Little Free Libraries

Geocache coordinates add fun to some travelers’ days. Pokemon-Go compels other drivers to stop. My husband plans our side trips around cheap gas. Before a recent trip, I asked to visit as many Little Free Libraries as possible. Hubby quit mapping gas prices, went to the website of registered Little Free Libraries in 50 states and 70 countries and began writing down addresses.

Little Libraries look like a book-filled cupboard set on a pole. Designs vary from plain wood with unbreakable glass to crafty affairs reflecting the owner’s interests. Book lovers establish the Little Free Libraries so others can read books.

Visiting the libraries took us off the Interstate and into residential neighborhoods, parks and older shopping districts. I read the backs of many books, took a book and left one. I prefer reading any day over shopping or visiting a tourist attraction.

We quickly saw that Little Libraries tend to be in neighborhoods with tidy yards and houses in the middle range for cost. These libraries offered the best selection of books inside the prettiest and the most inviting Little Libraries. The garden districts also had the only missing Little Libraries: registered but no longer in existence.

About a third of the libraries we found in city parks, built of raw, unpainted wood with an unbreakable window and a couple of shelves for books. In one park I found a cupboard stuffed with adult books and a separate unit sparsely stocked with children’s books. I wished I had brought some of the kid books begging for shelf space at my house.
Well meaning civic groups sponsored the most disappointing of the libraries I visited. The great idea faltered and left behind a peach colored cupboard with double doors and multiple shelves with a few, aged, paperback books without covers. A pocket park in the restaurant district had a Little Free Library off to the side, unnoticed, unattended and under stocked. It offered only yesterday’s newspaper, a couple magazines and two books. I left extra books to help.

“Take one, leave one” fails quickly if everyone takes. We met one librarian who used three vintage house windows to build her Little Free Library into her white picket fence. She came to talk after I had selected a book.

“We have been visiting the Little Libraries,” I said. “We have seen such variety. One was stuffed with children’s books.”

“I used to have a shelf for children. I took them from my children’s old books. They are all gone now,” she said. Books to new homes. Children to college.

Little Libraries reflect differing personalities, interests and creativity. Beside the box painted black and white stood a matching lighthouse. That site included a board for posting public notices. It was shingled with shellacked book covers aged with time and weather, I could still read the titles and see the cover art work.

The most elaborate set-up had a “Free books” banner we could read a block away. It included a wrought iron table and chair, a patio of flagstones and a warning against leaving any political or religious material in the library.

Bright daffodils, jonquils and purple hyacinth surrounded a cheerful green box with a rainbow painted on the roof. That box held a lot of interesting books. I only took one. Another painted in primary colors had a porcelain knob painted with flowers and inside a collection of bookmarks.

Whatever their appearance, each Little Free Library still stood because someone has a vision that books and information should be available to anyone, even a passing tourist looking for a book to read.