Free-For-All Friday – free street libraries

Regular readers of this blog will know that I love libraries.

In fact, it was only two weeks ago that I reminisced on my first library card – and the vistas it opened up for me.

One of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman, outlined a similar experience in the Reading Agency annual lecture back in 2013 …

“I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the children’s library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the children’s’ library I began on the adult books.

They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader – nothing less or more – which meant they treated me with respect.”

But even without the guidance of librarians, I love the concept of libraries.

They are a place where anyone, no matter what their station in life – or their financial position – or their education – can share in the joy of reading.

Which is why I also love the rise of Street Libraries, or Free Libraries, or Library Boxes.

You may have seen one in your neighborhood – a box or container where books are placed, and people are encouraged to take one and read it – replacing it with another book, so whole communities can share the joy of reading.

My wife and I were out shopping this week when we spotted a bookstore-cum-cafe (the delightful BookFace at Orion, in Ipswich) … and outside it had multiple Free Library boxes.

The range of books was eclectic. Some had been well perused but others appeared near new.

We had already had a coffee just a short while earlier, or we would have given them our custom – and I will make sure we grab a cuppa next time we are at that shopping centre again!

I’ve seen similar take-a-book, leave-a-book stations at everything from cruise ships and hotel lobbies to homes in my home city of Brisbane, in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and in tiny towns on four continents.

I genuinely love the idea – so much so that I am planning to set one up outside my home and share the inspiration.

But today, as we were discussing the unofficial movement, my daughter (who lives in Portland, Oregon) shared a new wrinkle.

It is a ‘letter library’ – where you write a letter and someone else takes it before (or while) leaving a letter of their own.

How very … Portlandia 🙂

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