Sharing Economy?

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.