldwide book-sharing network.  The organization provides ongoing support to Little Free Library volunteer stewards by offering free library-building instructions and an online store with library models and kits; giving access to free or discounted books; and sending a regular e-newsletter full of ideas and advice. They also maintain a world map of registered Little Free Library boxes to help people find and share books. Their Action Book Club, which combines reading with community service, is open to all.

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Maria Leonard Olsen is an attorney, author of 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life and podcaster, who lives in Fairhaven, Maryland. For more information about her work, see or follow her on social media at @fiftyafter50.