Have you come across a Little Free Library?
If not, it’s likely only a matter of time before you do, because this homespun book-sharing initiative is rapidly picking up momentum across the country–and spreading to other parts of the world.
It all began in 2009 as a tribute from Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, to his mother, a former school teacher with a love for reading. According to the Little Free Library website, the first little free library was a model of a one-room schoolhouse that he decked out with books and posted in his front yard.
Encouraged by the positive reaction he received from neighbors and friends, Bol built more and each came with a sign proclaiming, “FREE BOOKS.”
Bol then joined forces with Rick Brooks, a University of Wisconsin outreach program manager with social media acumen.
Together, they were galvanized by a two-pronged mission: to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide, and to build a sense of community as they share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.
It’s not surprising that the effort has gone viral, well beyond their initial goal of 2,510 little free libraries (exceeding the 2,509 free public libraries built over a century ago with support from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.) It has also gone well beyond the United States borders, with the organization singling out one champion of the movement who is in Pakistan.
The mini-libraries, which emphasize the open sharing of books for anyone, bring out the best in people. At the start of this year, a conservative estimate is that there were nearly 15,000 Little Free Libraries globally.
In Oak Park, while bicycling in a residential neighborhood a few weeks ago, this examiner spotted a Little Free Library for the first time. Since then, five others have been spotted throughout the community–and word has it that there about a dozen overall (so far).
One essential ingredient in the phenomenon’s spread is that it taps into our desire to share with one another. In this instance, it’s about sharing not only the overarching passion for literacy and reading, but sharing specific books that hold a special meaning, have made a particularly positive impact or otherwise contain information or inspiration that we want to spread to others.
Another key element is the universal desire to build community. The Free Little Library that this examiner first encountered in Oak Park includes a suggestion that people write their names and leave notes for future readers to come across, and then to add their own names and messages.
Being connected to a community of like-minded people is an important “glue,” particularly in light of societal forces that increasingly are pushing us toward fragmentation.
It’s an oft-repeated truism that one way to doom a viral marketing campaign is to make overt attempts to “manufacture” a campaign so it goes viral.
But those two pieces noted above–the desire to share and the universal desire to build community–just happen to contain the precise DNA that are infused in anything that “goes viral.”
So whatever marketing and public relations endeavor you may be engaged in, by keeping those characteristics in mind, you stand a better chance of at least approaching the success of the Little Free Library movement.