Little Free Libraries and Rhodes College: Creating a Community Through Books

A quaint birdhouse painted in primary colors that has been repurposed to be a miniature library

September is National Literacy Month, and for many, local libraries and online publications are easy to access with just a short drive or click of a mouse. Still, there are some areas of Memphis where books are not that accessible, and one phenomenon that has been gaining momentum in that past few years and is changing that is Little Free Libraries. Modeled after birdhouses, they are located in front of people’s homes and businesses with the words “Take a book. Leave a book.” They are free of charge and are great ways to engage a community.
Simple in their design but big in their purpose, the number of Little Free Libraries is growing in Memphis, especially due to the involvement of the faculty, staff, and students at Rhodes College. Prof. Victor Coonin, who teaches art history at the college says while running in the neighborhood, he often passed by Little Free Libraries and thought they were an interesting concept. Then when a resident of the Vollintine Evergreen Community Association (VECA) contacted him last summer about building one for her, he thought it would be a good idea to get the Rhodes community involved.

Sophia Mason, a Rhodes senior and member of the Fine Arts Club, is one of the students who helped to build the Little Free Libraries, and she even got her family to become stewards of a library at their home in Midtown.

“There are many kinds of art that serve different purposes, but I think the Little Free Libraries and other things that are open and visible to the public are important ways to engage people and get them to start talking about things they might not have a way to start talking about,” says Mason.
Mason mentions how in addition to books, her mother places unconventional items such as non-perishables or baby toys in their library to provide nice luxuries that some families might not be able to buy. Mason also provided a Little Free Library to Shasta Central, a learning community and resource center in the Midtown-North area that is sponsored by the college.

Director Dorothy Cox says having the Little Free Library truly has been an asset for the center. One of the center’s patrons supplies books for the library, especially children’s books and hopes for more people to donate books in that genre. The center also has a fire lieutenant who is a big supporter.

Lauren Sefton, associate director of admission at Rhodes and the first Memphian to have a registered Little Free Library at her home in Harbor Town says, “The biggest benefit of the Little Free Libraries is the community involvement. You get to meet your neighbors, and it’s a topic of conversation.”

No matter where they are, the Little Free Libraries are serving the purpose of promoting literacy and conversation among new people. If interested in learning more or finding registered libraries in Memphis, visit