All around town, little boxes filled with books offer free reading to anyone.
Some of the little libraries are labors of love created by local carpenters. Others are repurposed from old newsstands or kitchen cabinets. They are painted in a rainbow of colors. You see them in neighborhoods across Reno and Sparks—in front of houses, schools, community organizations and even at a shopping mall.
All are put up by book-lovers to promote their passion for reading. In the Truckee Meadows, there may be as many as a hundred or more.
Charles Albright painted a donated Reno News & Review newsstand a dark lime green and added plywood trim and a magazine holder on the side. The box is close to Rancho San Rafael Park, he said, a prime spot with lots of foot traffic.
“It was half-empty this week,” Albright noted. “It encourages people to read.”
He often picks up a bag of books at Grassroots Books, which supplies many of the little libraries in the area. His stock includes novels and children’s books, as well as nonfiction books about the outdoors, history, comedy and sports.
A recycled newsstand from the Reno Gazette-Journal found new life as a streetside library on Thomas Creek Road, downhill from the new Marce Herz Middle School. That library was created by April Pederson, who keeps an eye on the library.
“I see the middle school kids walking home from school and stopping at the box,” she said.
Pederson and her mother, Mary Pederson, put the library up in 2016, inspired by a Reno News & Review column. “We’ve always loved books, and it’s fun for the neighborhood,” Mary said. “It gets people out to walk.”
An avid reader herself, April delights in discovering books inside the little library that she wants to read, especially “vintage books.” The people using the library seem to prefer novels, children’s books, cookbooks, reference books and tomes on topics including golf, true crime, humor and pets. During the COVID-19 pandemic, jigsaw puzzles and DVDs became popular.
Every two weeks, April takes books that haven’t been chosen and donates them to Goodwill or Savers. She is grateful that a user straightens the books, and she hasn’t found any trash in the box.
In south Reno, Mary Ann and Paul Ricciardi recently added an additional box to their original tiny library—at a lower level, accessible to smaller children. That upgrade was in response to a note placed in the box by a grandparent. “It seems the little ones love to read as much as the big ones, so they needed their own bit of space,” she said.
Paul Ricciardi was raised in the south Reno neighborhood they live in today. A decade ago, they wondered if the semi-rural area, where houses were built far apart, would attract library users. Now, the area has many more residents, and the library is well used.
“I see some neighbors walking by, and even driving in from other neighborhoods close by,” Mary Ann said. She even sees bicycle riders hit their brakes to peruse the books.
The Ricciardis and some other library hosts register their boxes on the Little Free Library (LFL) website, www.littlefreelibrary.org. For a fee, the library and its steward are included in a public directory and are offered an official LFL sign, as well as advice about setting up a library. The nonprofit organization’s website provides a how-to section, free box plans and building tips. In the Truckee Meadows, 45 free libraries are displayed on the website map.
A list compiled by Grassroots Books lists another 30 small free libraries in the area. Many more probably remain unlisted, library stewards said.
Some libraries are located in high-traffic areas, such as the one at the Summit mall’s central plaza. That one is a large cabinet hung on an outside wall of a retail store. Schools also sponsor little libraries for a larger readership beyond the students who can use the school library services. Those include Libby Booth, Jesse Beck and Lloyd Diedrichsen elementary schools.
At Libby Booth Elementary, school library assistant Sharon June and principal Joe Pazar stock two little library boxes at the front of the school about once a week. June makes sure there are Spanish-language books available for parents and children.
June wrote that Pazar “is a huge advocate of literacy for our unique Libby Booth demographic.” Many families in the neighborhood do not have many books at home, nor do they have the storage space to keep them, she said.
In 2015, then-Reno City Councilman Oscar Delgado sponsored four little libraries. Two of those still operate: at Arts for All Nevada at the Lake Mansion in downtown Reno, and at the Holland Project, at 140 Vesta St.
Arts for All Nevada marketing coordinator Michelle Tiscareno said the little library appeals to parents who are picking up their children from the center’s art classes. Some of the books come from staff members’ book collections. Library partners include Spread the Word, Grassroots Books and the United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra, she said.
In 2019, the United Way collaborated with an Eagle Scout project to build small libraries, said Ashley Cabrera, vice president of marketing and community relations. United Way also occasionally provides books to community members from an in-office little library, and also shares books with the community at year-round community events.
“United Way celebrates the community coming together to find creative ways to increase access to books,” Cabrera said.
Tips for little libraries
- It’s OK to take a book and keep it, but if you can, donate another book to replace it. If the library is getting short on books, contribute a few more if possible.
- Don’t put trash or inappropriate things in a little library.
- Stewards are encouraged to monitor their libraries weekly, if possible, to check on the condition, replenish books, remove any trash or see if users have left notes.
- Information about starting a tiny library is available at www.littlefreelibrary.org.
April, just an FYI–Savers is FOR PROFIT, that’s why they have to charge TAX on purchases. Assistance League (on Vassar) sells hardbacks for $2 and paperbacks for $1, and ALL profit from the thrift store stays right here in Reno, in projects for Veterans, children, and others. Assistance League donation days (in the back of the building, just ring the bell) are Tues., Thurs., and Sat. Thrift store hours are Tues.-Sat. 10-4 (completely staffed by VOLUNTEERS.
Thanks, Linda! I really didn’t know about that.
The Friends of the Washoe County Libraries hold sales every couple of months of donated books and CD’s, DVD’s, etc plus ones that the library discontinues, for all ages and multiple languages, at the Sierra View Library (near the library entrance). There is also sheet music and music books, plus many kids’ books. Prices start at 50 cents or $1, a bit more in the “special” section, and the sale finishes with a Saturday half-price sale, and a Sunday “all you can get in a plastic bag they give you” for $5. Forgive me if prices are higher now; I’m overseas and haven’t kept up. They have thousands of books in order by subject. I recommend going on the first Friday night, joining the Friends to get the presale entrance permission (and support the cause), and fighting all the San Francisco book dealers who are cleaning off the shelves into their little red wagons. You can also donate and get a receipt for your tax purposes. Proceeds help support the county library system, which is superb! And they accept volunteers (they train you).
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