Examination of content in relation to the intentions of the steward, the geography and the collections of the public libraries »

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What’s in a Book Exchange: Examining Content Against Steward’s Intentions, Geography, and Public Library Collections


Andrew McKenna-Foster
fig tree slice

Hanna Roseen
NCW Libraries


Journal of Library and Information Science
First published online September 28, 202

DOI: 10.1177/09610006221124336


Over the past decade, book exchanges, primarily those registered with the Little Free Library® network, have aroused the interest of researchers and the media. Very little is known about the types of books available at these book exchanges and how their collections compare to those of public libraries. To fill this knowledge gap, we selected a random sample of 42 small free libraries in eight Seattle neighborhoods to inventory their content. We asked stewards about their seeding and weeding practices.

Figure 3. Each pie chart represents the top five categories found in each neighborhood standardized by LFL volume. Central District does not include data for a library that had been deleted when we returned to measure its dimensions. Source: 10.1177/09610006221124336

Our inventory shows that most of the books available at Small Free Libraries are children’s, mystery, suspense, self-help/health, and sci-fi/fantasy books published within the last 10-30 years. The neighborhoods in our sample varied in terms of measures of socioeconomic and racial diversity, but there were no significant differences in LFL content related to these measures. We also compared our inventory to the collections of nearby public library branches and found that smaller free libraries provide a complementary rather than competitive selection scenario: books in LFLs are generally older, with a lower proportion of books for children and a higher proportion of fiction books.

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Filed Under: Data Files, Libraries, News, Public Libraries

About Gary Price

Gary Price ([email protected]) is a librarian, writer, consultant and frequent speaker based in the Washington DC metro area. He received his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards, including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program Alumnus of the Year. From 2006 to 2009, he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com. Gary is also the co-founder of infoDJ an innovation research consultancy that supports enterprise product and business model teams with just-in-time fact finding and insight.

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