Nice, Boise: Neighbors Open Up Their Libraries

By sharing books, residents find that gestures of goodwill lead to stories of their own.

Article by Kurt Orzeck

Photography by Little Free Library

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

What makes Boise, Boise?

Is it the foothills and the sprawling (both literally and figuratively) hiking opportunities they provide? Is it the Greenbelt and the adjoining Boise River, no matter how high the water level maybe? Is it the four seasons, the remoteness, and its low density, qualities that aren’t inherent to every city?

Sure, it’s all those qualities. But the most common phrase used to describe the City of Trees these days is “Boise nice.” And Boise residents who are proud of their city apply that term not only to its environs but to the people who live here — yes, even the new transplants.

Boise’s kindness manifests itself in locals saying hello to one another from downtown to Bogus Basin, drivers and bicyclists nodding to each other instead of raising a certain finger, and neighbors chatting outside their homes whenever the weather allows.

And if those sights seem rare, there are physical reminders that Boise is a city that exudes niceness. And if welcoming flags or signs in front yards are too political to discuss, then look at another fixture that continues cropping up in front of Boise homes citywide: Little Free Library (LFL) boxes.

“I think the library represents sort of a bygone culture where a community shares resources for the common good,” Boise resident Meg Levi reflected to Boise Lifestyle.

Levi said she clears the books out of her box and donates them every few months.

“I do this to make place for new books and clean out what isn't catching people's attention,” she explained. “One day, while clearing it out, I found one of my favorite books of all time — Zodiac by Robert Graysmith. To my absolute delight, the book is signed by Mr. Graysmith. The inscription is to a law enforcement officer. I have no idea how it made it into my Free Little Library, but I'll treasure it forever.”

Boise resident Kathleen O’Dell told Boise Lifestyle about a similarly heartwarming story.

“My book club surprised me with an LFL that they built for my birthday a few years ago,” she said. And, to her surprise, she unwittingly bequeathed a gift of her own to another Boise resident.

“My neighbor [told] me that because of the LFL in our neighborhood, her son – who hates to read – was reading Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends because he found it in the LFL! So awesome to hear that he loves to go look through it and now enjoys reading (more)!”

The concept, and the boxes themselves, are as simple as an Aesop fable or Dr. Seuss story. A homeowner constructs a small box, attaches it to a post, and allows anyone to freely deposit or withdraw books shared among members of the community.

LFL boxes are coordinated by a nonprofit of the same name based in St. Paul, Minnesota. With the simple motto of “Take a Book. Share a book,” the group’s goal is to encourage and enrich both community and reading among every person, regardless of their ease of access to literature.

Margret Aldrich, LFL’s director of communications, shared with Boise Lifestyle that there are more than 150,000 registered boxes across the world. That’s compared to just 100,000 three years ago.

“More than 30 million adults cannot read or write about a third-grade level,” the organization said in a statement. “Through Little Free Library book exchanges, millions of books are exchanged each year, profoundly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds.” features a map where Boiseans can locate their nearest book box. From Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park, and from the North End to the Bench, there’s a LFL within walking distance in every part of the city.

In addition to individual residents, organizations like Boise State University, the Boise Centennial Rotary, and bookclubs erected Boise’s boxes. Reasons why residents decided to open their libraries range from wanting to share their love of reading to forging a connection with the community during COVID to sharing their own stories, according to their comments on the LFL website.

“My uncle gifted us this library for our wedding gift,” Boise resident Genny Gerke touchingly explained. “The year before our wedding he was in an accident in which he sustained 3 traumatic brain injuries and broke his spine. He made this library as part of his rehabilitation. At the rehab center he was at in Colorado when I visited, I noticed so many Little Free Libraries around the neighborhood. My aunt took note of my affection for them and a few months later we had our own!”

While there is a national network that loosely coordinates the book boxes, the effort to encourage reading and neighborliness is one that sprouts in communities from the bottom up. Half of the library boxes situated in front yards are assembled by homeowners before registering them with LFL. And that’s not counting any additional boxes that residents put up without affiliating themselves with the nonprofit.

Boise resident Rachel Ramsey, who is connected with LFL, told Boise Lifestyle that she put up a book box in her yard for the simple reason that “reading and learning should be easy to access.” Now, she’s reaping unexpected dividends, finding a “general appreciation in the neighborhood” and “getting to chat and meet with neighbors.”

And if that isn’t Boise Nice, we don’t know what is.

"The library represents sort of a bygone culture where a community shares resources for the common good.” -Boise resident Meg Levi

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