What are these structures popping up along the sidewalks of Berkeley? Big birdhouses? Doll houses? Or are they homes small enough to actually be affordable in this crazy real estate market? Nope. None of the above. They are actually part of a worldwide phenomenon called Little Free Libraries.
Berkeley now has over 20 of these charming mini-libraries that have become neighborhood meeting spots for book lovers of all ages. The idea is simple: Take a book, return a book.
It all started in 2009 in Wisconsin when Todd Bol built a small replica of a one-room schoolhouse to honor his mother, who had been a teacher. It was set on a post outside his home and filled with books that were free to passers-by, who then returned them or brought other books to share.
The idea grew, and Bol partnered with Rick Brooks soon after to launch the Little Free Library nonprofit. An early goal was to build more little libraries than Andrew Carnegie’s 2,509 real libraries constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That number was easily surpassed. There are more than 18,000 Little Libraries officially registered on a world map on the group’s website, where you can zoom in on your neighborhood to see where the closest one to you might be.
The website also has an assortment of different makes and models of libraries you can order but, this being Berkeley, we are lucky to have lots of interesting and unusual designs to house books.
Who can resist the library with a living roof that is near several community gardens on Santa Fe Avenue? Or the tall, thin, three-shelved box lit up with a solar panel on The Arlington? Or the earliest Little Library in town up on Santa Barbara near Marin (registered #1449), with the small notebook to sign out your books? Or the one on Sonoma near Neilson that is made from a wooden wine crate? Each library has its charms — and its steward, as the owners and caretakers of Little Libraries are called.