Printed page makes comeback with Free Little Library

A hole in the wall has become the Claremont community’s window of literary opportunity.

The gaping hole, a longtime fixture on the north side of The Press Restaurant’s brick building, has been transformed into the town’s Free Little Library, part of a book-sharing program that is sweeping the globe.

Claremont’s Free Little Library—an undertaking led by Anne Seltzer, owner of A Brush with the Past: Art Gallery and Vintage Treasures—is one of thousands of miniature reading nooks worldwide. The program encourages communities to take advantage of open space to help promote global literacy. Whether in a cardboard box on the side of the road or set up like a mailbox in the front yard, Free Little Libraries are filling public space with free books for the sharing.  

“It’s far from what might typically be expected,” said Ms. Seltzer of the library situated at the back of the alleyway between The Press and Tintura Salon in the Village. “It’s an unexpected treat.”

The concept for the Free Little Library program is as simple as the tiny structures themselves: “take a book, leave a book.” It is not meant as a donated book “dumping ground,” but as part of a book-sharing program, giving communities 24-7 access to works of literature. Passersby are encouraged to share a favorite book with a personal note in exchange for another’s recommendation.

“This is in no way meant to compete with the library. It is just an added little thing that we hope latches on,” Ms. Seltzer said.

Though the little libraries are nearly insignificant in stature, the idea is gaining major attention. Claremont residents and business owners have caught onto the concept like wildfire just mere days after its opening and with only 3 books donning its shelf, according to Ms. Seltzer.

“It’s such an enchanting, simple idea that keeps people reading,” said Joan Bunte, who immediately signed up to be the library’s steward for the month of August. Stewards, responsible for the library’s safekeeping, will rotate on a monthly basis. Ms. Bunte feels the little library will encourage deeper appreciation for literature.

“It creates more opportunities for those who still appreciate the written page,” Ms. Bunte said. “Anne [Ms. Seltzer] is so clever. I just think it’s the best idea.”

Ms. Seltzer had long set her eyes on the empty shelf-like space, which she always saw as a hidden gem rather than an abandoned hole in the wall at the end of the alleyway near her shop.

“I was originally going to put a little art gallery in it,” Ms. Seltzer said.

This was before she stumbled upon the Little Free Library idea on the internet.

“I’m a former high school English teacher so boy, did that appeal to me,” Ms. Seltzer said, with the notion that her fellow Claremont readers would feel the same.”

Local artist Doug McGoon latched onto the program’s “pay it forward” mentality right away, collaborating with Ms. Seltzer to help build the library’s frame.

“I liked the whole community element of it,” Mr. McGoon said. “I liked the idea that people are doing little, nice things for each other.”

It’s not your typical library; rooms filled with tall bookshelves stacked to the ceiling. It’s a simple framed box, no larger than a microwave, made with recycled materials, as are the makings of every Little Free Library.

The design of each library is as simple or intricate as its creators deem appropriate. One Little Free Library found in London, for example, is a life-size imitation of an old, red British phone booth while one found in nearby Pasadena resembles a rustic, wooden mailbox.

Claremont’s box is made of old wood with a little green bird near the door handle—paying homage to the many painted birds found at Ms. Seltzer’s store. She wanted to tie in the design with that of the Press’s architecture and the vintage and antique-theme of her own shop across the way.

In addition to building the library, Mr. McGoon and Ms. Seltzer are also among the first to add their book recommendations to the pile. Light on Snow, Ms. Seltzer’s pick by author Anita Shreve, was the first to go on the shelf. A tale of grief and loss, the novel follows 12-year-old Nicky Dillon and her father who discover a baby abandoned in the snow. Ms. Seltzer found herself engrossed with the tale that ensues.

“It is beautifully written,” Ms. Seltzer said. “The beautiful writing is the main thing that attracts me to a book.”

She hopes others in the Claremont community, old and young, will add their picks to the pile, whether children’s book, or titles in the young adult, romance novel or scientific genres. Novels will only be removed if deemed inappropriate.

“But I’m pretty liberal,” Ms. Seltzer joked of her book choices.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place Wednesday, July 13 at 6 p.m. Ms. Seltzer hopes residents will come out to the celebration and embrace this new community endeavor. She is hopeful that the Village’s Little Free Library will inspire others to create their own public literary space.

“This is a total community effort. It’s up to the community to work it and keep it going,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I hope it’s something Claremont readers support and embrace.”

Find out more about the Little Free Library program at

—Beth Hartnett


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