Little Free Libraries 8

Paying It Forward One Book at a Time

Kindness is contagious. It’s a driving force for cities around the globe, sometimes saving them where they need it most—the heart. Most would say Missoula’s heartbeat is unwavering, pronounced even. There’s an energy to this place that’s unlike many other cities, unique to its geographic location and to the crop of people who have settled here, or those who have always called it home.

It’s easy to pick out a city’s flaws and almost always difficult to think of the things we’re all doing right. Having Little Free Libraries that bring our community together is a right. These miniature homes for books have come a long way since their official beginning in the luminous city (and literary haven) of Madison, Wisconsin. With more than 36,000 worldwide, there are about 16 Little Free Libraries in Missoula.

Similar to the philosophy of Andrew Carnegie, who supported nearly 2,500 free public libraries, the Little Free Library’s mission is to “promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations.”

Judy Chapman, Steward of Charter 31711, set out to honor this promise by installing a Little Free Library at the intersection of Speedway and Sommers. She and her husband attend meetings for the East Missoula Community Council and when she brought up the idea of adding a Little Free Library to their neighborhood, she received nod after nod of approval.

“My husband and I really do support the neighborhood and want to see improvements,” said Chapman. Her inspiration to install one in East Missoula came from the Little Free Library in the shape of a little white church on South Avenue.

“I [thought] that would be a great addition to the neighborhood,” said Chapman. She did her research and took note of high traffic areas, surveyed streets and properties for the perfect spot until she noticed the many buses that swarm the intersection where it proudly stands today. She started off by donating a few books and checks up on it regularly on her frequent trips to ride the city bus.

“Every time I look at it, it has changed…books come, books go. It’s been great. I’m really astounded at how much traffic that box is getting,” said Chapman.

What’s more than a beautifully painted, sturdy structure is the pay it forward nature it encourages. From building the structure to location to installation to the eventual sharing of literature, a community effort is often made for the sole purpose of contributing to the greater good.

Kori Christianson, marketing manager of Draught Works Brewery where Charter 32670 stands, believes in the positive impact their Little Free Library has on community members and the community itself.

“Jeff Grant, one of our owners, had seen other Little Free Libraries in the past and wanted to bring one to our Northside/Westside neighborhood, which we love and are grateful to be a part of,” she said. “The books are constantly changing and we have been so pleased with the involvement of our neighborhood and community in the library.” They’ve seen a variety of books swap in and out from children’s literature to DIY books and theirs, too, came into existence with the help of neighbors and friends.

“Our Little Free Library was designed and built by Keith Ledford of Blue Dog Furniture. He has built many beautiful items for us over the years, including our bar, tables, and cabinetry. We felt he was the perfect person to execute our vision of a rustic, yet warm Little Free Library,” said Christianson.

Whether it be dropping a book off or picking a new one up, these simple structures are encouraging not only literacy in our neighborhoods but also the chance to give back and become more involved in the positive changes we can make within our communities.

If you or someone you know might be interested in adding a Little Free Library to your neighborhood, or you’d like to see the locations of Little Free Libraries in Missoula, please visit