Driving down Fletcher Road in the center of town, you’ll see at 38 Fletcher Rd. the 3,510-square-foot Hurd-Dimond house built around 1870. At 49 Fletcher Rd. is the 4,036-square-foot Queen Anne-style Samuel D. Prince house built around 1900. At 39 Fletcher Rd. is the 2,744-square-foot Mary Fletcher house moved to its current position in 1885. And at 65 Fletcher Rd. is the 5-square-foot Little Free Library built in 2020.
Little Free Library (LFL) is a worldwide non-profit organization with the mission to build community, inspire readers, and expand access to books. The group accomplishes this mission through volunteer-supported book exchanges.
Little Free Libraries tend to look like a small freestanding dollhouse or cabinet on a post close to a sidewalk or other area with easy public access, but the design and location vary. Typically, volunteer stewards set up a library in their yard or accessible areas around their town, school, or business. The stewards keep the library structure clean, safe, stable, and watertight as well as maintain the stock and inventory of the library.
LFL patrons use the libraries by walking up and helping themselves to take or deposit books. The libraries are entirely free to use and the books are free to borrow or to keep, however, the concept relies upon a consistent exchange of books. Registered libraries chartered with the Little Free Library organization receive a plaque stating “Take a book, Share a book” – the idea that keeps the offerings filled.
Kathleen Sayles, who runs the Fletcher Road library in her yard said, “It is super easy to maintain.” She takes a few minutes once per week to check on the library. Her checks include scanning the contents to make sure there is a balance of books from picture books for babies to novels for grown-ups with a mix of reading levels, genres, and interests throughout. She straightens up and arranges the books and if a category of books is light (or heavy), she will rearrange the LFL selection from a collection of books she keeps inside her house and in her car.
Sayles says, “The rule of thumb I’ve read about is to rotate half of the library every two weeks and to keep the library only two-thirds of the way full. That makes it easy to pull the books in and out and allows people the space to make a contribution.” In addition to patrons exchanging and leaving books directly out of and into the library, the Fletcher Road Little Free Librarian receives books on her front steps from neighbors and regular contributions from her mother, an avid reader.
Occasionally, when Sayles ends up with a surplus of books, she visits other little libraries around town or in nearby towns (thus the books in her car), filling the stash in the other free-standing book exchanges. She also donates to the Friends of the Bedford Free Public Library.
One of the boxes Sayles has topped off is the book box set up in the center of town near the playground. This box isn’t registered with the Little Free Library organization, but runs on the same principle and was set up and built from scratch by four scouts from Girl Scout Troop 71627 in 2017 as part of their Silver Award project. (Read about their project here: https://thebedfordcitizen.org/2017/08/girl-scout-silver-award-project-encourages-books-screens/)
The Scouts worked with the Department of Public Works as well as other departments and groups in town to find the location, install the structure, and publicize and educate the public about the “Take a book, Leave a Book” initiative. As with the Fletcher Road library, Renu Bostwick (former leader of Troop 71627) and Sue Turner (current Girl Scout Service Unit Coordinator) both agreed that the book exchange box near Town Center has sustained itself well over the years with little supervision.
According to the Silver Award report, the premise behind the Scouts (who graduated from BHS a few years ago) setting up the book exchange in the center of town was to encourage reading as a way to get kids off screens.
The Fletcher Road LFL was inspired by the seven book exchange boxes the Sayles family visited in their former neighborhood in Cambridge. Sayles’ kids loved to walk or scooter and check out what “treasures” were inside the boxes and leave books for the next patrons to find. Once living in Bedford, Sayles asked for a library as a birthday gift to pay forward the joy Little Free Libraries had brought her family and provide that resource to the Bedford community, while also giving her an outlet to clear out their own overgrown (and outgrown) book collection, which at that point included many kids’ books inherited from older cousins.
Sayles’ library, ordered from a kit on the Little Free Library website, arrived in January 2020. After waiting for the ground to thaw and the first few questioning months of the pandemic to pass, the Sayles family set up the library in June 2020 in their front yard, equipped with a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Following the “If you build it, they will come” rule, neighbors soon started stopping by. This was in the early days of the pandemic when people were outside walking regularly and not so often inside buildings like the public library.
These days, Sayles guesses the library gets seven or eight parties stopping by per week. Some just browse, some take books, and some just drop off books to donate.
The family has a lot of fun with the library. They arrange the books in different ways during the weekly maintenance, sometimes arranging them by height, genre, or rainbow order. Last spring, when Russia invaded Ukraine, the family arranged the collection with only gold and blue-spined books.
Sayles shared, “I also installed a rotary phone on the side of the library with a sign that said ‘For Reference Librarian, Dial 0.’ My home office overlooks Fletcher Road and it makes me laugh every time someone picks up the phone to either see if someone is on the other end or to try to make a call.” She went on to say, “I’ve also overhead numerous parents explain to their kids what [a rotary phone] actually is!”
Even without a direct phone line to a Little Free Library reference librarian, patrons should easily be able to find their way around the book exchanges. Take a book/books at any time. Leave a book/books at any time. A book does not need to be left in order to take a book. No membership, identification, residency, or paperwork is needed to use a book exchange. Be respectful of the property the library is on – help keep the area clean, notify the owner if the library needs cleaning or maintenance, obey traffic and parking rules, and as in a library building, don’t be too loud. Check back often- turnover can happen quickly. Little Free Libraries are open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, year round including all major holidays and in any weather condition. All are welcome and encouraged to stop by, to read casually or voraciously, and to continue to “pay it forward.”
The Little Free Library organization has online maps and an app to find registered LFLs: https://littlefreelibrary.org/ (great for vacations!)
Here is a list and map of some of the Little Free Libraries and book exchanges in Bedford.
- 65 Fletcher Road
- Mudge Way (in between the playground and Kid’s Club building)
- Evergreen Ave (in the gazebo)
- 2 Aspen Circle
- 400 Davis Road
- 4 Houlton Street