Iowa City literary groups highlight need for Little Free Libraries

The Little Free Library program in Iowa City has grown in the past ten years and works to bring up readers in the Iowa City community.


A lending library is seen on Park Road in Iowa City on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Madeleine Willis, News Reporter

Little Free Libraries, or Lending Libraries, are found across the world — and the community libraries have strong roots in Iowa City and the University of Iowa.

The free book exchange program was created by Ted Bol in 2009. As of 2016, there are 50,000 Little Free Libraries located around the world.

Executive Director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature John Kenyon invited Bol to Iowa City in 2012 to promote literature through Little Free Libraries around town.

Before Bol’s visit, Kenyon said only about 10 Little Free Libraries were located around the entire city.

While in Iowa City, Bol encouraged the creation of Little Free Libraries by hosting a workshop where he built one for the community, and sold kits to build them, Kenyon said.

“The greatest exposure to the LFL’s was in 2012, and we have seen a steady growth since then,” Kenyon said.

Since then, Kenyon said, a lot of people have “taken a shine” to the program and helped promote the libraries.

“We drove interest to promote them heavily in 2012 and have seen them grow over the last 10 years,” Kenyon said.

The number of Little Free Libraries continues to grow in Iowa City each year as people add more libraries, and through Little Free Library programming at the UNESCO City of Literature. But since some are not registered, Kenyon said it is difficult to pin down the exact number of lending libraries in the city.

Kenyon said the City of Literature works with other partner groups to get people to visit different libraries. One of the programs they work hand in hand with is the Iowa Youth Writing Program.

Michelle Wiegand, associate director of Iowa Youth Writing Program, said the organization is currently working on a project called The Great Bookmarks Challenge with UNESCO City of Literature, which will be taking place this upcoming spring.

The challenge will be a month-long scavenger hunt focused on a literary scene, featuring Little Free Libraries around Iowa City.

Wiegand said the value of having Little Free Libraries around Iowa City is important to the community.

“I think one thing we love is that it makes reading and literature accessible to all walks of life, which is awesome,” she said.

Wiegand said she believes the Little Free Libraries build community in the culture of sharing. The libraries are, “perfect ways to safely connect with neighbors and learn about them during the pandemic,” Wiegand said.

Several Iowa City residents are working to create lending libraries in their neighborhoods. As reported by the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Iowa City resident Joe Hennager made something new out of something broken.

During the August 2020 derecho, an 87 ½ foot tall tree that leaned towards the Hennager’s home came down to 16 feet. Hennager used what was left of the tree to build a little free library.

“Little Free Libraries help the community by doing a good job of celebrating authors, writers, and literature,” Wiegand said.