In terms of cash flow I don’t fall into the wealthy bracket. My assets are largely in pre-printed paper form, and when I visit the local Little Free Library it’s generally to donate books rather than to take them. Over Labor Day weekend I was in Ithaca. One of the more famous features of the town is its weekend Farmers’ Market. Indeed, the north-south corridor through town is a continuous traffic jam during Market hours. Not only are there farm stands in the permanent open-sided structure, but there are a few craft booths and several places to buy al fresco fair from local restaurants. In the summer parking can be hard to find, but the place has a carnival-like atmosphere nevertheless. It also has a Little Free Library. I’ve been to the Market many times but I’d never noticed it before.
Upstate New York is beautiful but it tends toward the conservative end of the political spectrum. Ithaca is a pixel of blue in a screen of red, and that strangely showed in the Little Free Library. Many of the books were either Bibles or popular kinds of devotional titles. Given that Cornell isn’t known for its religion department (Ithaca College has a respectably sized philosophy and religion department, however) these books aren’t the kind you’d expect to find in an institution of higher education. That’s why I was surprised to see a near mint copy of Bart Ehrman’s The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot on the shelves. The Gospel of Judas hasn’t been big news for a few years now, but this was a book that suggests a different demographic than your average evangelical readership.
Like Ehrman, I once made a living as an adjunct at Rutgers University. Indeed, it was this commonality that helped me to get to know him a bit. He’s gone on to a kind of fame rare for biblical scholars. Indeed, to have a sufficient number of copies of your book printed to end up in a Little Free Library—in other words, you have to have more cachet than your garden variety Ph.D. In my local community LFL I like to leave books for others to take. Just last week I stopped by and noticed that the summer had depleted the stock. Ironically, I had noticed one of Neal Stephenson’s novels in the same circumstances as Ehrman’s. I’m glad to see intelligent works on offer for the reading public. And trading books with no money involved suggests to me that there’s a better form of economy than material greed. All it takes is a Little Free Library and a little good will.