Thoughts on Little Free Libraries

I love Little Free Libraries. Indeed, as COVID continues and I am locked out of regulation libraries and bookstores, I find I like them more and more.

There’s always a pleasurable jolt of anticipation when I see the distinctive shape of the tiny house on a pole up ahead. I always hurry to see what’s inside. Because, even if it’s a dusty old Christian philosophy book, some ripped-up kids’ books, and an out-of-date Writer’s Market, there’s always something.

Little Free Libraries always surprise you. Just when you’ve given up all hope of finding anything, you discover a gem. I got my copy of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek from a Little Free Library, along with The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, in perfect condition. Recently, I’ve had quite a lot of luck with the local Little Free Libraries: I found the Encyclopedia of Mammals and a picture book version of E.T. for my nephews, both in excellent condition. I also found my best discovery yet: the complete boxed set of the Griffin and Sabine books, looking brand-new, with all the letters still in their envelopes.

Most of the time, of course, Little Free Libraries disappoint you. But there’s always the possibility that you’ll find something. And there’s something nice about them altogether: the idea that people will voluntarily leave their books for other people to find, in an entirely casual and non-obligatory way, and that books may find second homes and second chances. They’re also a lifeline for book addicts in these COVID times, and a much cheaper alternative to Amazon (which, naturally, I am also hitting very hard). There’s a nice absence of obligation about them, too. You can take a book, read it, and put it back, without hurting anyone’s feelings or any social awkwardness.

I have left my share of books in local Little Free Libraries, of course. Sometimes I’ve regretted it immediately (why did I give away The Great Husband Hunt?! Nooo!) but mostly I’m glad that the books I leave may go on to find new homes, with owners that love them better. Or, if the book is on its last legs, with pages curling up and cover falling off, it at least gets an honorable death and burial. (Oddly, these are often the books that disappear the fastest. I guess they get worn out so quickly for a reason.)

In these times of isolation, stress and worry, when both the present and the future seem pretty scary, a Little Free Library is a piece of low-key kindness, an expression of community. Book lovers, even in the darkest of times, are finding new homes for old books, and readers are helping readers find good material. This is a small atom of light, in a dark night indeed.