Little Free Library brings neighborhoods together


Lena McEachern

Joanne Martinez’s book exchange location stands in front of the house it was modeled after. The successful impact of Martinez’s Little Free Library allowed her to help other book exchanges in the community. “We have an excess number of books,” Martinez said. “We will oftentimes put them all in a box and go and drop them off at someone else’s little library to share.”

Outside of a blue home lies a replica miniature house planted next to a gray bench fit for reading and discourse. Inside of the glass panel door lies two shelves of books- one for adults complete with titles like Eat, Pray, Love, and one for kids with stories like Looking for Alaska.

This book-exchange location did not emerge as a result of a Carlsbad City Library initiative or city-wide program, but instead as a result of the drive of city resident Joanne Martinez. Roughly five years ago, Martinez’s mom saw a newspaper article about Little Free Library, a nonprofit organization that fosters neighborhood book exchanges around the world, and encouraged Martinez to create one.

“I can’t tell my mother no,” Martinez said. “So, we decided to have the handyman cut pieces of wood for us and then we put the structure together to make it look like my home.”

Martinez expected to eventually have to go out and replenish the supply of books once people began to take them, but this has not happened once. Concerns over stolen books or a defaced library location gave way to overwhelmingly positive interactions with the community.

“Everyone’s just very polite and very kind and very respectful of the library itself, and that was a surprise to me,” Martinez said. “I’ve had no problems at all.”

Book exchange locations like Martinez’s help children access a wide variety of books without making their parents go out and buy them. Children in Martinez’s neighborhood typically take books to a nearby park, read them there and then return back. 

“I don’t have children, so it’s been great to interact with children,” Martinez said. “It’s a great way to meet people.” 

Junior Natalia Betancur volunteered at the Cole Library for roughly two years, aiding in initiatives like children’s programs and science videos. This experience ultimately increased Betancur’s love of reading due to the constant supply of books available, and she now wants to visit a Little Free Library. 

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“I’m always reading,” Betancur said. 

When people get books from a library or bookstore, these books are freshly printed and clean for those who wish to interact with the text alone. Books from Little Free Libraries allow readers to interact beyond the text, with personal annotations and markings present from fellow neighbors to analyze. 

“I think it’s interesting because I feel like books have so much information and value, especially coming from someone else,” Betancur said. “It makes it a whole adventure for me to just open up a book and see different things that people noted or wrote.”

Betancur also cares about environmentalism and participates in city clean-ups throughout Carlsbad. The sustainable nature of a Little Free Library makes using these book-exchange locations an appealing choice.

“It’s good for the environment to not always be buying books, you’re just reusing them,” Betancur said. “If you’re just wondering and want to read a book, it’s definitely a good place.”

Above all of the tangible benefits that come with reading books lies the indescribable value of forming new impactful relationships with neighbors. With their ability to help neighbors get to know each other, little free libraries bring communities together one page at a time. 

“I met neighbors I didn’t know I had, we’ve seen lots of children coming by,” Martinez said. “We’ve made all kinds of connections with neighbors and people that we would have never met.”

To locate Martinez’s Little Free Library location and more, visit the Little Free Library map here.