Take a Book, Share a Book

The Little Free Library movement expands across the state with free books and other quirky items to share.
Courtesy of the little free library community.

Little Free Libraries have been offering complimentary books in Rhode Island for years. Now more than 100 charming wooden boxes are propped up on posts or fences outside local homes, schools, businesses and churches from Misquamicut to Newport to Cumberland. Katy Westcott took the idea one step further, offering free craft, fiber and art supplies in her new Little Craft Supply Library on Nelson Street in Providence.

The movement to build community, inspire readers and expand book access was started by Todd Bol in Wisconsin in 2009, and has grown to share 42 million books in more than 100,000 Little Free Libraries across the world. It launched a unique Read in Color program in 2020 to “distribute books that provide perspectives on racism and social justice; celebrate BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized voices; and incorporate experiences from all identities for all readers.”


Courtesy of the little free library community.

Each library and its contents are as unique as its owner. Some build the library kiosk from scratch, while others, like Westcott and Lisa McNulty and Bill Gonzalez, buy the pre-fabricated model from the nonprofit organization. McNulty and Gonzalez painted their Montauk Avenue library in Misquamicut in 2018 with the poem “Why Read?” and an illustration from The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. It grew so much that they added an adjacent children’s and young adult book shed. It’s also one of 1,725 geocache sites in Westerly, and it has its own blog.

“Our library is successful because the community of the Misquamicut Fire District and its guests have embraced it. Even though this is technically a beach community, the library is used year-round,” McNulty says. “Our neighbors not only use the library but also help keep it stocked.”

Scouting the state for free libraries is a literary adventure. From Ball O’Brien Park on Block Island to the Brain Box on Regina Drive in West Greenwich, or the St. Antoine Library on Rhodes Avenue in North Smithfield to Gaspee Library on East View Street in Warwick’s Pawtuxet Village, readers are bound to find something unexpected.

“We see it as a gift to the community,” says Claudia Helt, who launched her Weaver Avenue, Newport, library with Susan Barnes last fall using their own collection as well as friends’ donations, then added reading glasses, children’s books, CDs and puzzles. “We came here from Minneapolis, where everywhere you go there is a library. They’re such a delight, and it’s wonderful to see someone stop by.” littlefreelibrary.org