The Large Worlds of Little Libraries
I experienced small in a new way this weekend, on a walk with Berkeley Path Wanderers, led by my dear friend Sandy Friedland. For two hours on Saturday, Sandy led 40 eager wanderers up and down paths and along streets throughout Clarement and Rockridge, CA, to visit a selection of the dozens of little Free Libraries she has discovered in the area. The first tiny library was along what neighbors refer to as the “Chicken Path,” surrounded by a vest-pocket urban farm, the air around the diminutive library filled with cackling and quacking; and one of the last stood in front of the home of writers Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon, where wanderers often discover pre-publication copies of Ayelet’s and Michael’s books.
These tiny libraries, set up on a post in front of the “librarian’s” home, are common sights all around Berkeley. Several blocks from me, a low-to-the ground exemplar sprang up several years ago, specializing in children’s books; and whenever we walk to a local park, my granddaughters love stopping to pick out a volume or two. Several blocks in the other direction, a newish neighbor has erected not one but two of these diminutive libraries in front of her home.
So I was already quite familiar with these tiny libraries before I went on the walk Saturday. What I wasn’t aware of was just how large a world each of these tiny providers of books creates.
Sandy had arranged for several of the librarians to chat with us. In their own words, each librarian supported the motto of the tiny library association: building community one book at a time. Librarians talked about how close the people on their block or even their neighborhood had become through the tiny library. Neighbors often spontaneously gather to chat, not just about books, but about the neighborhood, their families and local politics. One librarian told us that her little library has created a community of dog-lovers, who often stop by on their walks.
Before this weekend, I had never considered the way in which these little libraries create communities, or how each individual librarian becomes connected to all those who pluck out books to read, or who offer their own for others to enjoy; or how sharing literary discoveries and tastes creates invisible relationships. One librarian talked about two lovers of detective novels, who now exchange books through her library.
After the walk, I began thinking about getting to know my own neighbors through the books they read. The block on which I live has never established much connection. But if I were to create a tiny library, perhaps we would all come together over books. Just thinking about this possibility fills me with joy.
All this, after one two-hour walk, and a dozen little libraries.