What’s the Oddest Thing You’ve Found in a Little Free Library?

P1040373Little Free Libraries are supposed to be small structures where members of a community can leave or take a book with no fee or paperwork.

But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.

Writing for Alternet.org, Dan Greenstone says that the Little Free Library, which his wife bought and he installed in his front yard, is a source of unending stress. It seems that no matter what books he put into the LFL, visitors were taking books and not replacing them:

I quickly took to the daily ritual of inventorying our stock to see what had gone into circulation. It was fun to see what sorts of title moved and which got passed over. But as the stacks on the nightstand shrank, a realization dawned on me. We were gonna run out of books. The math was daunting. Even before the spring strolling season had begun, we were losing two to three books a day. With warmer weather and the farmers’ market ahead of us, we could expect to bleed a thousand books a year.

But the lesson was clear. I wasn’t running a library. Libraries are built around the idea of circulation. And circulation implies a circle. What I had, aside from the contributions of a few kind neighbors on my block, was a one-way street of literary handouts. So it wasn’t long before I concluded that if I was going to stay in business, I had to reduce the outgoing volume.

Luckily I had an ace in the hole. At last year’s public library book sale, our family had, as a joke, played a game of “Find the Boringest Book.” And, not to brag, but we’d kicked some ass.

So imagine my surprise when, within 24 hours, a paper-bound copy of “Study Guide and Reference Material for Commercial Radio Operator’s’ Examination” (1955! edition) had vanished. 1965’s evergreen “Technical Analysis of Stock Trends” was next. “Aircraft Power Plants from Northrop Aeronautical” lasted just a few more days. And the winner of our boringest book contest? “Standard Mathematical Tables,” 22nd Edition, a nearly wordless and entirely incomprehensible collection of graphs, made it a week.

The accounting program I use in place of a sense of humor tells me that he may be joking, but I am not completely sure.

Either way, it brings up an interesting question. What’s the strangest thing you’ve found in a little free library?

LFLs are entirely volunteer-run, which means that each one can have a unique and eclectic collection. For example, the LFL nearest to me (see the lead photo) is sponsored by an elementary school, and so the selection consists mainly of kid’s books in English and Spanish. But I did find an (old) book on how to launch a modeling career, which I swapped for several SF books I didn’t like.

How about you? What have you found in a little free library?


Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Teds Kostadinova16 July, 2016

    About a week ago, I found a book that had to be returned 40 years ago, to the library I work in.

  2. neuse river sailor16 July, 2016

    When we put one up, we fully expected to have to police it daily for pornography and worse. To our amazement we have found nothing worse than an occasional religious tract, and we are ok with that as long as they only leave a copy or two. We also expected torn books strewn across the yard, graffiti and trash, but none of that has happened. So our Little Free Library really has renewed our faith in humanity. As far as circulation, people probably take more than they leave, but used books are cheap or free so we don’t mind having to add a few each week. Our main concern is to keep a balance between bestseller fiction, classics, children’s books, young adult and an occasional non-fiction title. I do that by shuttling books between several LFLs in the neighborhood to keep them all balanced.

  3. DavidW17 July, 2016

    lol Standard Mathematical Tables means much more to me than that guy!

    When I was a kid I used to look over that book wanting to have the mathematical expertise to verify the algebraic, trigonometric and calculus identities. In high school I took pride upon returning to that book and verifying many of those equations.

    That challenge was a big thing that pushed me towards math and eventually physics.


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