Stamping Books and Making a Mark

I’ve watched hundreds of books pass through my Little Free Library outside our house over the past five years. Despite the many adorable LFL logo stamps I’ve seen other stewards wielding on social media, I’ve never felt the desire to stamp a book just to show it stopped by my library on its literary journey.

I figure: a book comes, a book goes, great. Let the books do their thing and make their own marks on the world.

Until now.

The books in my Little Free Library generally come from our family’s personal collection—the LFL is supposed to reduce my book hoarding. Others arrive via donations from patrons, friends, neighbors, and occasionally used book sales at our local library. 

Part of the appeal of a Little Free Library is discovering what shows up inside that magical book box, and therefore getting a glimpse into what other people are reading, or at least willing to part with. Will I find a highly sought after bestseller (jackpot!), a set of dog-eared mysteries (more likely), or a castoff 1970s cookbook? Who knows?!

I tend to be a “let things happen organically” LFL steward, though maybe “lazy” is more accurate. This year though I decided to start taking a more proactive approach. In addition to the books that find their way to us, I decided to buy some books specifically for the library. Egads!

When I started my LFL I said I would never buy books for it, figuring a Little Free Library should be self-sustaining. Then I eventually decided to buy some used books at my local library book sale; after all that’s for a good cause—books! Then I said one too many times after finishing a book, “everyone should read this!” And now here we are in 2020, and if I’ve learned anything from this year it’s to never say never…

I believe books matter in encouraging the empathy, kindness, and understanding our world needs. I believe we need to better represent and amplify diverse experiences and voices. I believe science and nature are essential and in dire need of support and respect. I realized that my actions should reflect those beliefs.

We all have a role to play and influence to share, even if it’s just inside a small wooden box in rural Maine.

So, I’ve recently started buying books for our library with an emphasis on:

  • kindness and empathy
  • diversity and inclusion
  • science, nature, and the outdoor world

I never expect anything I put in my library to be returned. In fact, I want some turnover, if only to avoid seeing the same Danielle Steel paperback again.

However, if I spend money on books specifically to share them throughout my community, I thought a stamp might remind readers where that book came from and encourage them to pass it forward when they’re done. Maybe a reader will return that book to our library, or share it with friends, or support another LFL. Let the circle of books be unbroken.

I don’t know if a stamp will make a difference, or if it just amounts to a vanity mark. If nothing else, maybe it can tell some future reader how far the book in her hand has traveled, making its own mark on the world.

All that to say, I finally succumbed and designed a stamp for my Little Free Library. (With my husband’s help—meaning I drew what I wanted on a piece of scrap paper and he transformed it into an actual logo and file so I could get a legit rubber stamp made.)

And then I bought books for that stamp.

I was nervous about stamping those first books. I do not write in or mark up books, and these were brand new ones, with crisp white pages! But then I got to it with freshly inked stamp in hand. It got easier and more satisfying every time.