What would the digital equivalent of the Little Free Library look like?

I stumbled across my first ever Little Free Library on Sunday afternoon whilst out in my local neighbourhood in Stirchley, Birmingham. My encounter got me thinking about what the digital equivalent of the Little Free Library would look like and how we can build it.

Little Free Library box spotted in the Stirchley neighbourhood of Birmingham
Little Free Library box spotted in the Stirchley neighbourhood of Birmingham

What is a Little Free Library?

The Little Free Library is  a global movement to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide and to build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.

The first Little Free Library was set up in 2009 and six years later there are now over 36,000 Little Free Library book exchanges around the world. You can find your nearest library by visiting the Little Free Library .

Digital libraries

In the digital world the most example of a digital library would have to be Wikipedia. And while there’s an incredible 5 million plus English language articles and a thriving community of contributors, it’s got the same neighbourhood level connection that the Little Free Libraries have going for them.

In the field of digital engagement, there are also a great many communities blending online and offline support. I started my career in local government and so feel at home on Comms2Point0 and am hoping to make it to CommsCamp again this July. UKGovcamp pioneered unconferences and brought together people interested in digital from across the public sector. And of course, I can’t forget the communities which we manage on the Digital Action Plan through our blend of  online and offline support.

Promoting serendipity

While I greatly value the practitioner communities I contribute to, they still arguably lack the serendipity that the Little Free Library can offer. The library exposes you to books and ideas you might not otherwise have encountered. And no, I’m not just talking about the Jeffrey novels you’ve secretly been waiting to read.

The nearest I’ve come to the kind of free exchange of ideas and people envisage by the Little Free Library movement are creative hubs. It was whilst working out of the Impact Hub King’s Cross that I was first exposed to design thinking in public services and experienced my first Social Media Surgery, which I still volunteer with to this day.

More recently, co-working at Birmingham Open Media has exposed me to people from different backgrounds and professional disciplines, giving me fresh ideas and greater confidence which I’ve applied to my work both for the Digital Action Plan as well as my campaigning with Open Rights Group Birmingham.

Do hubs, social media surgeries and the Little Free Library movement only work because of their physical dimension? Is it possible to create online spaces where similarly serendipitous knowledge exchanges can take place?

Developing an algorithm for different perspectives

Today, most online networks focus on matching us by algorithm to people and topics we’re already predisposed to, rather than introducing us to new people and ideas we could potentially benefit from.

Speaking on a recent Radio 4 documentary on free speech (starts 4:40 in), Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, suggested the idea of a ‘stretch friend’. This is where our social networks would suggest we talk to someone who is different to us by one dimension.

I think this kind of approach, combined with a place to share knowledge and resources, could eventually help us create the digital equivalent of the Little Free Library movement.

What do you think?

Have I missed out any great examples of  digital community-based knowledge exchange?

Do you think it’s possible or even desirable to create the digital equivalent of the Little Free Library movement?

Is there a better model we should be working towards?

Please share your thoughts by commenting below.