The Little Free Library (LFL) is the world’s biggest book sharing program. Perhaps you have seen Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods or parks. They are weather-resistant boxes that are filled with books for you to take, read, return or pass along. It’s all part of building community and making communities better through stories.
LFL has been honored by the Library of Congress and the National Book Foundation for its work in creating book access for so many people. There are over 100,000 registered LFL boxes in 50 states and 108 countries. The non-profit has seen more than 165 million books shared and is about to add even more titles and opportunities to the mix. The organization recently announced Read in Color, its newest program to make inclusive and diverse books available to all readers.
The program was born after the death of George Floyd, but the ongoing police brutality against Black people, increased focus on systemic racism, and attacks on LGBTQIA+ rights has given the Little Free Library more than enough motivation to provide perspectives on racism and social justice while celebrating marginalized people and amplifying our voices.
The first time I read about gay people or saw affection between same-gender couples, it felt scandalous. Stigma collided with my internalized homophobic feelings and I projected my own shame onto others. I was a tween—if the word tween had been around in the 90s—when I felt these big emotions. I knew I was queer and by extension different. And because different is often bad, I thought I was too. I didn’t have mentors who supported my true self. I didn’t see others living openly queer and proud lives. There weren’t displays in libraries celebrating LGBTQ people. Until Ellen announced she was gay on her sitcom, I hadn’t seen any queer representation that I wanted to be a part of.
I understood being the butt of the joke and the one being attacked with words and worse, but living a life with queer as a side note and not the whole story was not something I had ever been exposed to. Progress has been made over the last 30 years, but there are still too many queer kids who don’t know they are perfect, and too many adults who don’t have the education or language to make sure these kids feel supported. The Little Free Library is offering free diverse books by and about LGBTQ and BIPOC people in order to bridge that gap.
It starts with taking the Read in Color Pledge to show your commitment to read and share diverse books. After that, those that have a registered Little Free Library can apply to receive free books that celebrate Latinx, Muslim, Black, Indigenous, Asian, and LGBTQIA+ people while discussing anti-racism and inclusion. The program is being rolled out first in the Twin Cities with 5,000 books being placed in the highest need, low-income communities. Many of these communities have been hit hardest by the pandemic, including dealing with economic stress and social unrest. Black and queer people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. BIPOC and LGBTQ folks are in desperate need of having their stories heard right now, but with library and school closures, access to our stories is limited.
Libraries are one of few places that excite me while giving me calm comfort; they have always been one of my favorite buildings. When I was kid, I saw them at face value: books for my education and entertainment. Libraries still offer stories for escape, but I now know they are so much more than that. When my kids were toddlers, I took advantage of story and music times. I still get bags of books and movies for the kids to enjoy. Even through the pandemic, our library has found a way for us to sign out materials through their online catalog. Librarians bag everything into a paper bag, label it and leave it in a vestibule for users to pick up.
I was so glad for this because as the Black Lives Matter movement was placed in the spotlight after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I used our library as a resource for books about race, racism, and civil rights. I also picked out books that had characters who were Black, Indigenous, and of color because in our house we know how important representation is.
We are a queer family, and as much as I want my kids to see themselves in the books they read, I want others to see LGBTQIA+ people in the same way they see cisgender and heterosexual people: normal. The Little Free Library’s Read in Color initiative is a direct extension of this.
While they hope to receive enough funding to install Little Free Libraries (if you can’t buy your own) stocked with diverse books in every state, you can still participate in the program by reading one of the books from the recommended reading list or purchasing a book to place in an already existing LFL in your town. According to Greig Metzger, executive director for LFL and who spoke with Scary Mommy, Little Free Library’s Impact Library program is a “grant program in place for people, organizations or neighborhoods to apply to receive a library at no cost. We have granted over 200 libraries this year.”
So far over 1,400 people have signed the pledge to read and share diverse books. One pledger from The Druba’s dual language library Español y Ingles wrote that it’s important “to continue to teach our youth that different is beautiful! Si se puede!”
We can all use some accountability when it comes to educating ourselves and learning to better understand people who seem so different from us. Books help us do this. Books helped me learn that nothing was ever wrong with me, and my life is not even a little scandalous. If we can reach more kids who desperately need to know the same thing with something as simple as a Little Free Library, why wouldn’t we?