My downtown colleague Jane Schmidt, a librarian at Ryerson, has some strong opinions about Little Free Libraries. Ever since she told me about the project she was working on I’ve been keeping an extra close eye out for ones in Toronto. They rarely seemed much good, full of ratty old paperbacks, an out-of-date cookbook, a James Patterson thriller not by James Patterson that’s slightly water-damaged (or at least you hope it’s water), a half-completed Sudoku puzzle book, someone’s old eco and poli sci undergrad readings, and some children’s books the children outgrew but that aren’t good enough to keep or pass on to friends. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a nice old green or orange Penguin in one.
For the past year, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to neighbourhood book exchanges, in particular those branded with the Little Free Library (LFL®) trademark. When I announced that I would be doing this research, I received many links to articles about them each article more like the last.
“Person/group installs book exchange. Usually a brief history of the LFL® organization. Neighbourhood agrees it’s lovely. A blurb about building community and encouraging literacy.”
And that’s about it. The narrative is maddeningly homogeneous (some notable exceptions; see the Reading List below) and almost unfailingly obsequious – a sure sign that a critical eye is needed. Here’s where I come in.
Now, not all LFLs are like this. My mother runs one and it is wonderful. It’s carefully tended and has monthly themes. I think it’s everything an LFL should be, and I’m not just saying that because she’s my mother.
At the other extreme, today I found the worst Little Free Library I’ve ever seen. Here it is from the sidewalk:
I looked inside.
That’s no library. That’s nothing. It’s one cold day away from people throwing their little bags of dog poo inside. Would you touch that book with your bare fingers? Would you let a child anywhere near it?