My Tiny Library
I wanted Stephen to build me a Little Library for years, and when he finally did—for my birthday several years ago—I was thrilled. In the first place, I love the concept: miniature lending libraries all over town walkers can both dip into and contribute to. Community libraries are important cultural and educational institutions, a place where we can do everything from researching our newest intellectual passion to picking up the latest best seller. But the Little Libraries that have popped up all over Berkeley are more personal, a thoughtful exchange between several individuals–the originator of the library, the borrower, and the contributor. They’re also a way to get to know our neighbors a bit more by seeing some of what they read.
For me to stock a Little Library also made good sense. I’m a writer whose book collection can easily get a bit out of hand. How lovely, to offer the surplus to neighbors. So when my Little Library was ready, I explored the bookshelves in my office, creating several piles of the books I could immediately use to stock my library. Then, for the first few months, I happily restocked whenever the two and a half shelves began looking bare.
I also curated the shelves several times a week, straightening the rows and plucking out any contributions that wandered outside my comfort zone, mainly religious tracts at first. Initially, watching books disappear to be replaced by new ones, pulling up in my car and seeing a passer-by peering into my library filled me with joy. What a phenomenon, I thought one day! These Little Libraries are always in flux, readers interacting with other readers, providing pleasure to others, gifting an object they’ve held in their hands over time to the next person.
But after a while, unless I filled them, my shelves remained sparse. The quality of the books deteriorated. And my Little Library no longer sparked joy the way it once had. For a while, I even began feeling spiteful: if people aren’t going to contribute, neither will I! For several weeks, my shelves remained nearly bare, and each time I passed, I felt a bell jar descending.
Then one day last week, my Little Library was bursting with books, several piles of them, crammed in helter skelter. Oh, I thought, suddenly feeling lighter, somebody cares! My Little Library has not been abandoned after all. And I made a note to return in a bit to organize the shelves.
But when I returned later that afternoon, the books had all been arranged by size, and my Little Library appeared well fed and organized. And at that moment I understood my previous depression. I had taken the treatment of my library personally. The empty shelves had left me feeling abandoned, as if nobody cared about me. But that was no longer true. Not only one, but two people had stopped by to feed my Little Library–and me. I had just been too quick to despair.
Once again, I reminded myself that if I remember to remain patient, it’s quite possible that whatever I am unhappy about will turn around. I’ve learned this lesson before, but now the image of my fully stocked and neatly organized Little Library will help me remember.