My first library card was issued when I was 16, by a musty and dark librarian in a musty and dark building and, ambitious Nellie that I was, the first tome I checked out was “Anna Karenina”. To the Chelsea Library in London, I still owe my humble apologies for keeping a volume of Dylan Thomas’ poems: by the time they probably wrote to me I was already gone and the poems are still on my shelves, 20 odd years later. These days, my local library lets me download books on my i-Pad and they don’t mind when I beg them to let me keep reading for a little while longer than the customary two weeks.
As a book lover, I haven’t taken advantage of libraries as much as I should have, often tempted by impulse buying in stores, by Amazon and now, by the i-book store. But new books or virtual ones deprive us of the intimate relationship with those unknown readers who have all thumbed the same pages, let their eyes scroll down the same lines and were attracted to the same titles.
And how often have we travelled to remote locations, checked into small bed and breakfasts and were thrilled at finding the paperbacks that someone left behind, often leaving ours too, for the next weary traveller? It’s a way of keeping a story going, no longer read around a fire, but recounted one reader at a time, passing the books on and on and on.
For all the talk of paper books disappearing, there is still a place for them. A couple of weeks ago, driving along a Santa Monica side street, I saw a pretty bookshelf placed in the median of the road, filled with books. What the hell? I thought. Next time I drove by, with the intent of taking a picture, it was gone. But the image stuck and a brief search online revealed the growing size of the Little Free Library movement.
Started in Wisconsin, it now features tiny libraries in all kinds of neighbourhoods in 45 American states and in dozen countries around the world. Small and pretty wooden containers, often looking like large bird houses, can be set up by anyone and filled with the same books we would otherwise be donating or recycling. The concept is “take a book, leave a book”.
Serious designers in locations like Manhattan have improved on the rural idea of the birdhouses, as this photos attests.
While I revel in not having to sort my filled-to-capacity-bookcases anymore, I often reach back to the experience of the paper book, especially if it means being able to place it in the hands of someone else, followed by “you must read this”. Books as treasures, as stories, as nuggets of experience passed along to friends and strangers alike.
If you are interested in starting your own Little Free Library, all you need is $25. You can read about it here.
Photos courtesy of Little Free Library