Little Free Libraries Thrive in Santa Barbara

Neighborhood Book Exchange Fosters Reading and Community

745 San Ysidro Rd.
Photo Credit: Ben Ciccati
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Whether a fictional or a factual narrative, prose or verse, a provocative book can have the power to inspire a generation. But with brick-and-mortar bookstores ever harder to find and many libraries struggling to get funding, it can be hard to track one down. In response to this struggle, Little Free Library (LFL) ​— ​a registered nonprofit organization ​— ​provides access to books without depending on city and state budgets and without requiring a library card.

Promoting literacy and a love for reading, Little Free Library’s mailbox-sized “libraries” stand in neighborhoods across 80 countries around the globe. With some down quaint streets and others in wide-open hot spots, these little libraries bring communities together and offer a sense of discovery. The simple idea, and LFL’s motto, of “Take a book, return a book,” has prompted the exchange of millions of tomes each year and a worldwide movement.

The story of Little Free Library began in Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009. In honor of his mother, who tutored many of the area children, Todd H. Bol erected a small wooden edifice in the shape of schoolhouse on his front lawn and filled it with books for the taking. It was a big hit, so Bol started building little free libraries for his neighbors; soon he started the Little Free Library nonprofit with an eye to spreading the LFL concept all over the world. Before founding Little Free Library, Bol held a variety of business and leadership positions. His three-decade-long entrepreneurial and teaching experience gave him the insight to create a remarkable business model for LFL, in which profits from selling the little wooden structures cover the majority of company costs. This means that all donations, investments, and grants can be fully utilized to support the mission of Little Free Library ​— ​inspiring love for reading, building community, and sparking creativity.

There are 26 registered little libraries in the Santa Barbara, Goleta, Isla Vista, and Montecito areas. To create an LFL, all one has to do is either purchase a standing library box from the Little Free Library website or construct one and register it with the nonprofit. Then stock it full of Pulitzer Prize winners, fantasy novels, poetry books, nonfiction books, short books, longer books, and whichever books will fit and add to the literacy of the community.

That is exactly what Santa Barbaran Suzanne Cuddy, a self-described voracious reader, did this past May. “A few times I left books out for people on the bus stop near my house, and they would immediately be picked up. This started me thinking about having a Little Free Library of my own,” Cuddy said. A strong proponent of “random acts of kindness,” she hopes her library will “promote positivity.” “I [will] fill it with both children’s and adult books,” explained Cuddy, “and put little surprises in sometimes for the kids to find.” These surprises are a perfect manifestation of the sense of discovery contained in each little library. Cuddy stands by the LFL mantra “Take a book, return a book” but said she understands “that often people don’t have one to leave. That’s okay! We want them to take a book anyway and bring one back another day [or not].”

Cuddy received her library as part of Little Free Library’s Impact Library Program, which, according to the company’s website, “places book-sharing boxes where they can be a catalyst for improving reading motivation and deepening community connectedness.” Living near the high-traffic area by SBCC’s Schott extension and Cottage Hospital, Cuddy said, “My neighborhood is a busy one … It’s a perfect place to have a Little Free Library.” The nonprofit agreed with her, accepted her application, and then sent her a book-exchange box.

Cuddy unveiled her LFL to much acclaim. Mayor Cathy Murillo came to support her initiative and show the importance of increasing the love for books in the city. Cuddy also handed out “some prizes, cookies, and other treats, and [gave] out bookmarks, stickers, etc.,” she said. Her two young grandchildren came costumed as beloved literary figures.

Cuddy’s LFL is just one example of the catalyst they can be for a community. Located near schools, neighborhood hubs, and families’ front lawns, each library strives to spread the love for printed works and keep the contents fresh for children and adults alike. Twenty-four of the Little Free Libraries in S.B., Goleta, Montecito, and Isla Vista have addresses registered on the nonprofit’s website. The other two only have latitude and longitude coordinates on the site, making them more of an adventure to find. So, book lovers, go out and explore your neighborhoods. You may find a book you have never seen before, a book you have always wanted to read, a book to read out on the front porch, or a book to read on your softest sofa. Just remember to leave a book when you can, too.

Little Free Library Locations

Santa Barbara

2427 Bath St.

1304 Camino Rio Verde

5545 Longfellow Rd.

911 Camino del Retiro

5245 Califia Ct.

400 Puente Dr.

2928 Paseo del Refugio

429 Stanley Dr.

302 Santa Anita Rd.

519 E Pedregosa St.

610 E. Victoria St.

309 W. Figueroa St.

1214 Harbor Hills Dr.

266 San Rafael Ave.

517 Laguna St.

115 La Vista Grande

Montecito

624 Chelham Way

745 San Ysidro Rd.

Goleta

6169 Stow Canyon Rd.

530 Windsor Ave.

644 Windsor Ave.

6822 Phelps Rd.

Isla Vista

798 Camino del Sur

6586 Picasso Rd.

889 Camino del Sur

6575 Seville Rd.

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For information about Little Free Library, see littlefreelibrary.org.

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