Love of reading inspires Al Lehman to build free book exchanges

Those who drive past the Windermere Real Estate office in downtown Arlington may have noticed what looks like a smaller version of the building on a post near the street. It is not a tiny real estate agency, but a Little Free Library.

Al Lehman organizes books in the Windermere Real Estate Little Free Library in Arlington.

ARLINGTON — Those who drive past the Windermere Real Estate office in downtown Arlington may have noticed what looks like a smaller version of the building on a post near the street. It is not a tiny real estate agency, but a Little Free Library.

Al Lehman, who works at Windermere, built a log-cabin inspired Little Free Library at his home in Arlington Heights. He also pitched the idea to his real estate broker who funded the addition of a library at their offices on Burke Avenue in Arlington.

“I really love reading and when I heard about Little Free Libraries, I thought it would be a good thing for the neighborhood,” he said.

Little Free Libraries began in 2009 when a Wisconsin man named Todd Bol built a model of a schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a teacher who was passionate about reading. He filled the schoolhouse with books and put it on a post in his front yard. This began a movement that has led to what the Little Free Library organization estimates will amount to 15,000 free libraries in 55 countries by the end of this year.

The idea is simple — homeowners or businesses can build boxes with any design in an accessible location like a front yard, street front or public park. Then the builder, known as a steward, stocks the box with books so that others can pick one up to read and bring another book back at a later date.

The Little Free Libraries organization has a mission — to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide, and to build a sense of community as they share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations. The initial goal was to build 2,510 Little Free Libraries, the same number of libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie centuries ago. That goal was reached in August of 2012.

Lehman said that the library at his home has already caught the attention of neighbors taking walks along the street.

“I’ve had a lot of people take and even return books already,” he said. “At our office, we only just built it last week, but I think we have had about six books taken out overnight.”

There are no rules as to what kind of books can be stocked — the idea is that by building your own library you encourage people to share the literature that they love with others. At the Windermere office, the library is stocked with popular suspense novels, teenage vampire novels, health and wellness books, and even a story about the Wild West.

For actual librarians, the concept is exciting — sharing books with friends, neighbors and children, from new readers to book lovers.

“I’ve never found a Little Free Library out in real life, but I think they are great and I would be delighted if I found one,” said Lesla Ojeda, children’s librarian at the Arlington Library. “I am all for it. The more books out there, the better. And I think finding one would be like finding a treasure.”

Ojeda received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and remembers a culture of book-sharing that she is glad extends past the Wisconsin borders.

“I’m not surprised that Little Free Libraries began in Wisconsin,” she said. “Going around campus in Madison people would leave books for other people to pick up. I think the more access people have to books, the better. I don’t think you can have too many, and I like the community aspect and sharing aspect of the Little Free Libraries.”

The Little Free Library website includes tips for potential library stewards who are interested in building their own — from how to raise support for the supplies to actual designs for the library itself. Libraries can be elaborately designed and decorated to fit their locale or simple designs that fit anywhere. For more information on Little Free Libraries, visit


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