Alton Park gets first Little Free Library, with more book-sharing boxes popping up across Chattanooga

Photo contributed by Jaclyn Lewis / Staff members from Bethlehem Center and green|spaces’ Build It Green celebrate the opening of its newest Little Free Library.
Photo contributed by Jaclyn Lewis / Staff members from Bethlehem Center and green|spaces’ Build It Green celebrate the opening of its newest Little Free Library.


Have you seen the new Little Free Library at the Bethlehem Center in Alton Park?

Little Free Library is a nonprofit dedicated to increasing book access for all through a network of volunteer-led micro-libraries, usually in the form of a public weatherproof bookshelf built by an individual or group. People can come and get a book for free, so long as they leave a book in return. Currently there are 49 registered Little Free Library book-sharing boxes across Chattanooga -- and probably more since not all of them are registered.

The cost to register one is $60, and anyone can do it. Likewise, anyone can build and install one -- though, if you'd rather not build one from scratch, pre-built libraries are available on Little Free Library's website, with options beginning around $170 and all purchases helping support the nonprofit's mission to inspire readers.

There are no hard rules for the types of books that can be included in a Little Free Library. Some are a hodgepodge, while others are dedicated to a specific community, like the Little Freedom Library off of Woodlawn Drive that focuses on African-American literature. Others may focus on children's and young adult books.

The president of the Southside Chamber Council, Monica Kinsey, recently helped bring the first one to Alton Park, installed at the family-oriented Bethlehem Center, 200 W. 38th St.

"Throughout the pandemic, we had to do a lot of virtual [events] and weren't able to do as much outreach," says Kinsey. "Coming out of the pandemic, we wanted to make books ... more accessible. So we worked to track down Little Free Libraries not registered and find pockets that don't have a Little Free Library so that we could have one installed and help with inventory."

Thanks to the chamber's help, little nooks with books are now popping up all across Chattanooga -- Battle Academy even recently had a class that built four Little Free Library boxes, says Kinsey, with one installed at Battle Academy and another at Jefferson Heights.

Alton Park's library was funded by the Sankofa Fund for Civic Engagement and installed by green|spaces' Build it Green program, which helps community members install and complete community projects that require construction.

"The installation process took 45 minutes, maybe an hour," says Jaclyn Lewis, communication and outreach coordinator for green|spaces.

For those looking to build and register a micro-library of their own, or view a map of registered Little Free Library boxes in Chattanooga, visit littlefreelibrary.org.

Where it began

The Little Free Library concept is based on a Wisconsin nonprofit that started in 2009, igniting a craze for community micro-libraries around the world. Today, there are more than 100,000 registered Little Free Library boxes in 108 countries. The first local exchange was installed in North Chattanooga in 2013, and the network now boasts 49 registered boxes throughout the area, including ones in Soddy-Daisy, Ooltewah and Cleveland.