Resembling a kind of oversized birdhouse atop a post, Little Free Libraries are sprouting up everywhere in New Orleans, offering anyone the chance to take or exchange a book at any time, for free.
“I believe there are about 40 around the city now,” said Linda Prout, the woman responsible for bringing the first Little Free Library to New Orleans two years ago as a Christmas gift for her husband.
As the official steward or librarian of her library in her neighborhood of Tall Timbers in Algiers, Prout is responsible for keeping the little library stocked with books for all ages.
“Anyone is welcome to come by and borrow any of the books for as long as they wish,” Prout said. “Some may keep them for good, while others donate their own books.”
While anyone is welcome to build their own Little Free Library (plans are available at LittleFreeLibrary.org), Prout is looking for a steward for what she calls “the most spectacular Little Free Library I’ve ever seen.”
Donated to New Orleans by the Little Free Library organization, this particular library has been hand-painted with familiar New Orleans scenes.
“If anyone would like to steward this library, they just need to write a one-page letter, no more than 500 words, explaining ‘Why I want a Little Free Library and what it would do for my neighborhood,’ ” Prout said. “Please include your name, address, phone number and email address at the top of your letter.”
Letters will be accepted until May 31, and should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
But why have Little Free Libraries when there are full-sized libraries spread throughout the city? Prout says the answer lies in one word: accessibility.
“It’s just so easy for people to get to — children in particular. We see children walking to school and they’ll stop and grab a book. They don’t need a library card, they don’t need their parents to take them and there’s never any fines,” Prout said.
“Shortly after I got my library, the city began offering “Love Your Block” grants, and I was able to use one to create 10 more libraries.”
To find volunteer stewards for her structures, Prout asked that those interested submit a letter detailing why their neighborhood should have a Little Free Library.
A letter from Nikki Leali, just 6 years old at the time, caught the judges’ attention.
“You could tell she wrote the letter herself, and even illustrated it, drawing a picture of herself next to a rainbow-colored library,” Prout said. “She ended her letter with the question, ‘And what do YOU like to read?’ It was just priceless.”
Nikki, 8, won her Little Free Library and installed it near her home, just off Louisiana Avenue, two years ago. In addition to keeping her library stocked, she created a small surrounding garden that she tends to.
“She checks on the library and garden every day,” said Joelle Leali, Nikki’s mom. “She’s kind of an organizational freak, so this is perfect for her. She loves to organize all the books.”
“The top shelf are adult books and the bottom shelf is for kids,” Nikki said.
The Lealis estimate they give away about 50 books a day to children, locals and tourists.
In order to keep her library stocked, Nikki has conducted two Little Free Book donation/exchange events. The first was outside of her house last year and brought in about 1,900 donated books.
This year’s event was held April 12 at Hollygrove Market. Nikki organized the event to coincide with Global Youth Service Day, the largest service event in the world and the only day of service dedicated to children and youths. Established in 1988, Global Youth Service Day is actually three days — this year, April 11-13 — and is celebrated in more than 135 countries.
Nikki’s event invited New Orleanians to donate or exchange books while nine volunteers from Americorp and Communities in Schools worked to build two more Little Free Libraries to be installed in Central City.
As the city’s youngest Little Librarian, Nikki has done an “excellent job,” Prout says. “My husband said he’d buy stock in her if he could,” Prout said.