Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping the spirit of reading books alive. To this day, they have helped spark the development of over 75,000 small free libraries in over 88 countries.
Perhaps one of the most magical-looking examples of these free libraries can be found in Sharalee Armitage Howard’s front yard near Midtown Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Howard, a wife, mother, creative artist and librarian, transformed a rotting 110-year-old cottonwood tree in front of her home into a Little Free Library that’ll make your heart skip a beat.
Howard admits it was time to take down the tree years ago, perhaps even 15 years back when they first purchased the home. Although, she admits she had a hard time letting it go.
When branches started falling, with one landing directly on her son’s vehicle, the family knew it was time. According to Howard, it was clear that the core of the tree was badly rotted.
Still, she wondered how could save it. She told the Atlas Obscura: “I thought: What if I kept the trunk part of it? What if we make it into one of those Little Free Libraries?”
“Immediately I could envision the little steps going up to it. I knew I’d do a lot of features to make it match the house. You just have these ‘what if’ moments and then your brain starts figuring out how to make it work.”
The family made the decision to move most of the tree, leaving behind the large stump, which was the perfect spot for a Little Free Library.
Quite fittingly, Sharalee works at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. She’s been interested in the Little Free Library movement for a while. In fact, she created a freestanding model of one a few years back to sell at an auction for her children’s school.
She admits bidding on the homemade creation herself until she could no longer afford to keep raising her hand – that’s how much she adored it.
A couple years later, she realized she had the opportunity to make an even better version of her original library box.
She hollowed out the trunk of the tree, which now stands around 10 feet tall, and placed a box inside of the hollow portion of it.
She placed a little glass door on the front so visitors could see exactly what’s in stock on any given day.
In addition, she placed a light above the door, and added a series of steps that go up to the library. There is indoor lighting as well, along with a roof to protect the books from bad weather.
The details are everything on this little library. Look closely and you’ll notice there are miniature books that line the top of the door, each printed with a different book title.
The artist’s husband and four children selected their favorite titles for the decorative books. This same feature was present on her original library box that sold at auction.
The artist said she was inspired to make the library because she enjoys projects that “make the world a cooler place to live in.”
In December 2018, Sharalee posted photos about the old tree stump turned library on Facebook. It instantly became a viral sensation.
Both local and national media outlets picked up the story. Since then, people continue to visit and borrow books. “There’s literally been people waiting for other people to take their turn,” she said.
What is a Little Free Library?
Typically found in neighborhoods, Little Free Libraries are homegrown mini libraries where people can borrow books for free.
The organization was founded by the late Todd H. Bol in Wisconsin, and is based on the “take a book, share a book” philosophy. This creates a community of reading buddies.
One of the best parts is that each library is customized by the owner, so you never know what it will look like. People have come up with all sorts of creative ways to display their library books in front of their homes.
The Howard’s Little Free Library is uniquely designed from a 110-year-old cottonwood tree that was destined to die. Instead, it’s been given a new life as what could easy be called the world’s cutest miniature library.
The Howard’s library is now open for business and has been incredibly successful with people coming from all around the neighborhood, as well as much farther, to borrow books.
Learn more about starting your own free library at LittleFreeLibrary.org.
Want to find a Little Free Library near you? You can search for local libraries on the organization’s website.