A Little Free Library with a Lesson for Us All

You know, I talk a lot about assuming good intentions and treating others as you’d like to be treated (or as they let you know THEY would like to be treated). What’s GREAT is when I see this in action. Today I share a story from someone I’ve always admired. We can learn from her.

Susan is someone I went to grad school with back in good old Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. She actually got a job and used her linguistics Ph.D., which I admire greatly. She now lives somewhere else out in the great Midwest in the United States. I’m obscuring some details, since they’re irrelevant.

My friend’s Little Free Library in Taylor, Texas.

Well, as a lover of words, reading, and books, Susan started a Little Free Library outside her home. These are such great community builders, and I’ve always admired my friends, like Cindy in Taylor, who maintain them. Anita and I used to always walk by one when we lived in the casita, and we’d see what new books had turned up. The idea is you can take a book or two, and then leave a book you’re finished with for someone else to enjoy. They’re always decorated to look cute, and many places make zoning exceptions for them.

Everything is gone.

Well, over at Susan’s library, something went amiss. Four times in a week, someone had come by and totally cleaned out all the books. After replacing them three times, Susan was considering taking it down.

You can just imagine what went through her head or the heads of her friends. How rude of someone to do that! What has this world come to? No wonder we can’t have nice things! It just takes one creepy person to ruin a nice thing for everyone else! And such. These are probably the things that ran through MY head.

Susan’s a good person, though, and she thought hard about what to do about the thefts. Rather than write an angry note or take the library down, she thought about what might cause someone to be so desperate as to steal free books. And, bless her, she did a much kinder thing:

Yes, at the suggestion of an old friend of hers (also, obviously a good person), Susan filled her library with non-perishable food items. If the book thief was hungry, she was happy to help. Not only that, but she wrote a note, which I will quote below, leaving out specifics:

Hi!

Are you the person who has been taking all the books from this Little Free Library? Have you been selling the books because you need money? Are you hungry or hurting?

We’d really like it if you would leave the books for readers to read and exchange, but if you are hurting, perhaps we can help. Please take any or all of these groceries if you need them.

But a Little Free Library is not a food pantry—there are, however, food pantries in town you could turn to:

[Lists nearby pantries]

If it’s not just hunger, but other kinds of hurt, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Wishing you the best,

The [location] Free Library Steward.”

Now, THAT is what I call assuming good intent and treating others like you’d wish to be treated. Rather than taking her toys in a huff, she reached out with empathy to someone who must be hurting or dealing with some pretty big issues. Rather than assuming it was just some mean library hater, she assumed her visitor could use a friendly word or a helping hand.

I’m taking this lesson to heart, and I hope you do, too. We can all try to be a little more like my role model, Susan. I’m very grateful to her for sharing this story.

Katie Zapfel

Children's book author. Mom blogger.

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