Tag Archives: LFL

Little Free Library at SOMOS in Taos, NM

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The storefront of SOMOS, the Literary Society of Taos. Can you spot the Little Free Library in this photo?

In the fall of 2019, I found myself in Taos, NM. I tried to park in a parking lot, but my vehicle was just too big for the tiny spaces. I made the block and found a parking spot in front of SOMOS. It was a metered parking space, but I wasn’t going to be long, so I fished a few coins from my pocket to drop in the slot.

SOMOS bills itself as “a place for words in Taos, New Mexico.” The letters in the acronym stand for the “Society of the Muse of the Southwest.” The History section of the group’s About page explains,

…literature has played a prominent role in the area’s rich cultural landscape. As the literary arts flourished, the need for formal community support became apparent, which ultimately led to the nonprofit incorporation of SOMOS…in 1983.

Since then, we have expanded into our present role as a respected literary resource center whose outreach extends to the greater community of Northern New Mexico— and beyond. Our live readings, workshops, conferences, and festivals not only showcase accomplished writers but also encourage creativity in novice writers from all walks of life.

The group’s aforementioned About page says,

[o]ur space has a large room that doubles as a book store and a salon for literary gatherings, two separate classrooms, a ten-space parking lot in back, and lots of on-street parking out front.

I’d never been inside SOMOS, and unfortunately that day I didn’t have time to stop in. My plan was to hop out of my vehicle, drop a few coins in the meter, run my errand, and be on my way. Imagine my delight when, upon stepping toward the parking meter, I saw a Little Free Library in front of the SOMOS building. I certainly had to take a few moments to check out the little library and take a few photos for documentation.

If you haven’t read my past posts about Little Free Libraries (LFLs) I’ve visited in Los Gatos, CA; Santa Fe, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Phoenix, AZ; Mesa, AZ; and even others in Taos, NM, you may not know anything about these manifestations of gift economy.

The Little Free Library organization calls itself the “world’s largest book-sharing movement!” The group’s website says the “Little Free Library Sharing Network [is] 90,000 Little Free Libraries strong!”

Side view of the Little Free Library in front of SOMOS.

On the group’s Who We Are webpage, we learn

Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.

Through Little Free Library book exchanges, millions of books are exchanged each year, profoundly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Not everyone believes all of the above assertions to be true. In the 2017 article “Against Little Free Libraries,” author Kriston Capps outlines the case Canadian librarians made against the Little Free Library organization in an article for the Journal of Radical Librarianship. The main critiques are that registered Little Free Libraries

predominantly appear in medium-to-high-income neighborhoods,..are distributed almost exclusively in neighborhoods where 25 percent or more residents have university degrees, [and]…sprout where public library branches are plentiful and where neighborhoods are white.

In reality, these librarian researchers only studied two Canadian cities, Toronto and Calgary.

“Despite the fact that we’ve just done a case study of two Canadian cities that are probably not entirely representative of the locations of Little Free Libraries across the world, they did raise and confirm our suspicions toward the organization,” Hale [one of the librarian researchers] says.

View of the other side of the Little Free Library outside of SOMOS

While I know many Little Free Libraries are located in front of residences, several of the ones I have encountered were in totally public areas. In Taos County, I’ve visited registered Little Free Libraries in front of a medical center, the town recreation center, and the community well in a rural area. In Phoenix, I saw a Little Free Library on Grand Avenue in an artsy, commercial district.

Another book-sharing option is what I call “renegade” Little Free Libraries. The sharing box I discovered in the Santa Fe dog park was labeled “free little library,” not “Little Free Library” and did not have a charter number. While the library in the Mesa, AZ pocket park was labeled “Little Free Library,” it did not seem to be registered with the Little Free Library organization. What I at first thought was a registered LFL in Heritage Square in Flagstaff, AZ sported a sign calling it a “Little Library” and did not have a charter number.

In the October 2019 Publisher’s Weekly article “Little Free Library, Founder’s Family Clash Over Organization’s Direction” author Claire Kirch reports the Little Free Library

organization filed three separate applications for new trademarks with the U.S. Patent Office regarding the term, ‘Little Free Library,’ used in connection with the words, ‘wooden boxes with a storage area for books,’ and ‘signs, non-luminous and non-mechanical, of metal,’ and ‘guest books and rubber stamps.’

The article goes on to share the point of view of Greig Metzger, the executive director of the Little Free Library organization.

Metzger explains that LFL works with like-minded nonprofits all over the world to advance literacy, and that it provides support for those who want to ‘go their own way” and not register their box with LFL, even providing instructions for those who want to construct their own book boxes rather than purchase them from the organization.

But, he adds, LFL does not condone for-profit businesses…making money off of the concept by selling products using the LFL trademark.

In any case, the Little Free Library outside of SOMOS has no reason to worry because it is registered with charter number 42532. It’s decorated with ravens, a bird seen often in Northern New Mexico, and the flowers and mountains of the region. I love its bright colors.

I didn’t take any books from this library, and unfortunately, I didn’t have any books with me to contribute. I’m glad to know there is another Little Free Library option, this one in the heart of the town of Taos.

I took the photos in this post.

Renegade Little Free Library in Flagstaff, AZ

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The Man and I were van camping in Coconino National Forest just outside Flagstaff, Arizona. It was September of 2018. We were hanging out there where it was cool before making our way to our fifth wheel in Why, AZ where it was still hot. Several days a week I drove into town to work on my blog at the public library.

To get from our campsite to the library, I took Highway 180. For part of the way on that road, I could see a sidewalk and houses on my right. One day I noticed there was a Little Free Library in front of one of the houses.

For folks who don’t know, the Little Free Library website says this about Little Free Libraries,

anyone may contribute or take books…If you take a book (or two) from a Library, you do not need to return that exact book. However, in order to keep the Little Library full of good choices for the whole neighborhood, the next time you swing by the Library bring a few books to share. Little Library book exchanges function on the honor system; everyone contributes to ensure there are always quality books inside.

I love Little Free Libraries and love to visit them. I’ve encountered them in Los Gatos, CA; Mesa and Phoenix, AZ;  and Santa Fe and Taos, NM. I was excited to see one in Flagstaff too. I knew I wanted to visit this one before I left town, especially since I had a stack of books I wanted to donate.

On the day I’d decided to visit this particular Little Free Library (LFL), I had a heck of a time getting to it. The house it belonged to was the last on a dead end street, so while I could see the house from the highway, I couldn’t get to it from there. I had to go about half a mile to find an entrance into the subdivision in which the LFL was located. While I knew the general direction in which to find the LFL, I hadn’t seen a street sign telling me its particular location. I drove my big hippie van through the neighborhood and took several wrong turns down dead end streets and into cul-de-sacs before I found the right place.

Not long before my visit to Flagstaff a friend living in a city in the Midwest wanted to build a Little Free Library in front of her home, but her teenage daughter protested. The girl thought it weird that strangers would be hanging out in front of her house while browsing through the books in the LFL. My friend deferred to her daughter’s wishes, delaying her LFL plans until her kid moves into her own place in a few years. I thought of my friend and her daughter as I pulled up on the LFL. Was I a weirdo for stopping in front of the homes of strangers in the pursuit of books? Weren’t Little Free Libraries in the world to give strangers opportunities to pursue books?

I might not have given it a second thought before, but now it seemed weird to park right in front of the house which hosted the Little Free Library. I decided to park across the street and walk over.

I didn’t feel entirely like a weirdo because I had books to offer to the LFL. I might be weird for taking, but certainly my character wouldn’t be questioned since I was making a donation.

This photo shows the renegade Little Free Library I discovered in Flagstaff, AZ.

The Little Free Library was made from a metal box, probably the sort that had once held free local papers focusing on arts, culture, and entertainment. The bottom section of the box now sported a volcano scene. The volcano had been painted and objects glued on to give the scene three dimensions. The door of the box had been decorated with a map, but I can’t remember (or tell from my own photos) what part of the world it depicted. Over the map someone had written “Little Free Library” so there was no mistaking what was going on even though the LFL was a renegade, not registered with the official Little Free Library organization and lacking a charter number.

One side of the box was decorated with numbers, letters, and symbols. The other side showed a bare-branch tree and an asymmetrical butterfly. There was plenty of room on that side for more drawings to be added later.

I looked through the LFL’s offerings, even though I had plenty of books but not much space in my life at the moment. How could a bibliophile pass an offering of free books without even checking to see what was available? Maybe others could do it, but I could not.

Most of the books in the library were for young kids; I didn’t need those books, so I left them behind for someone who did. I did find a large hardback book claiming to offer money-saving household tips (As seen on TV, the cover proclaimed.) I can always use money-saving household tips, so I scooped up that book and took it with me. (Money-saving household tip #1: Don’t pay for books you can get from Little Free Libraries.)

These are the books I left in the Little Free Library.

I would have been perfectly happy even if I hadn’t gotten a book from the LFL. I am happy enough just to visit Little Free Libraries, to see how they are decorated, to appreciate the unique qualities of each one, to see them housing books that folks can come and take with no out-of-pocket expense. I’m also happy when I can share books I no longer need or want by dropping them off in a Little Free Library. Getting a book from a LFL is really just a bonus. 

I took the photos in this post.

Detail of volcano on the front of the Little Free Library

Renegade Little Free Library in Phoenix, AZ

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The last Little Free Library (LFL) Nolagirl and I visited in Phoenix on the November day of our excursion was on 5th Street. Nolagirl remembered seeing it there, so we went to its neighborhood especially to check it out.

Little Free Libraries are part of the gift economy of books. Anyone can leave a book in a Little Free Library and anyone can take a book too! Some LFLs are “official.” The Little Free Library FAQ says,

There is…[a] one-time payment of about $40 to register each Library that you build. When you register, you get a charter sign engraved with a unique charter number. Your unique charter number gives you the option to add your Library to the world map. You also get access to discounted books and a private Facebook support group

This photo shows a renegade Little Free Library in Phoenix, AZ

The LFL on 5th Street was what I call a renegade Little Free Library. It didn’t have an official sign, much less a charter number. Someone built a box, added a door and a peaked roof, then mounted it on a pole, filled with books, and gave it to the world. The words on it (“Little Free Library, “Take a book…,” and “Leave a book…”) were painted by hand, and its yellow paint was peeling, but this was just as much a labor of love as a registered LFL that shows up on the organization’s official map.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally appreciate registered Little Free Libraries too. I appreciate what the Little Free Library organization does to help get more LFLs out in the world. I appreciate the support the Little Free Library organization gives to LFL stewards. But I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit right here that there’s a special place in my heart for renegade Little Free Libraries. I so appreciate these DIY projects that don’t cost more than materials and the time it takes a person to put them together, these manifestations of gift economy erected so neighbors have access to free reading material.

These are the books that were in the renegade Little Free Library.

Most of the LFLs I’ve visited have been registered and have charter numbers, but there are definitely other renegades in the world. I bet many towns have official LFLS and renegades too.

Honestly, if I were going to build a Little Free Library and keep it stocked (in other words, be a LFL steward), I would go the DIY, renegade route. That’s just the way I am. I definitely have love for the people who do LFLs the official way, but I’ve got a special love for the LFL renegades.

(As for why I don’t build a LFL and be its steward, I live in a very rural area. There is only one homestead on the road past our house, so not many people would see my Little Free Library if I had one in front of my place. Also, there’s a Little Free Library only a few miles from my house, just past where the dirt road hits the pavement. It makes a lot more sense to offer the books and magazines I don’t need any more to that LFL and others around town.) 

I took the photos in this post.

Heritage Square and a Little Free Library (Flagstaff, AZ)

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Brown public land sign saying "All Campfires Prohibited" and "Camping Permitted Beyond Here."
Camping on public lands outside Flagstaff, AZ

The public land around Flagstaff, AZ has offered me and The Man (and Jerico the dog) places to stop over (for a night or a week or even two weeks) on our way to new adventures. In April of 2017, we left Ajo, AZ and spent a night outside of Flagstaff on our way to Taos, NM. Later that year in late June we spent a few days and nights near Flagstaff on our way to jobs in the mountains of California. In April of 2018 we again found ourselves in Flagstaff area for a couple of weeks before we went to our Cali jobs. We stayed until the prospect of an early May snowstorm sent us packing. We found ourselves in the area again in late September of 2018 when our jobs in the California mountains ended. We hung out near Flagstaff until the temperature dropped and it was cool enough go back to our fifth wheel in Why, AZ.

During one of our 2018 stays, The Man decided he wanted to try to sell some of the pendants he’d made in Heritage Square. According to the Heritage Square Trust website,

We arrived fairly early on a Saturday morning and stopped the van close enough to drop off a table as well as The Man’s jewelry and jewelry-making supplies. Then The Man parked the van farther away where we wouldn’t get a ticket while I stood guard over his belongings. After setting up his table and arranging his pendants, The Man began working on a new piece. I wandered around Heritage Square taking photos.

Sculpture of a reclining life size mountain lion painted bright colors
“Asset #15 – Positive Peer Influence” Apparently that’s how big a mountain lion really is.

There’s a cool statue of a colorful cat in Heritage Square called Asset #15. According to the Encircle Photos website, it is part of the PAWS project.

This is one of the eventual 40, life-size painted mountain lions found around Flagstaff…The PAWS project is sponsored by the Coconino Coalition for Children and Youth. Each sculpture portrays one of the developmental assets essential to raising a healthy and successful child. For example, this is “Asset #15 – Positive Peer Influence.”

Flag pole base made of stone and including rocks from the Grand Canyon.
Actual rocks from the actual Grand Canyon.

I also like the exhibit of the Grand Canyon strata. It’s a nice display of information about the natural wonder only 81 miles away. According to the aforementioned Heritage Square Trust website,

The base of the flag pole contains actual rocks from the Grand Canyon placed carefully to reflect the geologic strata of the Canyon, with Vishnu schist on the bottom and Kaibab limestone on the top.

My favorite part of Heritage Square was the Little Free Library (LFL) I was pleasantly surprised to find there. Little Free Libraries are grassroots gift economy projects. LFLS are places where people can leave books they don’t want; anyone is allowed to take one or more books from the libraries. According to the Little Free Library organization,

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.

This is the Little Free Library I encountered in Heritage Square.

I thought this was a registered Little Free Library with a charter number, but after looking at the photos I took of it, I see that it is a renegade LFL! I do love me a renegade! The LFL is a project of Oasis Flagstaff and the Downtown Business Alliance.