I go to the Boston Public Library to do work because it is quiet, cavernous, and filled with books that simultaneously help me and distract me. It’s here that I will occasionally sign out a book to read for pleasure, though mostly I use my card to get texts I need for class. I go to the Emerson College library because it’s convenient, opened later (if only by a few hours), and filled with people who will undoubtedly interrupt the work I don’t want to be doing. It’s here that I check out movies, reference books, and again, books I need for class. I remember a time though, prior to college, when I went to the library purely for the excitement value. I would check out whichever books caught my attention, usually more than I could read before they were due back, and immediately flip through the pages on the drive home. I think it was probably in high school that libraries lost their power of mystery for me; if I went at all, it was always with a purpose in mind, a certain book I’d been meaning to read but was too cheap to buy. What I once found intriguing, personal, and to always be adventures, have become dry experiences. And while I do appreciate the physical beauty of books upon books (and of course the historical beauty of the Boston Public Library), the magic of the library, for me, is so rarely experienced.
I’ve come across something though that I think revives all of the spirit of books and goes beyond the usual community experience of the typical public library. Little Free Libraries, dubbed because they resemble a birdhouse but are still an interchange of books and thoughts, are popping up globally. While some are the brainchild of Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, others are independent, sprung from the heart of romantic citizens with a penchant for reading. I have yet to encounter one first hand (from the nonprofit or otherwise), but I’ve got this vision of bringing one to Boston and stocking it with little, unknown literary magazines that might otherwise go unnoticed.
What’s remarkable about Little Free Libraries is that they aren’t watched over by any Librarians in the typical sense of the term. Though you could call the individual who initiates one specific library a librarian, these boxes, posts, and sometimes tables, operate on a trust system. The idea is that strangers may take a book from the shelf, read it, and in due time return it or perhaps keep it, but instead return another book to keep the titles circulating. The little libraries have a magical element; instead of taking a book and walking away, people feel compelled to drop off a copy of their own favorite read.
I’ve heard of all sorts of variants on the original idea, and why not? I once saw a similar box filled with knick-knacks, a sort of take-my-junk-and-bring-me-yours station. What’s to stop people from starting little libraries of CDs, photographs, artwork? The gesture seems powerful to me – a way to bring individuals together, letting people communicate. There’s a distance, sure. You may never meet the person that originally owned the book you are taking, but the action itself is personal. You’re sharing and understanding your neighbors’ value.
I’m already caught up in the allure of Little Free Libraries. They are the manifestation of the childhood intrigue I, and I’m sure others, once had. These are not places you go with a specific title in mind. You go to explore. You walk away with literature entirely unfamiliar to you. There is no questioning that Little Free Libraries will never replace the public library system – I’m certain they aren’t meant to – but they revive they mystery that gradually disappears with age.