I think I was driving through Montclair, New Jersey when I first noticed one. A “little free library” in someone’s front yard. Then I began to notice them around elsewhere. Neat little outdoor kiosks filled with books. Despite my love of literacy I’m not inclined to take books from such places. For one thing my reading tastes are odd, and for another I want other people to catch the interest in reading. And “free” is a great motivator. The idea is simple: set up a little free library on your property, seed it with books, and watch it work. People are encouraged to take what’s there for free. And leave books they want to donate, if so inclined. Now that we’re in Pennsylvania we discovered one in a nearby park. A community feels more homey with books.
Searching for the concept online, I came to LittleFreeLibrary.org. I’m not sure if they started the trend, but it provides the basic idea. They even have plans for how to build your own and get your neighborhood reading. If anyone wants a clue for making America great, here’s a free hint: it will involve books. They’re a commodity unlike any other. Mass-produced (often too enthusiastically so) they are generally inexpensive and can be used over and over again. One of the biggest headaches for publishers is the used book market—since a book is a handful of ideas, once they’re released they’re difficult to control. They can be sold again for less than market value, and yes, even given away. Those who read see the value in giveaways, even if there’s no personal profit in it.
Early in our tenure here we decided to take a book to donate each time we go to the park. Sometimes we forget, of course. Our first donation was there for two weeks, but then found a new home. A strange kind of joy accompanied finding the book gone. Perhaps we’d done some good simply by opening a door and leaving something we were no longer using. Then something unexpected happened—I saw a book from my reading list in the local. Should I take it? I have a list of books to seek in used bookstores, for, to the chagrin of my own industry, I participate in the used book market. I had been looking for this tome for a few years, reluctant to pay full market value since it has been around since the sixties. In the end I couldn’t resist. Next week, I told myself, I’ll take two books to give back. Literacy’s that way—it’s something even introverts can share.