Repair the World
Repair the World is placing 40 Little Free Libraries around Pittsburgh with more to come.

Some of them look like miniature homes, others look like birdhouses. Perhaps you’ve even spotted one while making your way around Pittsburgh and wondered, “what the heck is that?”

Little Free Libraries are popping up all over the world. Each one is a box full of books where anyone is free to pick one up and bring back another to share. The goal is to get books into areas that need them the most.

There are about two dozen in Pittsburgh so far, but that number is about to explode thanks to a collaborative effort from a few local nonprofits, led by East Liberty-based service organization Repair the World: Pittsburgh.

“I was on vacation before I moved to Pittsburgh and I started seeing these things all over the place,” says Repair Fellow Zhenya Gelman, who’s been working on the project for nearly a year. “I was totally enamored with the idea and noticed there weren’t any of these around here.”

Gelman and some of the other fellows initially started out on their own, building the wooden boxes as a part of mentoring activities with local kids. Before long, she found a perfect ally in the Neighborhood Learning Alliance, which was working with students at Brashear High School on a similar project. One North Side and United Way of Allegheny County’s Be There Campaign also partnered with Repair on the project.

“It’s a great example of Pittsburgh nonprofits working together to achieve something great. We’re hoping that by providing books, it will engage students and communities to work together and read more,” says NLA’s Debra Smallwood.

This little free library was decorated by artist  Ashley Cecil.
This little free library was decorated by artist Ashley Cecil.

Made by students and adopted by local organizations, this first round of 40 Little Free Libraries will debut on Saturday during an event at the Mattress Factory from noon to 5 p.m. The event is free to attend, and anyone who brings five books to donate to the project will receive free admission to the Mattress Factory.

“When Zhenya connected with the Neighborhood Learning Alliance and learned that there were Little Free Libraries that students from Brashear were making, we figured we could turn it into something big,” says Zack Block, director of Repair the World: Pittsburgh. “A lot of organizations have showed interest in taking them, decorating them and placing them around the community.”

Pittsburgh Citiparks, Zeke’s Coffee, 52nd Street Market in Lawrenceville, the Free Store in Braddock and Whole Foods are all among the organizations which are adopting the libraries, and any local resident interested in installing one in their neighborhood may adopt one completely free of charge.

While most of the first 40 are spoken for, another round of 40 will be ready for adoption in the next few weeks.

“The real aim is to flood the area with them after this and have the concept of give-a-book, take-a-book hit Pittsburgh in a big way,” Block says.

If you’re interested in adding a Little Free Library to your community, contact Repair the World: Pittsburgh or stop by the event at the Mattress Factory on Saturday.

Matthew Wein is a local writer, editor, blogger, storyteller and proud native Pittsburgher. Once described as "a man of things," he covers city design, spirits and craft beer for NEXT, where he keeps all of the editorial meetings light-hearted and interesting. His interests include sorting books, looking at old things and candles which smell like old-growth pine forests.