This story was updated on Sept. 20, 2013.
Handcrafted cabinets that look like large birdhouses filled with free, used books are sprouting up all over the D.C. metropolitan area.
Takoma Park might have one soon.
A Little Free Library is a freestanding structure built by neighbors or community groups. They house a collection of donated books.
Everyone is welcome to use the library. Those who do are encouraged to return the book they once borrowed or add a new book for others to enjoy.
Now a national movement, the Little Free Library program originated in Wisconsin in 2009.
A map on the organization’s website shows that there are Little Free libraries in North Potomac, Silver Spring and Wheaton in Montgomery County, as well as branches in Prince George’s County.
Ken Samson, a D.C. resident, is determined to design and install a dozen new Little Free Libraries in the area. Even though he plans to put most of them in the District, he also is targeting the bordering community of Takoma Park, with hopes of bridging the two communities.
If his plan is successful, he will put a library box at the corner of Fenton Street and Philadelphia Avenue in Takoma Park, in partnership with the Friends of the Takoma Park Maryland Library. A resident who lives at the intersection requested that Samson build a library box on her property, leading Samson to pinpoint that location.
Samson, an online bookseller, already owns two Little Free Libraries in the historic Takoma neighborhood in D.C., where he lives with his girlfriend. He was inspired by Todd Bol, a founder of the organization who built his library as a tribute to his mother.
“I put one out front as a way to give back to the community we had moved to and grown in love with,” Samson wrote in an email.
To achieve his goal, Samson first launched a two-week online fundraiser Aug. 19 on Kickstarter, hoping to raise $7,564. By the end of the period, the pledges totaled $2,005. Kickstarter’s rule is that the account creator does not receive any of the money unless the entire goal is met, so the attempt was unsuccessful.
Samson then turned to GoFundMe, another online fundraiser, which does not have an “all or nothing” requirement. He set a goal of $5,280. As of Friday, he had raised $590.
He expects each library structure to cost about $400, which covers construction and design materials, books and a registration fee to the national Little Free Library program in Wisconsin.
Aside from popping up in front yards, Samson hopes to see libraries in communal spaces, like parks and playgrounds, because he believes they spark conversation.
“The little library acts as a meeting place, giving people a chance to engage with one another,” he wrote in an email. “We have met many people as they have stopped by to browse; people that we would not likely have met otherwise.”
North Potomac resident Jessica Hernandez built a Little Free Library in her yard with her partner and daughter as a Mother’s Day project in May.
The family dedicated the red wooden box, which houses about 20 children’s and young adult books, to the neighborhood kids and have watched it become a symbol of pride.
“The kids really took ownership of the library,” Hernandez said. “They stock and rearrange the books, and also make sure that it’s being taken care of. It’s great to see the kids getting excited about reading.”
The Takoma Park Maryland Library is enthusiastic about the plan to put a Little Free Library in the city.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Library Director Ellen Robbins said. “It makes books more accessible to more people and involves a certain type of outreach that we haven’t engaged in yet.”
As a result of his project, Samson hopes others will be motivated to create their own libraries.
“I’d also love to see other people jump in feet first and construct their own libraries,” he wrote in an email. “I don’t want a monopoly on them!”
To learn more about Samson’s plan or donate to his project, visit http://www.gofundme.com/DC-LittleFreeLibraries.