This Instructable outlines the steps we took to plan, design, build and install three Little Free Libraries. I am a volunteer parent at our Title 1 elementary school in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. I have limited teaching experience and decent woodworking experience.
Learn more about Little Free Libraries here.
This Instructable focus on building three Little Free Libraries with a bunch of kids at their school, but you can also use this information to build a single Little Free Library at home.
This effort is part of a maker space class of a dozen 6th graders. We met weekly for 45 minutes for 9 weeks. We chose to invest in Little Free Libraries because designing and constructing these mini structures fit with our maker space curriculum, but more importantly, the neighborhood around our school didn’t have any little free libraries.
Salt Lake City's Little Free Libraries were very segregated. There were about 20 registered Little Free Libraries on the east side of SLC and zero on the west side of the city. We decided to change this. See the before and after map-images attached to this Step. Our school is marked with the red circle.
Below are the steps we took to complete this project. We hope our work and, this Instructable inspirer, you to bring one of these libraries to a community without a Little Free Library.
Step 1: Organize
Registering a Little Free Library (LFL) costs $40, but it's worth it. Your finished library looks official with its own charter sign and unique identification number. Your registered library gets placed on the official LFL website map. Finally, your funds support a great organization that fosters the love for books and reading.
If you can’t swing the $40 registration fee, you can fundraise or explore the LFL discount program.
- If you’re installing your Libary on public land, begin coordinating these details early. It may take months to communicate with public agencies. Good luck.
- I lost track of what these 3 LFLs cost, but I’d guess it was over $150. If money is tight, you can reach out to the big hardware stores for help before you start. I believe Lowes managers can give out $80 credit per month and I think Home Depot can give out $50 maximum credit to each group. Ask early as it may take weeks or months for you to see funds from these companies. FYI - This Instructables was written in May or 2019. The figures above may have changed.
- I don’t have grant writing experience, but I'm sure this kind of project would be a great candidate.
Step 2: Design
After introducing the project to the students, I handed out a sheet of photos of great LFL examples and a sheet of paper with the basic shape of a genetic LFL and asked them to draw over this screened back image. I encouraged them to add their wildest ideas through drawings and written notes. They were surprisingly reserved. Feel free to copy and reuse these handouts.
In the end, we did not incorporate many of the kid’s design ideas into the built LFLs. Sadly, streamlining construction and minimizing costs prevailed over the kid’s creative ideas. Next time I would plan funds and time to ensure as many of the kid’s ideas get built.
Step 3: Practice
I decided to jump ahead and give my students the feel for building a mini structure. I choose to have them build a simple birdhouse all in one session. I did a significant amount of prep work to streamline this experience. I pre-cut and pre-drilled the 6” pine stock so the kids could feel the thrill of successfully building something beginning to end. I let the kids assemble these birdhouses without any instructions. It turned out to be a fun puzzle-like experience and a good introduction to 3D problem solving and construction skills.
We also used these birdhouses to test out some painting and graphics techniques. The bird stickers were part of our test.
Tip: Use large roofing nails. I made an example birdhouse so the kids could see the finished project. As I was assembling, I discovered some extra roofing nails lying around, so I used these to nail together my birdhouse. The large heads of the roofing nails made it easy for the kids to identify where I placed my nails.
Step 4: Scale Up
Tip - Thrift store picture frames make great doors for LFL.
I searched for small, solid, rectangular (tall) thrift store picture frames. I then designed the shape of our LFLs around these doors.
To assemble the LFLs I repeated the birdhouse system of significant prep work. This allowed the students to quickly (re)assemble these boxes in our short class sessions (45 minutes). This strategy also kept power saws out of the classroom.
Before class I:
- Cut the plywood into six pieces for each LFL with a circular saw (front, back, 2 sides, roof, and floor).
- Assembled these pieces into the rough box shapes with finishing nails.
- Used woodscrews to affix all the joints and assemble solid boxes.
- Then removed half the wood screws and disassembled the boxes.
- This was a significant amount of work.
- The students sanded all the rough edges with sandpaper.
- I then gave them:
- The partially assembled box pieces
- Cordless screwdrivers
- This was fun
- I chose ½” think rough plywood for the construction of all six sides of these LFLs. The price was right and it turned out to be the right dimension for this project. Solid, but not too heavy.
- This 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood cost around $18. This one sheet of 4’x8’ plywood built the bulk of these three LFLs.
- All the corners of these boxes we reinforced with 1”x 2” pieces of wood stock. At all the joints (corners) 1 ¼” wood screws were driven through the plywood into these 1”x1” pieces of wood.
- I found the students struggled with the heavy cordless screwdrivers and the driving of screws. We stripped many Phillips screws and Phillips driver heads. The next session we used Torx screws (see photo) with significant success.
Step 5: Paint
Before class I:
- Applied caulk to all the joints (inside and out) before class so the caulk would be dry in time for the students to paint over.
During class the students:
- Painted all surfaces with cheap foam brushes and rubber gloves. It was crazy. Some clothing was ruined. If I did it again, I’d consider having the students skip this step and paint the LFLs at home.
- Spray painted the doors as quality spray paint is relatively cheap.
After class I:
- Applied two more thick coats of paint.
Tip: Buy discounted paint. Ask the Home Depot paint department if they have an ‘Oops’ section. Here you will find discounted paints that were mixed to the incorrect color. I paid $9 for my gallon of quality exterior paint that exactly matched our school color.
Step 6: Add-Ons
Before class I:
- Cut, painted, installed, and removed one interior shelf per LFL.
- I took the LFL doors (old frames) to the hardware store and had them cut plexiglass to the correct size.
- Installed the door hinges to the doors and LFLs
- I then removed half the screws so the doors were disconnected from the LFLs.
During class the students:
- (Re)installed the interior shelf.
- (Re)installed the doors/hinges.
- Installed the plexiglass in the doors with a small tube of clear silicone.
- Installed the Little Free Libary charter signs.
- We decided glass doors would be too heavy and a hazard. Plexiglass has turned out to be a great choice.
- We added a custom sticker on the window that identifies who made these LFLs. We created these on a Cricut vinyl cutter. You can access these machines at many schools and public libraries.
- Pro Tip - If you ‘mirror’ your custom sticker you can install it on the inside of the glass, improving durability.
Step 7: Roof
We added a second layer of plywood, making the roof 1” thick. This extra plywood depth allowed us to use roofing nails.
We then wrapped our plywood roof with the smallest metal fascia we could find. We used tin snips to cut a square out of this fascia so it would bend 90 degrees.
We used basic asphalt shingles as our roofing.
- A single piece of Home Depot metal fascia (10’ long - $4) was the perfect amount for our three LFLs.
- The shortest roofing nails I could find were ¾” long. This turned out to be the perfect length. Roofing nails have oversized heads and are required when installing fragile asphalt shingles. My box of roofing nails cost $4.
- One bundle of shingles cost $30 (our most expensive purchase) and we only used a third of this. If I were to do this again I would ask around for scrap/leftover roofing singles or look for a different roofing solution.
Step 8: Gathering Books
We decided not to ask our students for book donations. We felt that books in their homes should stay in their homes.
All our books were free and used and were donated from strangers from the internet.
I asked my city’s Reddit community for book donations for this project and they delivered! I’m sure you could reach out to Facebook or other online communities and get a similar response.
Our city library was interested in helping, but my sense is that it would have taken months for them to donate any of their obsolete books.
Tip: If you’re building more than one LFL, begin gathering books well before you want to install as it can take weeks to gather the books you need.
Step 9: Lights
My students wanted to include solar panels and lights in these LFLs. This was a pain.
I found solar yard lights for $7 each at Home Depot and these turned out to be perfect. The kids disassembled and cannibalized the lights. We reassembled the pieces we needed on our LFLs. This was finicky work and I doubt this setup will be very durable.
The solar panel is screwed onto the outside of the LFL. The battery, switch, wiring and LED are hot glued inside the top of the LFL. The cool feature is this light’s photocell integrated into the solar panel. This sensor only turns the light on when its dark outside.
Tip: I’m sure you can only find these lights for sale in the spring and summer, but you could easily add these pieces to your LFL at a later date.
Step 10: Installation
I installed our three LFLs on a public trail adjacent to our school. I choose to utilize existing post and poles as I felt digging post holes and pouring concrete footings on public land seemed irresponsible. I used custom U bolts to affix one LFL to a 3” steel fence post. Another LFL was fixed to a 6” wooden fence post with carriage bolts. The final LFL was attached to railing with 2" square U bolts.
Our three LFLs were installed on public land adjacent to a busy regional trail. Our city required permits (free) before we installed.
Our LFL registration numbers are: #84908, #85159, #85160
- Making my own custom U bolts from threaded rod (see photo) was the key to installing my toughest LFL. Simply bending this 5/16" rod around the pole and cutting the ends to the correct length made this much easier.
- Getting to the bolts deep inside the LFLs was a challenge. The use of a socket extension (8" long) made accessing these bolts and the overall installation much easier (see photo).
- Having a deep/long socket (see photo) was also helpful when driving the nuts onto the custom U bolts.
- I also make two custom wood blocks (see photo) that allowed this LFL to standoff the pole 2". This standoff allowed for the back eave of the LFL roof to clear the pole. These blocks also made the square box to round pole transition stronger.
Please wish these Little Free Libraries good luck. I hope they have long and productive lives.