Little Free Libraries: Inventive, Award-Winning Designs

Add a little free library to your community with inspiration from top designs around the world.

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I always stop when I see a Little Free Library in my town. The designs (and books) are so clever and never the same.

Red Modern Little Library

Red Modern Little Library

Nicola Urban designed a little library for her community in Italy. With parking for bicyclists, motion-sensor lighting and a solar panel, Urban made sure the little library could run efficiently on its own and be accessed by anyone at any time of the day. Her design earned an honorable mention in the competition.

Photo by: Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books

The Little Free Library helps people exchange books in their own neighborhoods and communities by setting up a curbside mini-library where lenders can help themselves to the books contained within. Anybody can bring a book or take a book from the box, which homeowners, business owners and community groups build and install. Little Free Libraries are believed to be in 50,000 neighborhoods in 70 countries, and they received 300 submissions from 40 countries. 

Anybody can create one, so building a Little Free Library could be your chance to show your community your DIY and design savvy. To get started, you would need to make sure the library is allowed where you want to place it (you may need approval) and then come up with a design and materials (the Little Free Library provides tips for finding materials and building one on a budget).

It's that way around the world. In Italy, for example, this Little Free Library has bicycle parking, motion-sensor lighting and a solar panel. The designer, Nicola Urban, made sure the Little Library could run efficiently on its own so that anyone could get a free book at any time of the day. Her library earned an honorable mention in a recent international design competition. 

With unique themes and shapes, and cool features, such as built-in seating and being adjustable for kids and adults, you never know what you’re going to see on the outside—or the inside—of a Little Free Library. 

They showcase innovative, creative and even sustainable design. 

That’s why the Little Free Library organization, American Institute of Architects San Francisco and Chronicle Books held a design competition to celebrate existing designs and ambitious plans for new Little Free Libraries around the world. 

The libraries that stood out were inventive and functional, says Brett Jones, a design judge and architect with David Baker Architects. The designs go beyond a standard wooden box on a pole and you can do that, since they’re not like designing a home that someone is going to occupy.

“A lot of them were incredibly fun and child-like, which I thought was really great,” he says. 

Some of the winning designs had a theatrical element, from special lighting to being inspired by the setting of a book, like Alice in Wonderland.

Described by Jones as “the most innovative,” Between the Folds is a circular structure bolted around a tree trunk. Encircling the tree, the Little Library is made of folded Tyvek, creating “pages” that visitors may flip through as they walk around the trunk. Hidden between the “pages” for visitors to view are the library books, which are protected from the elements by waterproof materials.

Circular Library Suspended in Tree

Circular Library Suspended in Tree

Described by judge Brett Randall Jones as “the most innovative,” Between the Folds is a circular structure bolted around a tree trunk. Encircling the tree, the little library is made of folded Tyvek, creating “pages” that visitors may flip through as they walk around the trunk. Hidden between the “pages” for visitors to view are the library books,, which are protected from the elements by waterproof materials.

Photo by: Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books

Owlie, an owl-shaped Little Library by London-based designer Bartosz Bochynski, was the overall winner in the 2017 competition. Metal finishes on the roof and the base protect the library from rain, while LED lighting on the shelves allows late-night visitors to peruse their selection. Owlie’s eyes also light up to invite passersby to take a look at the 40 or so books inside. Plexiglass doors at the back allow for a full view of the Little Library’s contents.

Owl Little Library Diagram from Front

Owl Little Library Diagram from Front

Judges selected Owlie, an owl-shaped little library by London-based designer Bartosz Bochynski, as the overall winner in the 2017 Little Free Library Design Competition. Metal finishes on the roof and the base protect the library from rain, while LED lighting on the shelves allows late-night visitors to peruse their selection. Owlie’s eyes also light up to invite passersby to take a look at the 40 or so books inside.Plexiglass doors at the back allow for a full view of the little library’s contents.

Photo by: Bochynski

Bochynski

Winner of the Chronicle Books’ Choice Award, Rachel Murdaugh and Clark Nexsen of Asheville, N.C., designed a lightweight free-standing kiosk made with eco-friendly materials. A seat is included, allowing visitors to read comfortably and establishing the Little Library as a hub of knowledge. 

Modern Folding Little Library on Beach

Modern Folding Little Library on Beach

Winner of the Chronicle Books’ Choice Award, Rachel Murdaugh and Clark Nexsen of Asheville, N.C., designed a little library with the potential to be mass-produced. The free-standing kiosk is lightweight, ships flat and was made with eco-friendly materials. Furthermore, a seat is included, allowing visitors to read comfortably and establishing the little library as a hub of knowledge.

Photo by: rmurdaugh

rmurdaugh

The Book Cheese Little Library, which received an honorable mention, was designed by Xi Tan, Qian Sun, Xiaojing Zhang and Yan Li from Guangzhou City, China. The library was designed as a large, yellow metal arc, which allows visitors to step inside. Holes were cut from the metal to reduce the weight, creating not only a whimsical feel but also a strong resemblance to a wheel of yellow cheese.

Book Cheese Library

Book Cheese Library

The Book Cheese little library, which received an honorable mention in the competition, was designed by Xi Tan, Qian Sun, Xiaojing Zhang, and Yan Li from Guangzhou City, China. The library was designed as a large, yellow metal arc, which allows visitors to step inside. Holes were cut from the metal to reduce the weight, creating not only a whimsical feel but also a strong resemblance to a wheel of yellow cheese.

Photo by: Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books

Designed by Anders Hellsten Nissen of Berlin, this honorable mention Little Library can be attached to existing infrastructure, such as a street light or sign. It integrates into the community and takes advantage of space that otherwise wouldn’t be used.

Circular Library Attached to Pole

Circular Library Attached to Pole

Designed by Anders Hellsten Nissen of Berlin, this little library earned an honorable mention at the Little Free Library Design Competition. The little library can be attached to existing infrastructure, such as a street light or sign, thereby seamlessly integrating into the community and taking advantage of space that otherwise wouldn’t be used.

Photo by: Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books

While the pages of a book may originate from wood, designers Ryo Otsuka and Lin Zihao hoped to turn this concept on its head by creating a freestanding Little Library where people can check books out directly from a tree. Dubbing the project the Tree of Knowledge, Zihao and Otsuka, who collectively form CIRCLE, won the Stewards’ Choice award.

Tree Little Library with Boy Reading

Tree Little Library with Boy Reading

While the pages of a book may originate from wood, designers Ryo Otsuka and Lin Zihao hoped to turn this concept on its head by creating a freestanding little library where people can check books out directly from a tree. Dubbing the project the Tree of Knowledge, Zihao and Otsuka, who collectively form CIRCLE, won the award of Stewards’ Choice at the Little Free Library Design Competition.

Photo by: Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books

Looking to bring a Little Library to every community that needs one, Lea Randebrock of Finland created a Little Library that could easily be mass produced and shipped. The modern and simple style allows for the library to ship flat and be set up with just a hammer and screwdriver. It was this innovative thinking that led Randebrock’s design to be chosen as the Chronicle Books’ Choice Runner-Up.

Modern Little Library with Diagonal Shelving

Modern Little Library with Diagonal Shelving

Looking to bring a little library to every community that needs one, Lea Randebrock of Finland created a little library that could easily be mass produced and shipped. The modern and simple style allows for the library to ship flat and be set up with just a hammer and screwdriver. It was this innovative thinking that led Randebrock’s design to be chosen as the Chronicle Books’ Choice Runner-Up.

Photo by: Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books

Seth Thompson of San Francisco designed a library with moveable parts. The shelves can be fully removed and placed on a surface or in the reader’s lap for easier browsing, while the inside provides extra space for an additional shelf or even for hanging plants. Plexiglass allows the door to double as a message board by using dry-erase markers. The ever-changing, versatile nature of Thompson’s Little Library won it the Judges’ Choice Runner-Up award.

The Dynamic Little Library

The Dynamic Little Library

Seth Thompson, of San Francisco, Calif., designed a library with moveable parts. The shelves can be fully removed and placed on a surface or in the reader’s lap for easier browsing, while the inside provides extra space for an additional shelf or even for hanging plants. Plexiglass allows the door to double as a message board by using dry-erase markers. The ever-changing, versatile nature of Thompson’s little library won it the award of Judges’ Choice Runner-Up.

Photo by: Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books

The Little Library designed by 4th Street Farms in Columbus, Ohio, features shelf heights for all ages, motion-sensor lighting, and a snack shelf. The library is shaped like a large tube with open ends, allowing visitors to actually step inside and sit while they read. The library also features murals by local artists and has already become a community hub. The design won the competition’s Stewards’ Choice Runner-Up.

White Circular Modern Library with Wooden Shelving

White Circular Modern Library with Wooden Shelving

The little library designed by 4th Street Farms in Columbus, Ohio features shelf heights for all ages, motion-sensor lighting, and a snack shelf. The library is shaped like a large tube with open ends, allowing visitors to actually step inside and sit while they read. The library also features murals by local artists and has already become a community hub. The design won the competition’s Stewards’ Choice Runner-Up.

Photo by: Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books

Ready to Design a Little Free Library?

Jones offers a few tips for designing your own Little Free Library. 

1. Think about functionality. Is it easy to open? Will it withstand rain and wind? You want it to be waterproof to protect the books. 

2. Grab the attention in the design, theme, color or materials. You want to make it noticeable so that people will stop and want to pick out a book. While most people use wood because it’s cheap and easy to work with, recycled metal siding, waterproof vinyl and plexiglass also are options.

3. Try to be multi-dimensional. One creative element is how people interact with the Little Free Libraries, such as how they open. Another idea is to use what’s around it, such as a street sign (if you get approval) or a tree trunk to make the Little Library part of the landscape.

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