In 2017, I embarked on a fantastic community project to install and maintain Free Book Boxes in the more rural parts of our county.
Like the previous year’s Making and Sharing/”Creativity in a Box” project, this was funded by the Arizona State Library, Archives & Public Records, a division of the Secretary of State, with federal funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, through a grant that I wrote in partnership with our county library district.
The Free Book Box project is a variation on the “little free library” idea, except that our boxes are quite large and institutionally supported and maintained. Each box is approximately the size of a bathtub and holds about 150 books.
The idea for this came in part when our county’s book mobile had to cease operations. (It’s important to note, though, that these boxes in no way replace the book mobile.)
Our county is quite large (4 million acres or 6,219 square miles with a population of approximately 130,000) and has a number of rural communities that don’t have their own libraries. So we decided to install ten Free Book Boxes in the more rural parts of the county to enhance community access to books and reading materials, with each box housing a rotating selection of books for adults and children, in English and Spanish. One other difference with our boxes is that, while users are welcome to return or donate books, they don’t have to — all the books are free for the taking. Patrons are also invited to request books through comment cards in the boxes, though they aren’t “held” for specific individuals when they are added to the box.
Partnerships are a key part of this project. Partners have included the library system and various branches, schools, community organizations, and local businesses. For each box, we sought a community partner to help host, monitor, and stock the box, which was an important part of our sustainability plan. (We have hosts in place for some but not all the boxes.) In addition, we have had community artists paint each of the boxes.
The books for these boxes have come from a variety of sources. Some have been purchased (this was included in our grant), but we have also received tremendous donations. These have come from sources such as our libraries (discards, patron donations), Friends of the Library groups, a local college, and community members who have added books to the boxes. Again, this is going to be a key to the project’s sustainability.
As of today, we have installed seven of the ten boxes, and the others will be installed soon. The reception of this work in the community has been incredibly positive.
To date, we have distributed over 1,000 books with a goal to distribute over 3,000 in the first year.
This has been my favorite project of 2017, and I have every confidence that this work will continue long after the grant has ended.