On finding a small community library hidden on Ypsilanti’s Frog Island Park

I was stumbling around the park this evening with my family, when one of us noticed, just a little off the trail, there was a large wooden box that said “free library” across its front. We’re not generally in the habit of opening strange boxes left unattended in the park, but, as beauty kind of radiated from this thing, and as it was covered in cute little drawings of woodland creatures and the like, we encouraged the kids to check it out. And, within a minute or two, we were all staring into this thing, flipping through the books lined up neatly across its small wooden shelves, talking about what a inspired idea it was, and discussing which books from home we might want to contribute.

I hesitate to mention it here, as good things have a way of disappearing from our public parks once they’re brought to the attention of the powers-that-be. (Does anyone remember the smeet sign that once stood near the tridge?) But, I figured that, in this instance, it might actually help to have people know about it. First, I think, if it’s going to survive, more people need to contribute books. And, second, I think that maybe, if people know about it, and appreciate it as much as I do, then it might be harder for those folks who perceive themselves to be in charge, to smash it and haul away the pieces. So, please grab a book off your bookshelf this weekend, and go out in search of this incredible new cultural landmark.

These, in my opinion, are the kinds of things we need more of in this community… little reminders of the fact that we exist in a community of bright people looking for opportunities to share with one another, and make the world a little bit better place. Because I’d been reading through the comments following my exit interview with Vikram Bastian… many of which centered around the campaign which he and others had waged against a new, multi-million dollar library in downtown Ann Arbor… but, when I looked at this new micro-library of ours, with it’s couple of dozen books, it really did seem all the more beautiful to me. Which isn’t to say that I’m necessarily against the idea of Ann Arbor having a new library, or suggesting that we close down our Ypsi public library in favor of tiny, unsupervised book boxes hidden in the woods. Clearly there’s a place for “real” libraries. I just loved the fact that someone, or a group of people, could just do something lovely and impactful without passing a $65 million dollar bond. And I know that it’s not a perfect analogy, and that people will likely get mad at me for comparing this little box of books off to the side of a trail in an Ypsilanti park, to the impressive multi-story, glass and steel structure that was being debated in Ann Arbor, but I do find the juxtaposition of the two to be interesting. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, though. I just thought that it was worth noting.

As for the scrappy, little DIY movement that’s taking root in Ypsi, tomorrow there’s going to be an opportunity for you to see it firsthand. Between 1:00 and 5:00, at EMU’s Porter Hall, folks associated with the Ypsilanti Free Skool will be holding sessions on everything from paper making to the growing of herbal teas, with the occasional detour into the political. (I’m particularly interested in the session on corporate media consolidation, and the one being hosted by my friends in the Midwest Feminist Revolutionary Network.) …If you read and enjoy this site, I think that it might really be up your alley. And, afterward, you could check out our new library!

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  1. taco farts
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Mark, or a reader, would you mind reporting back if you see or hear of the library filling up with religious or partisan propaganda? I have considered making one of these, but feared it would be used for evil if I were unable to monitor it constantly.

  2. anonymous
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Now, if we could just attach a conference center!

  3. Redleg
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I was wondering what that box was, but I was wrestling my pugs at the time, and couldn’t get closer at the time.

  4. Redleg
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Yikes! Speak about redundancy…… That’s what I get for typing on my phones tiny screen!

  5. anony
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I guess I just don’t get it. One of the things that Ypsi utterly fails at is understanding that if they/we all work together, we are far more effective than all these disperate DIY thingies. I think the actual Library – public, free and comprehensive is one of the more relevant and helpful examples of just that.

    beautiful, yep, its a pretty box for a public space but what is the point?

  6. Edward
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    It’s about living in a community where people feel empowered to do beautiful things for one another.

  7. Posted March 23, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    While utterly and completely supporting our gorgeous little walkable, bikable downtown Library and every staff person therein, I also understand the need for random instances of beautiful and thoughtful community-building. Everywhere. It means that people CARE about this city and this park and those that use it. It’s how we express our love, by contributing something without recompense. So, while I use the public Library weekly (almost daily), I’m excited to check out this little Free Library, too. Also, I cherish the whimsy and mystery of coming across these little gems. I wonder, “Whose vision was that?” Often, it can be the simplest of things — the CDs nailed next to the stairs up from the Tridge enchant me whenever I walk there.

    So Thanks, Little Free Librarian!

  8. Posted March 23, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink


    I thought that I made it clear in the post, but my intention wasn’t to argue that this was somehow superior to our existing libraries, which are absolutely indispensable. This, in my opinion, is something much different. This is an opportunity for community members to engage with one another. The books are just the mechanism through which the connections take place. Not too long ago, we did something similar. When Occupy Ypsi printed the 75-page pamphlet “Ypsilanti Vampire May Day,” we left a bunch of them at the foot of the water tower for people to take. This, however, is better in that it gives individuals an opportunity to trade. They can not only take books, or borrow them, but they can leave books of their own, which they feel as though people in the community might appreciate. And, with spring finally here, I can see how this could be widely used by people hanging out in the park. Wouldn’t it be great to just grab a book and read it by the river? But, back to my main point, it could be anything. It could be a food exchange, a music exchange, or a clothing exchange. The import thing, in my opinion, is that it opens up a channel for communications between individuals who might not normally share with one another. That, I think, is beautiful.

  9. Eel
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Anxiously awaiting the Ypsi Needle Exchange.

  10. maryd
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink


  11. Posted March 23, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Haven’t you seen these around? http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/
    They’re all over around Minneapolis.

  12. Posted March 23, 2013 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    FYI: http://www.reddit.com/r/ypsi/comments/19whn4/hey_ypsilanti_check_out_the_free_library_in_frog/

  13. Mr. Y
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    It would be better if the box was glass, and Tilda Swinton was sleeping in it.


  14. anon
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    tilda reminds us that only harvard grads live in manhattan, and that art died in 1983. there is no difference between ronald reagan and willem de kooning.

  15. Jacob
    Posted March 23, 2013 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Hey Mark,
    I’m glad you enjoyed the project that myself and a couple friends whipped together over EMU’s spring break. We’re looking to make more, but we’re all just absolutely swamped with school stuff right now, so if you know anyone that’d be interested, please don’t hesitate to send me an email.


  16. anony
    Posted March 24, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink


    I see the “pretty”. I buy the rest of it. I’ll ponder it some more.

  17. Posted March 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the link, Dan. I wasn’t aware that it was a thing… Still beautiful, though.

  18. Froccupy
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    A bunch more books installed:


    Freeskoolers, you might want to shingle the roof, or otherwise protect it, as a couple of the topmost books were soggy when I arrived.

  19. Posted July 5, 2013 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone know where more of these are? I have a TON of different old books and textbooks and dont want to recycle them or waste them, but theyd fill this puppy right up.

    Also: I checked this particular box about once a week for a while, and it consistently fills up with religious propaganda, at first, oddly enough, it was all Hinduism texts and brochures and such. Then some Christianity for a time. Not sure atm by my friend is heading over there tonight.

    If you know of more of these around Ypsi, please let me know via email or something. Rocko42@gmail.com. Would love to put some good reads into these instead of Re-use center or salvo etc. Thanks.

  20. Posted August 7, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Hey, is this still there?? I take my kids down to Riverside and Frog Island parks every once in a while, but feel like I haven’t seen it.
    There is a little free library on Cross St near Bagley. Right by the bus stop. (2nd bus after Prospect with Depot Town at your back.) Last time I looked, there was a good mix of adult and kids, and a lot of readers (as in books for kids starting to read).

  21. Trenton
    Posted May 19, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Stumbled upon this last summer. I’ve heard of free libraries but have never seen one. As a bibliophile, I love seeing what other people are reading. The free library is more than just a book exchange, it’s a communication tool. It tells you what people in the community enjoy, what they think is important, what they think others would like to see. I cannot wait to contribute to it when I move to EMU this Fall.

    I’m really, really surprised at the negative backlash, but I’ll just chalk that up to people + Internet = chaos.

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