Luisa Skinner lives ‘coastfully’, teaching yoga and writing for weathered women from her driftwood cabin by the wild sea in the Southwest of the UK. Ever curious about the natural world and how we can live well while being mindful of our planet, Luisa leads community eco projects and manages a charity gym that specialises in physical activity for those living with long-term health conditions. When Luisa discovered the US-based Little Free Library she was inspired to recreate it in her hometown, with a focus on the environment. She tells Frank how she became an eco-librarian.
My discovery of the Minnesota-founded global organisation Little Free Library was a chance encounter while listening to a favourite podcast.
Cait Flanders, author and traveller, mentioned the community book project with fondness in early episodes of her ‘Opting Out’ series.
I would eagerly anticipate my Tuesday hikes through the woods near my home on the Southwest coast of the UK, knowing that Cait’s calm Canadian tones would be accompanying me.
So on hearing about her joy at finding Little Free Libraries in remote settlements whilst out on the trails, my ears pricked up and I knew there was gold for me to follow.
Little Free Library was founded in 2009 and its admirable mission is to build community, inspire readers and expand book access for all.
It began on the driveway of Todd Bol, of Wisconsin, who constructed a small model of a schoolhouse, installed it at the end of his driveway, and filled it with books for his neighbours to borrow. It was a hit and there are now more than 150,000 registered little libraries in over 115 countries across the globe.
Our vision is a Little Free Library in every community and a book for every reader. We believe all people are empowered when the opportunity to discover a personally relevant book to read is not limited by time, space, or privilege. littlefreelibrary.org
My interest in books spans my life; in fact, I can plot what was happening at a particular moment from the books I was reading.
My daughter Fern nurtures that same love and also possesses an entrepreneurial confidence that only eleven-year-olds can. When I told her about these tiny houses that people build outside their homes and fill with books, she was elated. Secretly, so was I.
Such a love for libraries and second-hand bookshops is special. The eagerness to discover an unread title by a favourite author, to pore over their pre-loved covers and imagine what knowledge lies inside, to feel pages touched by others and picture their lives while holding it. The delight at the smell of old books sparks a curiosity that will never leave you.
Spurred on by the enthusiasm of my daughter and determined to bring a Little Free Library to my small coastal hometown, I began to research.
Fees to register are modest but funding the build and stock following the financial challenges of 2020 was something to consider. To help keep costs low we salvaged driftwood from our local beach and collected cast-off fishing nets, shells and discarded buoys for decoration.
As a family we began scanning local charity shops and online second-hand providers for suitable books. It was then that we realised we could host possibly the first environmental-themed Little Free Library, combining our passion for the natural world and conservation, with our love for reading.
My husband Paul, who builds houses for a living, now had a tiny house to construct and enjoyed the project probably more than he would care to admit.
I teach yoga classes with sea swimming on our local beach every Summer and decided to use all proceeds that season to fund the creation of our Little Free Library.
Yoga clients were thrilled to contribute towards a community project, especially one which encouraged the protection of our oceans. After the tribulations of 2020, outdoor yoga had never been more popular.
Our little library is now open and filled with knowledge of the sea, conservation, climate change and the natural world, for both children and adults.
There are novels and non-fiction, just a handful of each, and I’m thrilled that families visit often. I post photos of newly added books on Instagram and Facebook and adore the excited squeaks and squeals of children visiting at weekends.
As a ‘steward’ there are few rules; ours is simply that books can be borrowed for as long as readers wish. If they truly fall in love with a book and can’t bear to part with it, we just ask for another donated title in return.
The joy of books is magical and should be freely available to everyone. A sense of responsibility for the current climate emergency is also essential. Who would have thought a book could begin to change the world? But it just could.
I thoroughly recommend creating and registering your own Little Free Library at your home to share with friends and neighbours.
As a mother to two young children, this has been a beautiful experience and a genuine demonstration of care for our planet that could span the generations for years to come.
You can find out more about creating your own Little Free Library HERE
Subscribe for free to Luisa’s Substack publication Salted and be sure to follow Luisa on Instagram or Facebook for a regular dose of inspiration.