DIYdiy projects

How to Build Your Own Neighborhood Street Library

by Grace Bonney

I love fun, decorative DIY projects, but when DIY can do something good and give back to the community, it really makes my day. San Francisco-based designer Jason Lees did just that when he decided to use his talents (and some great salvaged materials) to create an outdoor street library for his nine-year-old niece, Lucy.

These little free libraries, intended to encourage literacy, discovery and community, are popular across the country and every city needs help creating these neighborhood “library stations” where all children can give, get and exchange reading materials. When Jason’s niece asked him to create a library for her street, he realized that some of the leftover materials he had around his studio would be perfect for the project (and right in line with the libraries’ mission of recycling and re-using).

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So with some clever design choices, Jason turned a patio chair, wooden drawers and boxes, Redwood fencing, plywood, Ipe wood decking, colored acrylic sheets, corrugated polycarbonate, house and spray paint into a colorful home for Lucy’s neighbors to store and share books. I love the nods here to Memphis design and the fact that this beautiful little library will encourage children throughout the area to come, pick up a book and read.

If you’re interested in using your DIY skills to do something good for your neighborhood community, Jason is sharing his how-to steps after the jump. The best part is that just about any old boxes and leftover plastic or cardboard will do. All you need is your imagination and a little bit of elbow grease to create something special that will inspire kids to read. Thanks, Jason! xo, grace

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Tips For Building Your Own Street Library From Salvaged Materials

Building your own street library from salvaged materials can be a fun, creative, and educational project. You don’t need a lot of building skills, just imagination and determination.

Many of the components you’ll need you may already have. Think about creative ways you can re-use stuff collecting dust in your garage or basement. Whatever you don’t have you can go treasure-hunting for at salvage yards, thrift shops, garage sales, flea markets and even the scrap bins at building suppliers.

Here are the basic components you’ll need:

Base/Legs: Something strong to support the weight of the book-filled containers that is also stable, so it won’t get tipped over by users or the weather. I had an old tubular metal patio chair frame in my basement that was perfect. Other options could be a wood chair frame or legs, or a table base or legs. You could also make your own base or legs out of scrap wood or metal.

Boxes/Containers: Measure the dimensions of some books to give you an idea of how large the containers need to be. You can add dividers or shelves if your containers are on the big side. I used some wood boxes left over from a project, and picked up a few old drawers from Urban Ore Salvage in Berkeley and Building Resources in San Francisco. Wood bookcases and crates can also work. Wood or plywood is the best material to use. Metal or plastic can be tricky (but not impossible) to attach door hinges to.

Doors: Doors are needed on the containers to protect the books from the elements. Plywood, wood boards, and salvaged kitchen or cabinet doors are good options. If you want to see through the doors, transparent plastic or acrylic sheets work great. There are a variety of colors and textures, the material doesn’t break like glass, and can be cut with woodworking tools. I used some sheets left over from a furniture project and picked up a few more pieces from the scrap bin at TAP Plastics.

Door Hinges: This is the only component that I purchased new. I needed continuous (piano) hinges for the acrylic doors. They’re hard to find salvaged, and standard chrome or brass-plated continuous hinges will corrode outdoors. So I bought some harder-to-find aluminum continuous hinges from Grainger. Whatever style of hinges you use, they should be aluminum, zinc-coated, or stainless steel to avoid corrosion. Gate hinges are a good option.

Door Knobs/Pulls: I made door pulls out of scraps of ipe wood, which is a strong, rot-resistant wood used for decking and fencing. If you don’t want to make your own, there are lots of salvage door/cabinet knobs and pulls out there.

Roof: If your library is going to be directly exposed to the elements it’ll need a roof. I built the roof support structure from scraps of redwood, and the roof is a leftover piece of corrugated polycarbonate called SUNTUF. Other possible roofing materials to use are: corrugated fiberglass, greenhouse panels, corrugated or sheet galvanized metal, and wood, composite, or asphalt roof shingles.

Finishes: Exterior grade finishes offer the best protection from the elements. I coated the tubular metal of the base with Mediterranean blue indoor/outdoor spray paint. The redwood roof support structure was painted with green exterior semi-transparent stain. I didn’t have any pink exterior house paint (fortunately for my neighbors), so I mixed some fuchsia paint with off-white exterior house paint to get the perfect shade of pink for the containers.



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  • I always love finding neighborhood street libraries around los angeles and seeing what’s inside. This one is adorable and makes me want one of mine own!

  • My sister’s street in Rockville, MD has one of these free libraries. We have really wanted to start one here. I am nervous about HOA. My husband says it is our property and we are providing a service. What do you think?

  • How do you get these ideas! Brilliant simply brilliant! I wish i had the imagination and skills to create my own furniture like this. Kudos to you.

  • I have tons of books, have benn putting them in the little house librays. However I’d like to do one in front of my house. Do not feel I need to pay someone to do this. What is the issue with HOA?

    • Pat

      I don’t think you need to pay anyone- that’s the purpose of this post. Is your neighborhood’s HOA demanding you hire someone to do this?