The newspapers these days are full of articles about it. I first encountered the idea a few years ago when a colleague introduced me to Rachel Botsman and I watched her YouTube video. I then downloaded her book, What’s Mine is Yours, the Rise of Collaborative Consumption, to my IPad where it still sits.
I was reminded of that when I encountered a new mini-library on a walk to the real one in my neighborhood. I use the latter library less frequently because my complex has a library of its own. It gives apartment and townhouse dwellers a place to put discarded books that might be of interest to others – and many are. A volunteer committee manages it and culls the unread volumes from time to time. It has lots of worthwhile reads.
But the new small one interested me. It’s a chance to see the reading tastes of neighbors that one has never met. My first pick was a novel by Jane Gardam – a sequel to Old Filth that I had already read as a book club selection. In turn I contributed three novels by Barbara Pym and returned the first selection. Future visits confirmed that all were again in circulation. Now I have Peter Mayle’s Acquired Tastes – ironically prophetic perhaps. I’m sorry I didn’t grab an earlier offering of a Nancy Drew mystery – just to confirm what the books are really like compared to my memories of them.
So it’s fun to explore how this sharing economy is working on a local scale elsewhere. I Googled. Immediately I saw several images and a couple of relevant articles.
The first is from Atlantic Monthly 2015 – The Danger of Being Neighborly Without a Permit. It relates how a 76 year old Californian built a dollhouse-sized structure to share books that “turned strangers into friends and a sometimes-impersonal neighborhood into a community”. It was part of a pattern of mini libraries originating in 2009 in Wisconsin that inspired others. There is now even the Little Free Library US Map. I tried to access it just for fun, but it is under Maintenance and will reopen on Monday August 10. Little Free Library® is now trademarked. Whoops. Wha happened? To my amusement if you put something into a system, the system immediately overwhelms it.
In Kansas there were soon complaints to a municipality – that the dollhouse sized building was “an illegal structure that needed a permit”, the article says. In another community a mini-library structure was seen as a barrier that might cause “tripping and falling”. If a permit were required, the proponents wondered, could one apply for local arts council funding to pay for it? Mini-libraries became a battle ground just like the one we have just watched on American TV between libertarians and everybody else.
Not in Canada, I hoped. So I turned to Google’s next on the list – Toronto Star’s article, A New Chapter in Book Borrowing, published in July 2012. It cast the reason for little libraries springing up as a response to the parsimony of cuts in library budgets, hours and even branches. We were back to politics though the article didn’t mention it – memories of “More Libraries than Tim Hortons” by the brother of our infamous former mayor – or “Who is Margaret Atwood anyway” re-emerged.
The web version of this article also allows one to Google “Little Free Libraries of the World”. Try it. These libraries are described by the Star writer as Bird Houses – though they would have to be bird apartment buildings to house the typical contents. Maybe size is also a systemic issue. My own complex has more than an expected amount of internecine strife. The article also references the Wisconsin origin and describes the cloning of little libraries as a “movement”. We learn that though the first Toronto examples started in trendy neighborhoods like the Beaches and the Annex. there is now a “plan to expand”. To quote further, “While aware that there is a certain level of bureaucracy and red tape involved, Wrigley, the Toronto mini-library originator is committed, and he’s not easily deterred by paperwork.
Bureaucracy? Red tape? We can’t escape systems. I really learned of our own little library via a newsletter sent by our local community residents association. But meeting the library first hand with less politics was more enjoyable. I just hope nobody else notices that our little local dollhouse or bird box is already part of a movement and a system. Good reading will trump political systems – at least for a few moments – any time.