Sunday, August 26, 2012

Anywhere and Everywhere… Books

Books, front, center and stacked

Years ago I wrote about Anywhere and Everywhere Play in children's museums in an issue of Hand To Hand about creating opportunities for and inviting play to happen in varied and unexpected places. Since then, the anywhere and everywhere phrase and its rhythm have thrummed through my mind, picking up and finishing with possibilities of what, like play, could be anywhere and everywhere. For instance, books.

Like yarnbombing and guerilla gardening, like Peace Poles and bluebird houses, on-the-spot book stops, mobile libraries, reading places, and neighborly book exchanges are popping up anywhere and everywhere in big cities and small towns, in the US and around the world. Inspired by literary, civic, and political spirits, this is a populist echo of Andrew Carnegie's construction of public and university libraries in small towns and big cities across America a century ago. The mobility and versatility of these book spots mean they can, and do, show up anywhere and everywhere as well as go places. They deliver the delight, generosity, and civic joy of people getting into the act to share a love of books, reading, and stories. Passing on transforms readers and booklovers into citizen librarians.

Little Free Libraries
Identifying label with contact information
Little Free Libraries has great ambitions. With a mission to promote literacy and the love of reading and to build a sense of community, its goal is to surpass the 2,500 libraries around the world contributed by Andrew Carnegie. The Little Free Libraries’ world map lists–with GPS coordinates–libraries in 11 countries (including 7 Canadian Provinces) and in 43 of the united States.

The micro-libraries are wooden boxes approximately 23”w x 24”h x 15-7/8”d mounted on posts and filled with books. Built by amateurs and expert carpenters, they are humble and elaborate, creative, practical, and personal. They are constructed of found materials such as cranberry boxes and barn wood and are sometimes muraled and adorned with distinct hardware. Winter hardy, their gable, gambrel, and shed roofs and front doors with latches keep out the elements. Sometimes they are lit and occasionally are accompanied by a stool or bench. I even found one with energy bars.

Books, art, and a place to sit
These are free books, but not simply free books. They are books to borrow, share, pass on, return, and restock that fulfill the meaning of a circulating library. Hardbacks, paperbacks, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books, books come from family bookshelves, book drives, and sometimes, as a memorial, from a loved one’s book collection.

Little Free Libraries (LFL) are suited for places people relax and might want a book but forgot one: in parks, playgrounds, plazas, public squares, beaches, and campsites. They are a true gift in places where people wait, in dentists and doctors’ offices, Laundromats, and bus stops. They reinforce the message of places people go to enjoy themselves, connect with others, and learn something, at museums, art centers, and nature centers.  Little Free Libraries have the potential to bring libraries to rural towns and remote places.

This one also offered energy bars
Last week was a good week for finding Little Free Libraries. I came upon 3 in Minneapolis and 3 in small Wisconsin towns. In Minneapolis, one was in front of a house on a leafy street. Settergren’s Hardware has a Little Free Library; it’s located just 2 blocks from the Linden Hills Library in one direction and 2 blocks from Wild Rumpus children’s bookstore in the other. Another LFL is in front of Uptown's Soo Visual Arts Center. In Wisconsin, I found one in a big corner lot in Spring Green and 2 in Mineral Point, one in front of a gallery and the other across the street in front of a hotel.

Referred to as little churches of the mind, water coolers, and bird houses, neighbors gather around the book boxes in front yards, children stop and peek inside, runners pass them along trails, and students find them in the school garden. Little Free Libraries offer a pop-up surprise, a very personal invitation to read, and a generous act from a book-loving stranger.

Book Friends
Expressing the spirit of anywhere and everywhere…books and giving new meaning to pop-up books are two versions of libraries cropping up in urban settings.

Out on a Limb for Books. When the Evanston Library Board (IL) voted in early 2011 not to continue funding the South Branch Library, Friends of the Evanston Public Library were not content to do without a branch library. In less than a month, they funded an experimental space, donated books, and opened The Mighty Twig. Smaller than a branch library, the Mighty Twig circulates books on an honor system and takes donated books to community centers, coffee shops, and schools throughout Evanston.

Portable Reading Room. In 2009, an under-visited Street Lab storefront library created by Sam and Leslie Davol in Boston’s Chinatown was moved two blocks away to the Greenaway because that’s where the people were. That move inspired the Davols to think about how to create a portable outdoor library. They commissioned local architects and Massachusetts Institute of Technology students to create a mobile modular outdoor reading room. The result is a modular library system called the Urban Neighborhood Institution (shortened to Uni) that was financed with donations from Kickstarter crowd-funding website.

The Uni at Boston Children's Museum
The goal of the Uni is to share books, showcase the act of learning, and improve public spaces. 
Modular cubes hold books, objects, and activities on topics related to a specific location, like the Louis Armstrong book cube at the Queens (NY) location. Uni-librarians mix and match the cubes, but some cubes are curated by organizations, educators, and individuals with a passion and knowledge on a particular subject. The Uni has been installed at multiple locations in New York City including the Queens Museum of Art and Queens Library. In June, 2012, it popped up at the Boston Children’s Museum’s waterfront plaza. The Uni is headed for installation in Afghanistan.
A book stop at Bookworm Gardens

More on Micro-libraries
• Corner Library in New Haven, CT:

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