Arlington's Little Libraries: Take a Book, Return a Book

Arlington's Little Libraries: Take a Book, Return a Book

Front lawn libraries sprouting all over.


5634 33rd Street, North


Once the idea caught on, founders incorporated Little Free Libraries, Inc., obtained tax exempt 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service and created a website at www.littlefreelib....


2241 North Buchanan Street


2726 North Harrison Street

The “little free library” movement has arrived in Arlington. It explains those unusual structures beside the sidewalks that look like overgrown birdhouses. Soon, more will appear on county-owned property courtesy of Arlington Public Library.

Same shingles, same siding and same colors make the front yard bookcase on North Harrison Street look like an offspring of the family’s home. As a creative touch, Noah Israel embedded a photo-voltaic sensor so that the interior would be lighted automatically at dusk. He admits the project was a “labor of love.” But it was made more special as a family project with help from daughters Lily and Anna, who attend Nottingham Elementary School.

The undertaking had minor downsides, according to Israel. Displacing wife Courtney’s automobile from the garage workbench during winter weeks was imprudent, but that situation is ended. An ongoing puzzle is the imbalance of books returned; once half-and-half for adult and children volumes, the adult books now predominate. On the other hand, a larger objective has been realized: “Neighbors are meeting neighbors,” Israel said, “and rarely does anyone stop to look without smiling.”

At 33rd and Kensington Streets, North, Terry Nebeker and daughter Lelia provide a housing built by husband and father Mark. Hearing of little libraries, there was no question the family would join in. Mother and daughter are bookstore employees at One More Page Books, 2200 N. Westmoreland St.. They have access to excess

and slightly marred books and both, philosophically, believe that people should read and that books should have a good home, if only in transit.

In Buchanan Street just north of Lee Highway, a Dad-built display box sits before the Emily Louis home. According to her mother, Marna, Emily is the exclusive “caretaker.”

Her freshman-year classmates at Yorktown High School know of the project, but none are known to be following suit. Emily tends the book collection and then adds personal touches. Potential borrowers are apt to find a brief description of a given volume or a recommendation or some other note personally crafted by the young “caretaker.” Sometimes a borrower will return a book with additional thoughts attached. Proud of her daughter’s conscientious efforts, Marna also is pleased with the “book friendly” atmosphere of Arlington County. “In some other places, disputes have arisen over the free book exchanges, but not here, thank goodness,” she said.

The county’s project is the brainchild of Alexandra Zealand, web editor of the library system. Still in the early stages of development, she explains that one purpose behind the little books operation is “to increase community involvement with the library and to share awareness of the many resources we have to offer.” Zealand observes that the image of a library solely consisting of items on a shelf is outdated. Arlington’s library is committed “to bringing the library to you, the public.” Beyond encouraging reading, she submits that sharing free books strengthens community ties.

TechShop DC in Crystal City is a fully-equipped workshop where participants undertake their own building projects using modern tools which are shared among members. Several Federal agencies supported establishment of the workshop. Their purpose was to facilitate inventors, entrepreneurs and start-up companies who had ideas that could have value for national defense applications. Once Zealand made contact, several members of TechShop DC made a commitment to design and build all-weather bookcases. Friends of the Arlington Public Library contribute cost of materials. The first pair of seven being constructed is on exhibit at the Central Library.

Zealand describes the current stage of effort as “a pilot project.” Once several little libraries are installed on public properties, she will share results with other units of county government in hopes they can contribute in some way to expanding the project. Eventually, Zealand will “register” the county’s outdoor library locations with the worldwide organization so they can be found on the national map soon to be available.

She also will design a page on the county’s worldwide web: (

Peter Golkin, the library’s public information officer, adds that the project is a blending of “library services with public art.” All the structures are one-of-a-kind.

Each reflects a high degree of imagination and craftsmanship commonly associated with folk art.

Kristine Huson is spokesperson for the international headquarters of Little Free Library in Hudson, Wis. By telephone, she offered several comments on the accelerating growth of “serve yourself” book exchanges. “There are approximately 300 of the libraries in Virginia,” she said. Told of Israel’s installation of a photo-voltaic cell for automatic lighting, Huson expressed no surprise. “What our members build are like snowflakes; no two are alike. Many of the bookcases are highly personalized. Some even go beyond providing books to add other touches like free dog bones for a borrower’s