On Saturday, May 21, which happened to be National Readathon Day, Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis welcomed the first-ever Little Free Library Festival. The event was organized by Little Free Library, a Wisconsin nonprofit launched in 2009 that now counts more than 40,000 registered structures—small book depositories that invite people to take, and leave, a title—in all 50 states and in 70 countries.
The event was meant to reflect the Little Free Library spirit of community, according to Little Free Library festival organizer Tony Bol. It featured activities like book swaps, in keeping LFL’s “Take a Book, Return a Book” philosophy, and the building of 100 Little Free Libraries as part of LFL’s Kids, Community, and Cops program.
The finished boxes were given to recipients ranging from senior centers to a Minneapolis neighborhood that has suffered from major tornado damage and tensions with police in recent years.
A fundraiser featuring tutu-wearing bike-riders and a parade of dogs dressed in costumes inspired by literature, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder and characters from Memoirs of a Geisha, were nods to two communities with a longstanding connection to the LFL movement. Other elements included a Harry Potter trivia contest, high school student finalists from the Loft Literary Center’s Poetry Out Loud competition performing Random Acts of Poetry by reciting poems to attendees, pop-up poetry shows in a stage resembling a Little Free Library, and more.
Local sponsors ranged from booksellers (Red Balloon Bookshop and Common Good Books) to publishers (Graywolf Press and Milkweed Editions) to reading organizations (Hennepin County Libraries and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts). All had set up tables where they were offering information, some books for sale, and free books. “We wanted the sponsor area to be a non-selling environment to promote the community aspect of the Little Free Library,” Bol said.
Whole Foods was the event’s primary financial sponsor, while the Star Tribune was the media sponsor. Penguin Random House donated 5,000 copies of Pharrell Williams’s picture book Happy, which were available gratis to attendees.
Bol said the hope is to hold the event again on future National Readathon Days, if the organization can secure funding. LFL’s vision is for cities around the country to ultimately develop their own events on the same day, following the template established by the Minneapolis debut.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Tony Bol as Todd Bol. Additionally, Bol's title is festival organizer, not festival co-founder.