Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Little free libraries

by Rick Blechta

To the right you can see what looks at first glance like a large birdhouse. It’s not. This is a “little free library” and here in Toronto — and I expect many other places as well — they’re sprouting up on people’s front lawns like mushrooms after a fall rain. Intrigued, I recently stopped to look at a few.

Here’s how it works. You put one of these up in your front yard, fill it with books you no longer want or have space for. Neighbours or random people passing stop, find something that intrigues them, and take it away with them. If they happen to have a book they no longer want, they can leave it, thus paying it forward, as the trendy saying goes.

It seems like a quaint and friendly idea. You can even register your little free library for a small fee which will include it on a searchable map. Little Free Library, the organization of which I’m speaking, says it has over 50,000 registered worldwide.

In consulting their map for my area, however, it seems that there are also a lot of unregistered little free libraries. I have no idea whether they’re dangerous or not. Personally, I usually stay away from unregistered entities. I mean, you wouldn’t go to an unregistered dentist, would you?

Seriously, though, it sounds like a good way to share books you’ve enjoyed. Problem is, of the half-dozen front yard libraries I’ve browsed, I haven’t found much beyond paperback bestselling thrillers, self-help diet books, and other things I’m not really interested in reading. Only one had what I would consider a “literary classic” (read it in Grade 8). I definitely got the feeling the owners of these libraries were simply clearing bookshelf space, or had chucked a forgotten carton of books from their basement or attic, the flotsam of a long ago move. Or perhaps all the good offerings had been snapped up before I got there.

Another thing that is really rather sweet is that every one of the libraries I’ve seen are completely different. One matched the person’s home in colour, shutters, etc., even down to the shake shingle roof. The scope to express yourself in your library’s design is limitless. A good woodworker could keep him/herself happily engaged for hours designing something really special. Of course, you’d then have to worry about graffiti artists defacing your little architectural marvel.

Now that I’ve begun exploring this free library movement, I think I’m going to fetishize stopping at every single one I pass to see what I can turn up in the way of unexpected reading material.

I may even put one on my front lawn. Heaven knows I have books I can pass on.

Or — wait for this — I’ll go around and place my own works of deathless prose in carefully chosen neighbourhoods so that my literary gifts may be presented to all and sundry in a non-confrontational way! I mean, who enjoys being bombarded by a desperate author with a new novel when they’re going into an Indigo store simply to pick up a throw pillow for their Great Aunt Margaret’s Christmas present? Isn’t some guerilla book placement a much more elegant way to cultivate new readers?

Have you seen these little free libraries? Have you stopped at one to browse or even drop off a well-loved tome? The last place I stopped this morning had a rather nice book on perennial gardening which I borrowed. I fully intend to take it back when I’m through, and maybe leave something of my own.

1 comment:

Rick Blechta said...

I stopped at two more little free libraries I ran across this weekend. I do have to say one thing, crime fiction is well represented in all but one of the libraries at which I've stopped.