Little Free Libraries of Georgetown and Beyond


The tiny boxed libraries you’ve seen sprinkled around Georgetown are not just local gems, but part of a global book-sharing community.

Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization with more than 150,000 registered book-sharing boxes worldwide. Founder Tod H. Bol planted the first Little Free Library in 2009, then turned it into a non-profit. The organization shares more than 70 million books per year, promoting its core values of “building together, inspiring readers, and expanding book access for all.”

The book boxes encourage passersby to take or leave a book. The organization also encourages participants to build their own libraries by becoming “stewards.”

The cupboard-like stands have proven particularly influential in regions and neighborhoods where libraries and book access are scarce. The free books prove a simple way to disseminate knowledge — and joy — in disadvantaged areas.

Marcia Carter, co-owner of Washington’s beloved rare and used bookstore, Booked Up, along with author Larry McMurtry, has now fostered a Little Free Library out front of her home on 31st and O Street for five years. It was a gift from her daughter.

Having owned the bookstore for 35 years and having collected books since age 12, Carter said her life is characterized by an abundant library.

Carter’s daughter had the idea of registering her for Little Free Libraries (then her daughter’s husband built the box), and the registration “worked wonderfully” with Carter’s life after her book store’s closing. “I live in a house full of books. And it’s been so fun putting books in the box and watching the turn-over rate and range of what gets put in and taken,” Carter said. “Even the most scholarly books go quickly.”

Carter joked that while Norman Mailer’s “The Armies of the Night” has been collecting dust for some time, Calvin Coolidge’s biography flew off the shelf within two weeks. The interest of visitors and regulars alike is often surprising, diverse, and unpredictable.

Carter said she leaves books in French and Spanish, as well as genres ranging from religious to thrillers. “They all go. And I think that speaks to the range of interests and readership,” Carter said.

She also lamented that the use of the internet has “killed bookstores,” but she finds people are pleased to own hard-copy books. “Even if you’re not buying, when you just look around at a bookstore, you discover things,” Carter said. “The same is true of these boxes. When you take a look around at the new items in your box or others’ boxes, you discover things. You miss that serendipity online.”

EmbassTake or leave a book of choice at one of the stands around D.C. — like the locations at Tudor Place, Dumbarton House, Volta Park, 28th and O, the Embassy of Latvia — or become a steward for a new Little Free Library book box in a place of your choosing.

You can view the location of book boxes near you on the Little Free Libraries mobile app.  access for all.”

Image of “Mike’s Purple Library” on 28th and O Streets. The steward built the library in memory of his “dear friend Mike” with the color purple commemorating their alma mater, Kenyon, and Mike’s vibrant personality. Photo by Katherine Schwartz.

 

The Little Free Library in front of Tudor Place. Photo by Katherine Schwartz.

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