Tracey Short wanted a Little Free Library in her neighborhood.
Little Free Library is an international “take a book, leave a book” program where people place small book-filled boxes in yards and public spaces making them available for anyone to take, read, replace or add a title.
Short learned about the Little Free Library from a news program. Soon she had plans and a box built. After months of back and forth with city officials about putting her Little Free Library in the sliver of a park across the street from her house, Short had enough. The blue and white box about the size of a very large mailbox sat ready for readers on her porch for more than a month, she said.
“I gave up and I put it up,” Short said. “I tried every argument that I could before I just decided to put it in my yard.”
The Lake Hibiscus Little Free Library is installed across the street from Hibiscus Lake Park in Clearwater. The box is near the street curb (there are no sidewalks) nearly concealed next to a speed hump warning sign and a street light pole.
While there are a few Little Free Library locations in the city; none are on city space unlike counterparts in Dunedin and Safety Harbor, where officials proliferated the program that aims to increase literacy a free book at a time in city parks and public space. There are 110 parks throughout Pinellas County’s second largest city and five library locations.
There are other free literacy programs in the area including the Blue Bird Book program which lists its Open Book Exchange book box locations through its website, openbookexchange.org. Some also are registered with the Little Free Library program.
Clearwater Little Free Library locations:
Hibiscus Lake Little Free Library — 1007 Palm Terrace Drive
1466 N. Hibiscus St.
305 N. Madison Ave.
Dunedin Little Free Library Locations (according to Dunedin Library map)
Pinellas Trail/Dunedin Historical Museum, 349 Main St.
Weaver Park, 1258 Bayshore Blvd.
Loudon and Wood Street, 737 Louden Ave.
Alt. 19 and Curlew Road
Honeymoon Island, 1 Causeway Blvd.
Hammock Park, 1900 San Mateo Drive
Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center, 550 Laura Lane
Dunedin Marina, 51 Main St.
San Jose Elementary School, 1670 San Helen Drive
Safety Harbor Little Free Library Locations (according to Safety Harbor Library)
Gazebo Park, 401 Main St.
Mullet Creek Park, 536 Phillippe Parkway
For more information,
At first Tracey Short was excited about creating her own Little Free Library. She set up a Facebook page and started a database of the books she was going to stock it with.
Short, who spends much of her day staring at a screen working for IBM, liked the idea of the Little Free Library, that offers free paper books.
“It’s a great way to continue to promote that... to have a real book,” Short said. “At some point they might just be a novelty item.”
She found plans and her husband put the library together. But when she went to city officials asking to put it up under the oaks in Hibiscus Lake Park, she was told no, that it could go inside a rec center. The stamp of a park, considered a mini-park by the city, has a couple of benches and some trees surrounding a pond.
“They’re missing the whole point there too, from my perspective” Short said. “If you don’t support the program just say so.. but don’t say you’re supporting it when you’re really not.”
Kevin Dunbar, director of Clearwater’s parks and recreation department, is agreeable to putting Little Free Library boxes in city parks - with some conditions. They could be where there are recreation centers and places where there is some oversight of the boxes.
“We would want to see it where it’s staffed” Dunbar said. “Not kind of randomly out at a park someplace… That’s the only concern we have.”
Little Free Library is an international literacy program that has seen success locally in Dunedin and Safety Harbor. There are locations in Hillsborough and Pasco counties as well.
The concept started in Wisconsin in 2011. Todd Bol honored his mother, a teacher and book lover by creating the first Little Free Library box. Typically a steward or sponsor maintains the box. There now are thousands of them across the country and in about fifty countries. It costs $35 to register a box with the group.
In Clearwater you will find them in resident yards. Short and another neighbor have them in the Hibiscus Lake neighborhood.
The box at Donna Kellner’s house at 305 N. Madison Ave. predates many of the Little Free Library locations in the area.
Kellner got plans online and her husband built and installed the Amish Shed style box at the edge of their yard near the sidewalk for anyone walking by to stop and take or add a book in 2012. She estimates she has put about 300 books in the box since then. She changes the books frequently mixing in titles to fit the changing seasons. She keeps a light on the inside of the box at night, note cards with a pencil for borrowers to leave suggestions and photocopy packets of information about the Little Free Library program.
There were some kids who messed around with the box once but her husband caught them and there have not been other issues with vandalism or stealing. A stamp in each book denotes they are “always a gift, never for sale” to deter people from trying to take and resell them.
“If you are giving (books) as a gift you can’t think of them as being stolen,” Kellner said.
Library directors in Dunedin and Safety Harbor were instrumental in starting Little Free Library locations in their cities.
Building, maintaining and stocking the boxes with books uses little staff time and is typically done by volunteer groups who are the sponsors of the boxes.
The Little Free Library program really gained traction in Pinellas County about a year ago when Phyllis Gorshe, director of the Dunedin Library, saw some of the boxes while on vacation in Minnesota and brought the idea back with her.
The Dunedin Friends of the Library donated the money to build the first box on the Pinellas Trail near the Historical Museum (train station) downtown in May 2013. Within a few months the city was awash in Little Free Libraries. There are 10 in parks and public places throughout the city each with its own unique theme and there are plans for more Gorshe said.
A box in Hammock park has a dog theme. Weaver Park has a nature theme and is sized for children who frequent the playground there. A box near Curlew Road and US 19 has an osprey motif.
“We’ve found that in the parks and in busy areas are really successful” Gorshe said. “That’s our real goal, is to get books in the hands of kids. We want to encourage reading.”
Gorshe admits there was a case of vandalism, a door was ripped off a box at the marina. Subsequently, that box was moved to a more prominent and trafficked location near the pier at the marina.
They have learned other lessons as well, Gorshe said. Volunteers who construct the boxes have figured out which materials work better under the tropical conditions in Florida. Some of the first boxes are being revamped to better withstand the elements. A volunteer also created an app that gives the locations and other information about the Dunedin Little Free Library program.
In Safety Harbor, Lisa Kothe, director of the Safety Harbor Library, wants a Little Free Library in every park.
The city recently dedicated the city’s first two Little Free Library locations; on Main Street at Gazebo Park and another in Mullet Creek Park. Others for Marshall Street Park and City Park are expected to be installed in a few weeks, Kothe said.
Kothe takes care of the boxes, riding her bike to the locations making sure they are stocked with books.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. It promotes reading and when we put them in the parks we are putting children’s books in as well,” Kothe said. “There’s tips on where they should be placed but you got to have it where people are going to see it.”
While Clearwater city officials have not approved any Little Free Library locations on city property, there is one at the Pinellas County Courthouse and another is going in front of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative offices on Cleveland Street downtown, said Barbara Pickell, director of the Clearwater Public Library System.
“We’ve thought about some places where we’d like to do it,” Pickell said mentioning possible locations including the Ross Norton Recreation Complex and somewhere at the beach.
“They need to be in a place where people are passing by,” she said.
It could be at least six months before the library would be able to put a project together though, Pickell said.
It’s not just avoiding vandalism that officials are concerned about but how much staff time would be needed to stock and maintain the book selection, she said.
“It kind of depends on people taking and leaving for them to work most effectively,” Pickell said.
Short isn’t the only one who had issues trying to install a Little Free Library in Clearwater.
JoAnna Siskin, president of the Skycrest Neighbors Association, was told no when she wanted to put a couple boxes in Crest Lake Park, an expansive neighborhood park that has a playground and dog park.
She has started meeting with city council members and talking with them about the Little Free Library program.
“I think we have people on the council who support literacy and see the value in the program,” Siskin said. “You can’t be so worried about what might happen that you don’t try something.”