Libros Libres Combats Inadvertent Economic Segregation of National Little Free Libraries

John Phelan
A very pretty, very expensive Little Free Library. Great idea, limited audience.

The Little Free Library project has established a national reputation for encouraging local literacy among kids. The Wisconsin-based group was founded in 2009 and encourages neighborhoods to set up small boxes of books for kids to read and return. The idea of the Little Free Library project is that people could set a cardboard box full of books in their front yards at no cost to themselves. It's an entirely community run effort and it relies on the honor system, telling borrowers to "take a book, leave a book."

Yet in poorer neighborhoods where kids often struggle to find books in the home, residents are less likely to slap a box of books in their front yard (and they're even less likelier to actually purchase one of the Little Free Library custom made book containers, which can run upward of $1,000).

In classic, albeit inadvertent, economic segregation, most of the Little Free Libraries in Dallas consequently ended up in more affluent suburb areas -- where they were much less needed. It's something Dallas hoped to combat this summer by launching its own Little Free Library chapter, Libros Libres.

The Libros Libres seeks to one-up the Little Free Library boxes, creating not just more elaborate book containers. The Libros Libres partnership between Dallas Public Libraries, BC Workshop, and Big Thought envisions a unique recreational area around each little library, complete with seating arrangements and landscaping.

Isaac Cohen of BC Workshop, who helped design the west and south Dallas libraries, says the initiative is intended not just as a literacy effort. "It provides more than free access to books, it provides a community gathering space," he says. "It's an icon that people associate with both literacy and with their neighborhood."

Because of the emphasis on design and community collaboration, Libros Libres is not purely the educational initiative that is Little Free Library. Though it may be touted as such, Libros Libres is as much a cultural initiative as it is an educational one.

At roughly $200 a pop, the Libros Libres project is hardly libres. But organizers offered significant financial reimbursements for community members who volunteered to build their own Libros Libres. And while that's not as cheap as the cardboard box-o-books, it's certainly nicer and isn't attached to the hefty price tag of the ornate Little Free Library boxes (at which Cohen scoffed, saying they looked like little more than birdhouses).

Little Free Library and Google Maps
National Little Free Library locations in Dallas shows an abundance of book boxes in the more affluent north Dallas and Lake Highlands neighborhoods. There are several suburban locations beyond this as well.

The project worked with DISD's Imagine 2020 initiative to target low-income neighborhoods that typically also have had low literacy rates. They have opened 10 Libros Libres in West Dallas and the Fair Park neighborhood and intend to open five more before the summer ends. But for now, the Libros Libres initiative is just a pilot project and there are no concrete plans to expand beyond the 15 locations. "We looked at areas where literacy was a primary concern," says Cohen. "One of the goals was that we would come together and disperse to sites to build those libraries. We needed to focus that."

Libros Libres and Google Maps
The new Libros Libres locations

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TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Now we just need to stock them all chock-full with "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead" and all of our problems with the Latinos will be solved by the next generation.


First of all I am a big believer of the importance of the library.  I have always made sure that my 5 kids have always had access to one either at our neighborhood branch or at their schools.  Plus, our neighborhood now has 2 LFLs.

That said, I always find it ironic that these "white-urban" trends tend to be very costly and the "inadvertent" consequence of excluding the poor.   Initiative/trends such as alternative fuel vehicles and organic foods almost always carry a premium in cost.  I am not opposed to these initiatives, but they are not cheap and do not feel that the effect on the poor in always "inadvertent".  We just need to own that fact.  It would help in the smug factor that often comes from the trends.


By whatever name or means, getting books to kids (and adults) who couldn't otherwise afford them is a commendable thing.  Without the (little, free) library in my little hometown, this trailer-house kid wouldn't have had access to the books that helped spark my love of learning and fueled my ambition to make a better life for myself.  I had planned to put a library box in my front yard, but now I might just donate the books to Libros Libres, where they can hopefully entertain and inspire a kid like me.

TheRuddSki topcommenter

Why does it unsurprising that a project designed to promote literacy in Dallas is titled in Spanish.


@TheRuddSki En caso de que no entendí lo que dijo Ruddski  ¿Por qué es de extrañar que un proyecto destinado a promover la alfabetización en Dallas se titula en español.

TheRuddSki topcommenter


Most Latinos stress the importance of language assimilation in regards to upward mobility in the US, so It seems ironic to attach a Spanish name to a "literacy project" in the US.

bmarvel topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk @bmarvel Somehow "fun' and Ayn Rand do not fit together in my mind. Nor "enlightenment" nor "wisdom" nor even "readability." Why would one want to inflict her upon Spanish-speakers?


@TheRuddSki @Chattering_Monkey

So, Rudd, that's what you took from an article about smart community level efforts to increase literacy among those who need it most?...It has an Hispanic name? 

This is Texas...Tejas.  We share a border with a Latin American country.  We live and work around many who are bi-lingual, with Spanish the most common.  Get over it or move somewhere else. 

How many languages do you speak?  Change your handle to The Ugly American.

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@bmarvel @TheCredibleHulk


It's a joke, bmarvel. The humor lying in the contrast between the ideals of Rand and the very concept of Libros Libres . . .




It is a catchy name and targets the Latino community well, but how about the black kids around Fair Park? Does it add  confusion as to whether or not all/some of the books will be in Spanish and thus shut out some of its intended beneficiaries?

I am pretty sure there was discussion among the local chapter regarding this same branding issue.

Your knee jerk 'hate card' response seems to fit your screen name.

TheRuddSki topcommenter


I'm in total support of the program, I adore Latinos, I speak Spanish, I encourage legal immigration to America from all lands, and I'm really quite a good-looking American.

But my point stands.



I'm going to go way off script here and say you make some really good points.  It's a catchy name from the standpoint of the alliteration, but its hard to say (try it 3 times fast) and confusion could be an issue in non-hispanic populations.

BTW, I never "knee-jerk" lol...I bristle but I don't knee jerk, and I have to say I cringed that you think my screen name has any "hate" connotation -- I intend it to show that I'm a moderate, which is a rare thing these days.  The hallmark of a moderate is to be willing to listen considerately to opposing opinions.



Lol...I liked your comment about being quite good looking, and totally missed the connection to "Ugly" American.  It's a classic book I thought everyone had read in school. 

I didn't mean ugly literally, and am quite confident you are one good-looking man. 

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