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Other cities can’t keep pace with Seattle’s Little Free Libraries

Seattle's is home to a growing number of Little Free Libraries, such as this one in Ballard. Perhaps the most in the country. (Kipp Robertson/MyNorthwest)

When Seattle’s Dale Hoff decided to retire from a career as a builder, it turned out his work was far from over. His skills were still needed.

Hoff is now semi-retired, building custom-made Little Free Libraries in his Seattle home.

“I didn’t even know what they were until my sister-in-law asked me if I would make one for her,” Hoff said. “I just started coming up with creative ideas. It sounded like a fun thing to get going.”

You might miss them walking by on the street &#8212 small boxes, sitting on posts, holding books. Neighbors take a book to read and deposit any they’ve finished that are taking up space on their own shelves.

The libraries are often found on someone’s private property, which is where Hoff comes in. Hoff has now become part of a literary community growing across the globe. He is called upon to make custom Little Free Libraries. Through his small business, Handcrafts in Word & Wood he often makes a smaller version of the homeowner’s house. But he’s also been asked to make Seahawks themed boxes, or a church model, and so forth. The library he initially made for his sister-in-law was a school bus.

Over the past 2.5 years, Hoff has made more than 70 Little Free Libraries.

“There’s one for my bother-in-law I did last summer &#8212 that is a light house. I’ve done one like Safeco Field, I’ve done a little barn one, and a school house one. And I’ve done some of people’s houses, or maybe their grandmother’s house. It’s a mixed bag,” he said.

“I have about 10 or 15 of them in the northeast Seattle area, and then there’s others throughout the city,” he said. “There are a few in Spokane, one in Wenatchee, a couple in Everett, and there’s actually one in Texas, one in Colorado, one in New York, and one in Belgium believe it or not.”

The rise of the Little Free Libraries

Little Free Libraries have sprung up in towns across America since the first one went up in 2009. As the story goes, Todd Bol put one up in front of his house in Hudson, Wisc. It was a little school house, in memory of his mother, a teacher; a take on the give-a-book, take-a-book idea. His neighbors soon put up their own. Today, there are 18 in Hudson.

But the idea took off. Six years later, Little Free Libraries now dot the globe. Madison, Wisc. has 141. Los Angeles has around 61. San Diego has 66. Minneapolis has just over 200.

The Northwest has its fair share as well. Portland has 114. Bellevue has seven; Edmonds has 20; Everett has 10; Bainbridge Island alone has 13.

But Seattle has them all beat. The Emerald City has 215. And that number is about to go higher.

Recology adds more libraries

Local recycling company Recology will add 48 to North Seattle in the coming months, bringing Seattle’s total to 263.

“The fewer books you buy yourself, the less waste you are creating,” said Erika Melroy with Recology.

“Little Free Libraries contribute to community building,” she said. “They encourage people to talk to their neighbors and others. They reduce waste… this is a way to keep books in circulation in the community without everyone having to buy a brand new book.”

Each year, Recology gives a grant to one of its service areas that reduces its waste the most. It has been used to help fund a tool library on Capitol Hill and beautification projects in Madrona.

Last year, an area of North Seattle won. That area is between I-5 and Lake City Way, and bordered at NE 80th Street and NE 125th Street. Part of the grant will go toward putting a ping pong table and other equipment at the Northgate Community Center. The rest of the funds are slated for installing 48 more Little Free Libraries. Post cards have been sent to every home in the area asking for interested parties.

Melroy won’t have a problem finding homeowners interested in hosting a Little Free Library on their property. So far she has received 72 emails from interested property owners. She expects to get more than 100 before the deadline on Dec. 4. Any person living in North Seattle within the service area can email Melroy at [email protected]

“Early next year we will have a decorating and putting together libraries party. Then we will install the Little Free Libraries,” Melroy said. “We are going to stock the libraries with some kids books about Michael the Recycler, waste free homes, and some other books like that.”

What’s in the libraries?

The staff at MyNorthwest visited Little Free Libraries around Seattle to put the boxes to an anecdotal test. Boxes were found in neighborhoods such as Ballard, Wedgewood, Ravenna, Capitol Hill and Green Lake.

Like with any take-a-book, leave-a-book location, the selection can be hit or miss. There can be the most recent best-seller, or specialty craft books like “How to Make Pillows.” There does seem to be a hefty selection of how-to and self-improvement books, such as “Discipline without shouting or spanking,” or “Be an Outrageous Older Woman.” And sometimes, there are even DVDs.

The bulk of books were a mixed bag of general literature, from authors such as J.D. Salinger, Nick Hornby, and David Sedaris. It includes memoirs and historical novels. There are also plenty of local authors such as Rebecca Wells, Sherman Alexie, or David Gutterson. But those authors might not as common as a reader may like.

Putting literature aside, mysteries are the most common genre found in the Little Free Libraries. There were 22 mystery novels. Coming in second was how-to/self-improvement books with 14. Then romance with 10 novels. There were four young adult novels, three adventures books, and one travel book.

Here are a few examples of books MyNorthwest staff found, and their ratings out of five stars on

• “Kon Tiki,” Thor Heyerdahl; 4.5 stars

• “Naked,” David Sedaris; 4 stars

• “The Gender Knot” Allan G. Johnson; 4.5 stars

• “The Gunslinger,” Stephen King; 4 stars

• “Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe; 4 stars

• “A Confederacy of Dunces,” John Kennedy Toole; 4 stars

• “About a Boy,” Nick Hornby; 4.5 stars

• “See you later, alligator,” William F. Buckley; 4.5 stars

• “Harvey Penick’s Little Red Bood,” Harvey Penick; 5 stars

• “Dear John,” Nicholas Sparks; 4 stars

• “Outlander,” Diana Gabaldon; 4.5 stars

• “The Sea Hunter,” Clive Cussler; 4 stars

• “Bloodsucking Friends,” Christopher Moore, 4.5 stars

• “Neuromancer,” William Gibson; 4 stars

• “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn; 4.5 stars

• “Eye of the Needle,” Ken Follett; 4.5 stars

• “Storms of My Grandchildren,” James Hansen; 4.5 stars

• “The Book Thief,” Markus Zusak; 4.5 stars

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