When I think of libraries, I imagine a huge room with hundreds of bookshelves, placed side by side. These shelves snake up and down the room, forming long aisles where eager bookworms run up and down, eyes glazed over by the sheer volume of reading material. Every shelf is crammed with books, such that if one was pulled out, several would follow. And of course, there’s a stern librarian, whose glare would ensure complete silence in the whole building.
I’m sure I’m not the only one with that idea. But now, when I think of libraries, I also think of something else.
I think of these.
I know. They sort of look like oversized birdhouses crammed with books, but I promise you, they’re more than that. They’re Little Free Libraries.
What are those?
Basically, they’re bookshelves that are placed on a pole and stuck out on a person’s yard. (Or in the above case, a park.) Anyone passing by is free to take a book on one condition: that they put another one back.
I first read about them several years ago, and I thought it was a novel idea (no pun intended). However, it was only recently that I actually saw one.
And then I finally understood what was so great about them.
They’re like second-hand bookstores, for the fact that you never know what you’re going to find there. Maybe you’ll find a signed copy of your favourite book. Or maybe you’ll discover the writings of an author you never heard of before. (Yes, you could go into a big bookstore, walk into a random section and grab a book off the shelf to achieve the same results. Chances are, however, you won’t like what you grabbed. But when there are only twenty books to choose from, skimming the first couple of pages of every one to find the one you do like doesn’t seem so bad.)
But as I sat there thinking, I realised that there are several more advantages to Little Free Libraries.
Indie books can be passed along Little Free Libraries, and this can increase their writer’s exposure. People who would not normally read beyond New York Times bestsellers could be introduced to great new authors when they come across a Little Free Library. This is a great gift to the Indie community, since they don’t normally find their works in the spotlight in bookstores or libraries.
It is another wonderful example of the freedom of speech. Bookshops might not feature unknown or inflammatory books, and libraries might relegate them to a back shelf or a storage room. In a Little Free Library, on the other hand, the only people regulating what’s on the shelf are the users: people like you and me. Of course, this could result in quite a weird selection of books, but hey, at least it ensures that anyone who finds a Little Free Library should find at least one book that they’re interested in.
I hope by now you’re wondering where you can find the nearest Little Free Library so you can check it out. Because the organisation that invented Little Free Libraries has a map for you. It has pins of all the Little Free Libraries in the world (which amounts to over 30,000 of them, last I checked).
So what are you waiting for? Go find one and experience its magic for yourself.