Build Community Using Bookish Goodwill

sharing economy, free books, little libraries,

You can’t have too much of a good thing, unless you’re averse to bliss. One of life’s Very Good Things, in my book (pun!) is the library. There’s a movement afoot to augment our public libraries with other ways of spreading bookish goodwill. This doesn’t just get books into more hands, it actually builds positive networks between people and strengthens our communities.

Roaming Libraries

One unique venture is BookCrossings.  Started in 2001, it’s a read and release method of sharing books. Once you’ve read and enjoyed a book, simply go online to print out a label, then leave your book in a public place like a coffee shop, hair salon, playground, or doctor’s office. The label assures others the book is free to anyone interested. The label also contains a code so readers can track and follow books as they are read, discussed, and released again elsewhere in the world. Currently over 8 million books are traveling through 132 countries.

Handmade Book Libraries

In the art world, hand crafted books of all kinds have long traveled on round robin circuits allowing artists to collaborate in making and appreciating these unique creations.

Handmade books are also released in limited runs to appreciative readers who share the works through lending programs such as the Underground Library in Brooklyn. Here experimental literature is bound using labor intensive traditional methods, then distributed to members who pass the book along to a dozen other people before it’s returned to the library.

Banned Book Libraries

Surely people have been sharing what authorities don’t want them to know long before information was stored on papyrus scrolls. Remember the parochial school student who stocked her locker with banned books, using a check out system and due dates to keep track? This may be an urban myth but we know full well when reading material is banned it attracts even more dedicated readers.

This is true even when real danger is involved. As Azar Nafisi described in her memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, after Ayatollah Khomeini banned Western influences she gathered students in her home to read and discuss books, some photocopied page by page, despite the risk.

Micro Libraries

Tiny libraries are appearing in all sorts of places. For example in San Jose four new libraries don’t have funding to hire staff.  Instead, volunteers run a Friends of the Library book lending program out of a small room in a community center.

In San Francisco, a few shelves in the Viracocha antique store have become a tiny library called Ourshelves which is “curated by local authors and readers eager to share their favorite works with fellow book lovers.”

Free-standing libraries, called Corner Libraries are popping up in NYC. These tiny buildings evade zoning requirements by remaining on hand trucks, usually chained to a stationery object. One is a four foot tall clapboard structure offering books, maps, even a CD featuring baby photos of world dictators. Another Corner Library, named the East Harlem Seed & Recipe Library, looks like a planter but has a drawer with seed packets and recipe cards.

Stranger Exchange boxes are also appearing, asking people to take or leave items of interest. In Boston the first such library, a repurposed newspaper box, has featured such items as CD mixes, hand drawn maps, batteries, party invitations, and artwork.

These free-standing libraries have a precedent in the UK, where a phone booth was turned into a 24 hour library,recently followed by a phone booth library in New York.

And a non-profit called Little Free Library aims to establish thousands of new libraries (no bigger than large bird feeders) all over the world.  It has inspired people everywhere, like 82-year-old Bob Cheshier, whose goal was to get little libraries outside of all 71 elementary schools in the Cleveland district. Teachers and kids loved him. He died recently, only partway to that goal, but the community is carrying on his vision.

The process is simple.

  • Figure out where you’d like to place a Little Free Library. A community garden, bike path, civic center, or your front yard?
  • Determine who will be the steward of the Little Free Library.
  • Decide if you’ll build it or order it pre-made to decorate as you choose. You may choose to endow it for someone else (tax deductible) or set it up to honor a certain person, place, or organization.
  • Build support. You may want to find business or civic sponsorship, host a design contest, and in other ways spread the word about your Little Free Library.
  • Contact Little Free Library to register your library on the map, get updates, and more
  • Enjoy. Encourage people to visit, keep it stocked, and watch how sharing affects your neighborhood.

I hope traditional libraries as we know and love them will always exist. They are vital, vibrant institutions ready to be an important part of every person’s life.

But these smaller exchanges actually enlarge our potential. They foster connections between us each time we share, lend, and collaborate. They’re another way of making our communities work.

More Community-Building Inspiration

Engage the Window Box Effect

Bring Kids Back to the Commons

Front Porch Forum

i-Neighbors

Better Together: Restoring the American Community

The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods

All That We Share

community building through books, neighbor to neighbor, micro library, book sharing, birdhouse library,

Celebrate Hug Your Librarian Day

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March 1st may or may not be International Hug a Librarian Day. There’s some confusion online but librarians are too busy to keep up with fan clubs anyway. They don’t just find information, they also review, organize, assess, explain, figure out, calm small children, put up displays, run programs, read aloud, expand collections, apply laser-like focus to advance other people’s knowledge, and much more. Why limit librarian love to one day?

I have a chronic library habit myself. There are at least ten reasons to adore libraries and the professionals who make these places adoration-worthy,  so we probably need a more than just a Hug A Librarian Day. Perhaps a commemorative week or month. I’m thinking year round.

Here are some ways to celebrate.

Vote yes for library levies.

Surprise your favorite librarian with a hand-written thank you note.

Start or join a book club. Many libraries offer meeting space, some offer book club collections of the same book bundled with discussion questions.

Savor quotes from your favorite books by copying them onto a plate or mughand printing them on a scarf, or writing them on a shirt using a bleach pen.

Read This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.

Bring flowers, good coffee beans, homemade cookies, or a tray of fresh fruit for your librarians to enjoy.

Join your branch’s “friends of the library” organization.

Blast away any librarian stereotypes you harbor by taking a peek at some librarian blogs like Miss Information, Librarian Avengers, The Lipstick Librarian, The Laughing Librarian, The Society for Librarians Who Say MF, and Your Librarian Hates You.

Read Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.

Check out books that have been challenged or banned.

Start your own tiny library to benefit others.

Surprise your favorite librarian with a certificate for locally owned store, restaurant, or theater performance.

Keep an eye out for librarian characters (and inevitable stereotypes) in movies. Try these:

  • Goodbye, Columbus
  • Stephen King’s It
  • The Name of the Rose
  • The Mummy
  • Maxie
  • Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (kids) 
  • The Pagemaster (kids) 

Attend library programs and give positive reviews afterwards.

Shape snacks that look like books out of fruit leather, honey, and chocolate.

Or heck, volunteer to help your library run an Edible Book Festival.  Check out images from the Seattle festival and an international festival.

Organize your own book collection into a lending library using book pockets and library cards, perhaps putting your stamp on each volume with a custom book embosser. Or use an all-in-one library kit. This is particularly fun for kids.

Do everything in your power to keep your library system well-funded, lest they be forced to accept advertising dollars to stay open.

Make easy felt book covers , a more complex quilted composition book cover, or even try bookbinding.

Consider the possibility that you’re a Book Zombie.

When traveling, make a point of visiting libraries. For incentive, check out images of inspiring church libraries and public libraries.

Avoid saying the following to your librarian:

  • Must be nice to sit around reading all day.
  • You’re supposed to find me a job on the Internet, right? 
  • Do you volunteer here? 
  • I haven’t stepped in a library since ______.  
  • I hear that you will fill out my tax return.
  • Libraries just aren’t the same without card catalogs. 
  • Have you read all the books here? 

Read librarian-centered books to kids such as Librarian on the Roof! A True StoryThe Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians, and The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq.    

And if you know your librarian well enough, offer a hug.