The little free library

Cicero, the Roman politician, once said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” PEM’s recently renovated Ropes Mansion is now home to a fancy box and a national movement, thanks to one neighbor who had the idea to start a Ropes Garden branch of the Little Free Library just down the street from the Salem Public Library. Joining other boxes in Salem and around the country in parks and on front lawns, the miniature library serves as a free exchange of books.


The Little Free Library in the Ropes Garden. Photo by Dinah Cardin.


All of the goodness inside. Photo by Dinah Cardin.

The idea came to Cindy Johnson, a resident of Salem’s McIntire District, when she noticed people leisurely reading in the Ropes Garden and then wanted to do something with her summer reading pile. She reached out to another neighbor, Bill Larson, an artisan carpenter whom she admired for his various projects, including an elaborate doll house and a decorative box for his electric car charger that included antique stained glass windows.

Bill with Little Library

Bill with the Little Library. Photo by Jim McAllister.

“I can’t believe how much detail he put into it,” says Johnson, admiring the box that was installed November 1, with a brilliant blue door that shuts solidly and a visitor log that quickly included entries from all over the world.

Bill and Bob Monk with Library

PEM’s Bob Monk and Bill with the Little Library. Photo by Jim McAllister.

Anthony with Library

Anthony hard at work, installing the Little Library crafted by Bill. Photo by Jim McAllister.

Larson worked with PEM on acquiring the materials and matched the design with the Georgian Colonial style of the Ropes Mansion.

“I thought it would be a fun way to help weave something into the fabric of the neighborhood,” he says, “and it’s gratifying that people are really using it.”

On the day we visited, a woman from the neighborhood was dropping off an armload of books into what was building to be a good mix of fiction, non-fiction, children’s literature and self-help. The visit allowed this reader to acquire and savor every word of a bittersweet memoir. Then there’s the good reading to take in along the side of the box — the quotes that Larson and his wife picked out, coined by the likes of Groucho Marx and fantasy writer Neil Gaiman.


Cindy Johnson and the Little Free Library. Photo By Dinah Cardin.

On his dog walks, Larson stops by almost every day to check the log. His oldest daughter recently left behind several hundred books when she moved out and Larson says he will use them to fill the library. Though he didn’t know about the Little Free Library movement before Johnson, his neighbor, asked him to build one, Larson now loves it and encourages all to use it and and to donate or as the little sign instructs:

“Take a book today. Leave a book tomorrow.”


PEM’s own Chip Van Dyke visiting the Little Free Library in the Ropes Garden. Photo by Dinah Cardin.


“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Cicero. Photo by Dinah Cardin.


  1. Gail says:

    Love this, will be visiting and dropping off some books soon. Great idea!
    ” A Neighbor on Salem Commons”

  2. Dinah Cardin
    Dinah Cardin says:

    Great to hear, Gail! It’s a wonderful addition.

  3. Cale Kenney says:

    Bill Larsen built the perfect little free library door for Salem’s historic neighborhood setting. Andrew Carnegie would be proud. When I was a kid growing up in Revere, there was a woman who used her unheated sun porch during the winter to host a children’s library at the end of the Beachmont station end of Bellingham Avenue. Most kids were under school age, and though there were many books with drawings, there were still some Rudyard Kipling and other stories she would read to us from, which gave me my first imagined pictures in books without pictures. I was thrilled at 6 to be able to read and have a library card, since we were quite a far distance from the Revere Public Library on Beach Street near downtown Revere High School. Any library anywhere is a great idea.

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