At Andreas Duess’s Parkdale home, a tiny birdhouse structure on the front lawn attracts attention.
Instead of birdseed, this house is full of books. Duess operates a little free library, a project that began in Wisconsin in 2009 and has taken off in Toronto, across Canada and the globe.
There are no late fees at these libraries, no librarians warning book lovers to shush and no plastic cards to grant you admission. Open 24-7, these tiny libraries invite passersby to take a book or leave one for other neighbours to enjoy.
“It’s a really neat thing to do something that has no strings attached,” says Duess, who set up his library last winter. “It just seemed to be a really cool way to do something with books and wait for the world to react,” he says.
Neighbours have reacted, using his library daily. Many have intentions of starting their own.
Bill Wrigley created Toronto’s first little free library in 2011. Although there are only five registered in the city, he estimates there are 25 tiny libraries in Toronto and about 40 across the GTA.
“How many there are is very difficult to prove, but it is a success and is growing worldwide,” says Wrigley.
Todd Bol, executive director of the Little Free Library Association, says there are more than 10,000 tiny outlets worldwide, as far away as Ghana. Inquiries from Canada pour in every week.
“When you share a book with a neighbour, you’re sharing a part of yourself.”
With two schools and two child-care education centres nearby, retired early education professor Monique Richard’s home is in a prime location for a little free library. Her collection of children’s books receives about 10 visitors daily.
From her front porch on Swanwick Ave. near Main and Gerrard Sts., she loves to watch the excitement on children’s faces when they stop by her library on their way to school. “Because the books are in a little house, it’s like a magic place,” she says. Richard even has a bench beside her box, inviting book lovers to sit and read.
The tiny libraries have adults under their spell, too. “People love the spontaneity. You don’t know what you’re going to get when you open those doors,” says Antoinette Meinders, who describes her library in the Beach as an expression of the neighbourhood’s history. “It’s like a carefully curated collection that reflects our community’s interests,” she says.
“When you share a book with a neighbour, you’re sharing a part of yourself,” says Bol, who argues the libraries bring out a primal need in people to connect with their community.
In a world that’s increasingly digital, these charming throwbacks promote the sharing of knowledge and entertainment the old-fashioned way, reminding us of a bygone era when bartering was the norm. While users are encouraged to return books or donate their own, Meinders says she simply hopes her library inspires others to pay it forward. “When you see something like this, it sparks altruism,” she says.
Richard adds that the libraries are a great way to make literacy part of our daily routine. “People go for a walk with their dogs and they stop and look at what books I have that day. If they like one, they take it,” she says.
Debbie Visconti, who runs a little free library out of Community Centre 55 on Main St., says the unrestricted nature of these tiny libraries makes them more appealing than large public libraries. “People want to take their time reading books,” she says. Plus, there are no waiting lists.
Duess says his experience has been entirely positive. “When you think about it, what’s the worst that can happen? People steal the books? Well done! That’s what they’re there for,” he laughs.
Toronto’s little free libraries
100 Swanwick Ave.: Monique Richard
97 Main St.: Community Centre 55
304 Lee Ave.: Bill Wrigley
104 Winners Circle: Antoinette Meinders
35 Melbourne Ave.: Andreas Duess