Check out the little library in a very big shopping centre

Published on: 21 Medi 2017

Here’s proof of the magic that can happen when a community comes together to help everyone find the time to read – even when doing the weekly shop.

Lisa Mitchell came up with the idea for ‘The BIG Little Library’ in Liverpool, which started off as a small box and is now a focal point of the local shopping centre.

We asked Lisa to talk us through how it all came together.

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In 2015, Gateacre School was approached by Belle Vale Shopping Centre and generously offered a shop unit for free for three months with a simple request: ‘Help improve literacy within our community.’

In its most basic form, a Little Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book and bring back another one to share. We took it one step further – by creating a shop full of books, donated by locals.

Thousands of customers

The BIG Little Library was opened on World Book Day 2015.

It soon became a gathering place, where the community could share their favourite literature, take part in games, read and write their own stories.

All books were free to take and did not have to be returned, but customers were encouraged to pass books on, or donate books for others to enjoy.

We had over 3,500 customers and gave away over 10,000 books during the first three months. Free workshops for schools were also on offer, as well as events such as Bedtime Stories (celebrating World Book Night), Knit a Shop and the Story Wall.

Not just for shopping

We noticed an immediate impact on the community. The footfall in that area of the centre increased by over 10% and a customer survey showed that over 60% were reading more because of the BIG Little Library.

A grandparent visited on two consecutive days; the first day to pick up some children's books, and the second to pick up some more…

They told us:

‘I'm afraid to say I haven't read to my granddaughter in a couple of years, so last night she came to stay and I asked her to put her iPad away. I read her two bedtime stories and she loved them so much, she asked me to come back and get more!’

Part of the weekly routine 

Due to the unprecedented success, the school was asked to reopen the BIG Little Library, after its initial three-month period, just a year later: on World Book Day 2016.

And we’ve not closed yet!

In total, we have now had over 30,000 customers, and welcomed over 1,500 primary school students to our workshops. That all adds up to giving away over 36,000 books.

It’s been wonderful seeing our old customers, and lovely meeting new customers, who have made it a part of their weekly routine to pop in and collect books.

Workshops, classes and games

This year’s free workshops have had the theme “Nursery Crimes”. For instance, in “Little Bo Peep,” students have to solve clues placed around the centre, follow a map and locate the “sheep”.

Events held since we reopened include World Book Night, National Poetry Day, Elmer Day, Roald Dahl Day and Halloween. We also run free craft, knitting and creative writing classes, open to all members of the public and free of charge.

We are also in the process of starting a Shared Reading Group with the help of The Reader Organisation.

Relaxed and social

There are lots of reasons people keep using our library.

Some customers use it as a social hub, meeting friends, or just having the chance to have someone to talk to, which they might not have at home.

Customers with learning difficulties love it because of its relaxed atmosphere. Some tell us their reading ability isn't the best, so using the library helps them as the books are free.

Our students with special educational needs use the library to improve their own reading, having one-to-one sessions with our volunteers after school and, in turn, helping their school work.

All thanks to the volunteers

We’re really proud of our group of community volunteers who keep the BIG Little Library open.

They’re a mix of students, retired people, parents and carers, governors, and even a couple from Australia over on holiday, who stayed to help!

The BIG Little Library has truly become part of the community, with our volunteers taking ownership of the project and adding their own expertise.

We hope to remain open as long as the community need us, and want to inspire others to open their own BIG Little Libraries, and see the benefits they bring!

As our volunteer Rita says:

‘One of the things I love most about the library is listening to other people's stories. It is lovely to have the time to sit and listen as customers of all ages tell stories from their past, talk about their current struggles, or share their good news.
It is a privilege that they choose to share so much with us.’

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Topics: Time to Read, Blog

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