Mini and free libraries may be nearer than you think!
July 4, 2014 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Little Free Library is a fantastic idea.
posted by Cranberry at 12:33 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just put a bunch of books in the Little Free Library! I always worry a little bit that nobody is going to want my books, and they'll just take up space. Hopefully I have at least one neighbor who shares my taste in books.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:37 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seeing one of those little box libraries is one of those things that makes me go "aaaaah!" and feel really happy for the rest of my day.
posted by threeants at 1:01 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not without the occasional crisis and controversy.
posted by sammyo at 1:28 PM on July 4, 2014

I confess the idea of a little free library has sent my imagination to silly places contemplating how I might devise a little free bookmobile.

This might be the impetus that finally gets Pwny trained to drive. Her Honor The Mare does relish an outing.
posted by Lou Stuells at 1:57 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

And she is appropriately mini.
posted by Lou Stuells at 1:58 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

At first blush I felt like echoing cjorgensen's comment in the Previously link, "we already have free libraries". Then I read ArbitraryAndCapricious's comment, "Hopefully I have at least one neighbor who shares my taste in books."

ArbitraryAndCapricious helped me to see the mini library as performing a dialog between the lender and the lendee similar to the Books I've Read section on my Facebook account, but without the links to Amazon.

Interestingly I had a brief conversation with my local library director about the redesign of their web site. I wish they would have added comments to the book entries. Its just the sort of thing to make the stacks interesting. Comments work for Amazon, why not at the public library? The answer I most frequently hear is, Who is going to moderate the comments?

With the mini library, the whole question of moderation is turned on its head, because the selection is location and "librarian" centered. Not the library, not the publishers, not even the author are at the root of this library. It's the person who's offering the books who's reputation is put forward.

I'm not saying its the answer to my question, but it certainly changes the discussion.
posted by xtian at 2:55 PM on July 4, 2014

One of our Little Free Libraries was plundered over the weekend -- just completely emptied. You have to at least hold out some vague hope that the books got to someone who really needs them, but it was a real morale hit for the owner/curator. Still, people donated books after they saw her FB post.
posted by dhartung at 3:01 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

my wife has run a little free library for three years. several things have surprised me:

- activity. the library has a lot of turnaround. many books coming and going all the time. kids LOVE it.
- poachers. people drive from LFL to LFL and just take all the books that look like they could sell. sometimes they clean it out, but mostly they just take the cream. they seem to show up every three months or so.
- confusion. people think it's a mini branch of the local public library. we get a fair number of actual library books meant to be returned. and our librarian friend reports many more unmarked books being "returned" to them.
posted by bruceo at 3:35 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I built a little free library last year and learned a few things along the way:

1. Books haven't tended to come back. I wrote a little app to help me keep inventory*, and in a few months of steady maintenance never had a title collision (which is to say, nothing that ever appeared in the inventory had previously been in the inventory). I was counting on that happening to force me to write the code to deal with that, so that was sad.

2. There are some awful, awful people in the world who cruise around with barcode scanners in neighborhoods where a group of libraries have been put in just so they can plunder the collections for titles they can sell elsewhere. One of my neighbors ran one of them off and described a truly depressing encounter with someone who simply didn't have a certain kind of capacity to do moral reasoning.

There are some less awful and simply desperate people who will also loot the entire collection and cart it off without using a barcode scanner. I made my peace with that by deciding that if someone's that down and out, they can just have the books (same as my recycling, a fight over which I have recently had to break up).

I *think* the solution there is defacement of some kind (e.g. a sticker announcing the provenance of the book) to effectively destroy the resale value of the book by forcing removal of the cover.

3. Depending on your neighborhood, they can feel a little divisive. Without getting into the back story too much, our neighborhood ended up in a situation where some renters -- 75 percent of the local population -- felt excluded because the way LFL's work wasn't explained to them and they weren't invited to participate at all. They were left wondering if they were allowed to borrow or contribute, and a few read the whole thing as a weird homeowner-only thing. A little socializing ahead of doing the project would have done a lot to smooth things out and might have helped with the fact that ...

4. ... there's not a ton of support (at least in this neighborhood). Books leave, they don't come back, and I've come to expect that I'll be paying out about $25/month if I want to keep the library stocked with more than cast-off issues of the Economist, sun-bleached cookbooks from 1983 and religious tracts from the local Jehovah's Witnesses.

5. It feels pretty awesome when I see a family come by with a wagon of books or in a car on a restocking run of all the local libraries. Doesn't happen often, but when it does it's pretty nice.

6. It also feels pretty awesome when I see someone carefully going through the collection and then picking just one book, taking it across the street to the park to read under a tree.

7. I have a coworker in a more affluent neighborhood who reports quite a different experience. The LFL is a block project. It's quite well maintained, there's always something interesting to read, and it seems to have become a way for middle class folks to preserve a veneer of respectability by anonymously recirculating the "50 Shades of Grey" series.

* No guarantees that code's any good. I'm not sure when I last pushed updates to it.
posted by mph at 3:37 PM on July 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

It never crossed my mind that I was supposed to bring the same books back to a little free library. Wouldn't that lead to a really boring library, with only 10 or 20 titles in circulation?

I've picked up books, I've dropped off books, but it's never been the same books.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:47 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's because you're dead. It's a well known fact that dead people's brains don't function like the livings.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 3:54 PM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

That's all super interesting, mph. When I first realized what ours was, I wasn't sure whether I was allowed to leave books. Ours is sponsored by a church, and it's a nice, liberal mainline church in a much fancier part of town than I live in. I sort of thought maybe they were using it as a charity project, and only they were supposed to put books in it. I had to do some googling and asking around a bit before I concluded that I could drop books off, and not just take them.

I definitely think that LFLs might benefit a little bit from some cues about how you're supposed to use them.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:07 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I look periodically to see if one has opened up near enough any of my bus routes that I could easily drop off some books. Without a car, it's a bit too much of a pain to make a special trip out of my way just to donate books.

But I love the idea of LFLs and I keep hoping one will turn up closer to home so I can help support it.
posted by Stacey at 4:13 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a coworker in a more affluent neighborhood who reports quite a different experience.

I live in a pretty nice, older neighborhood near the university, so we're over-represented with UT faculty & staff, etc. - a bit of an egg-headed bunch, & the LFL that's 3 doors down from me has peacefully existed without incident for about 2 years, now. It's never come up on the neighborhood Yahoo email list, so it's not contentious to anyone that I can tell, as that's where all the neighborhood contention takes place online. (If someone isn't happy about thing X within a 10 block radius, there's a 100% guarantee there will be a long email chain about it)

I drive by it pretty much every day, & it's always stocked, & it seems like turnover is good. I walked down there with 4 books & brought one home, but I haven't read it yet, so I haven't been back to exchange again, but I will probably always try to put more in than I take out, & it did occur to me to keep it safe for kids, as there are school-age & pre-school age kids along that whole block.

I first read about those on MetaFilter & was thinking about buying one myself when someone beat me to it, so I always think of MeFi & the librarians & book & language nerds here, & smile a bit when I see it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:15 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know how I figured out what it was--I think I saw something in the local paper about the same time that I happened to notice the little structures in the teeny park with naught but a water fountain and flower garden--but I loved the Little Free Library in my neighborhood. It was the perfect ~1 mile loop for an evening walk, and if I did manage to find something new to read, bonus. I took a couple of books, left a few more (different ones), and mostly really liked watching the contents change week to week.

I miss that experience. There isn't one where I live now, more's the pity, but I love that they're spreading. And NGL, a high concentration of LFLs may be a small determining factor in deciding where to live next year.
posted by threeeyedfrog at 7:37 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Love these. I contributed to the earlier thread, when I lived in a much higher-traffic neighborhood than in the one in which I now reside. This post has inspired me to install a new one here on the front of my property. Think I'll dedicate and name it Jessamyn's Bench, or some such, in honour of the planet's best librarian , ever.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:26 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cripes. Jessamyn's Branch. Duh!
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:46 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Colombian Biblioburro.

On the little free libraries, it's quite normal for a shop or supermarket to have a book exchange shelf in the places I've lived in the UK and Australia. Is that sort of thing known in the US?

Surprised that the NPR piece didn't mention the extensive network of Carnegie libraries outside the US - the Herne Hill library in south London is just beautiful.
posted by goo at 6:31 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

> Colombian Biblioburro


I found four issues of Cricket from the 1970s in a Little Free Library in a park not too long ago. They were issues I remember getting in the mail; not the one I had a letter printed in, sadly.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:10 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

My first encounter with "little free libraries" was the one maintained by a lovely neighbor lady everyone called "Aunt Nita" whom we met when we first moved here in 1985. She had tons of books on some shelves in her garage and would leave her garage door open all day so people could come by and help themselves and bring donations by as well. I was charmed by that then, and I think Aunt Nita would be delighted to see something she was doing 30 years ago now a nationwide, nay worldwide thing. Per the Neatorama post, I bet Aunt Nita would have a hot spot providing free wi-fi in her garage, if such a thing were available back then also.
posted by Lynsey at 9:41 AM on July 5, 2014

I like this one in my neighborhood.
posted by mike3k at 10:38 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The corpse in the library, I am on a lifelong quest to find the issue of Cricket where my story once got printed! Cricket alumni FTW.
posted by Stacey at 11:57 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oooh, what story, Stacey? If it was in the late 1970s then I read it over and over and over.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:48 PM on July 5, 2014

Colombian Biblioburro.
posted by goo at 9:31 AM on July 5

Kentucky Pack Horse Librarians! Brought to you by the WPA!
posted by magstheaxe at 7:22 PM on July 5, 2014

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