Making Bookmarks

Every once in a while I get this overwhelming desire to be creative. Mostly when that happens, I sit quietly until the urge passes. The older I get, the more I feel the need to conserve my energy. But on this day, my artistic muse would give me no peace, so I decided to borrow a wonderful idea from some of my fellow little free library stewards and make some bookmarks to give away.

I had several children’s books in my inventory that were all but falling apart, so they weren’t suitable for putting in my library. But I find it really hard to throw out books, even when they are past their prime. It seems sacrilegious to me. So these books had been sitting forlornly in a corner for several months, no doubt contemplating their fate with dread.

The artwork in most children’s books is amazing, so rather than recycle those pages, I chose to upcycle them. Making bookmarks is really easy.

  • Simply cut out a page, positioning the art in question to show it off to its best advantage, and allow extra paper to fold over for added thickness. Bonus points if you can get cool imagery on both sides of your bookmark! (If you’re like me, cutting a book up will make you cringe. I find it almost as distasteful as throwing one out. I had to keep reminding myself that these books were too tattered to read, so it is better to make them into bookmarks than it is to let them fade completely away.)

  • Bookmarks don’t have to be a uniform size. It’s not like most of them hang out together, standing at attention like little soldiers. They are meant to be used. I do try my best to keep them at 90 degree angles, though, because otherwise they look strange, at least to my eyes. So I found it helpful to use a cutting board that has a grid on it.

  • Once you have the bookmark cut and folded, I use a glue stick to glue it together. Glue sticks are a lot less messy than liquid glue is.

  • Then I lay them flat under something heavy to ensure that they dry flat.

  • Once dry, I use a hole punch to make a hole in one end, and reinforce that on both sides with hole reinforcements that you can get at any office supply store.

  • Then I add a ribbon tassel to the end. (I bought a variety of colors on sale so I had a multitude of choices to compliment or contrast the art.) Done.

Now, some of my fellow library stewards laminate theirs, or use clear contact paper on them. I haven’t done this yet, but it is a good idea if you want the bookmark to last and stay clean. However, I know my history with bookmarks. They usually get lost sooner than that type of longevity requires. (That sounds much better than saying I was too lazy to laminate, doesn’t it?)

The best part about this project is that you can do it while watching PBS, or the channel of your choice. Call it multitasking if you must. I just call it twice the fun.

Here are pictures of some of the bookmarks that I made. It’s going to be hard to part with many of these, because I think they’re beautiful. But part with them I will, because I will do anything, anything at all, to increase someone’s joy of reading. I think that’s the most important gift you can give.

These bookmarks will be placed, a few at a time, inside my little free library’s gift cubby, in the hope that they’ll make some patrons smile.

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Tsundoku

I learned a new word today, thanks to this article. Tsundoku (not the be confused with the number puzzle sudoku) is the Japanese word for the acquiring of reading materials, followed by letting them pile up and subsequently never reading them.

Now, who among us isn’t either guilty of that ourselves, or at least knows someone who is? It’s a tragedy. When I think of all the trees that have been converted into expensive paperweights in this manner, it makes me want to weep.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge proponent of reading. I absolutely love books. What I really hate is stuff. Accumulation. It’s just too much. That’s why I adore libraries. I can always lay my hands on any book I want. I just don’t have to store it myself. I can’t think of a more amazing service to provide the public.

Somewhere in Missouri are about 50 boxes of books, moldering away in a storage shed. They are my inheritance from my late sister. The one thing we had in common was a love of reading. But I don’t know what she was thinking. I couldn’t afford to ship them all from there to here if my life depended on it. And where would I put them? One of these days I’m going to have to fly out there and donate them to a library or sell them to a used book store or something. Meanwhile they just sit there, occupying space and entertaining no one. What a hassle. What a shame.

I guess you might say I suffer from Tsundoku by proxy.

pile-of-books

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Censorship?

I am on the horns of a moral dilemma. I believe very strongly in free speech and freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Nothing angers me more than a book burning, or a school board that requires teachers to avoid teaching things that are science-based. I am usually the first to read a book if it gets banned.

Because of all the above, it kind of makes me squirm that, ever since I started my Little Free Library, I have been actively participating in censorship. It’s true. I have. And I will probably continue to do so.

Ugh! I’m going to hell in a handbasket.

The way a Little Free Library works is that people can take books and keep them as long as they want. They can return them, too, or they can bring other books. Most things are welcome. But some things I have to remove.

I look at myself as the curator of my library. Just as museums have curators who determine what exhibits they will display and what image their museums shall project to the world, I, too, am in control of the types of messages I put out there in my library. Being a steward is a service that I’ve voluntarily provided, and it is, after all, located on my private property.

But this censorship thing is kind of a slippery slope, and one that I never thought I’d be sliding down. It all started with the pizza flyers that someone stuffed in my library. I’m not here to advertise for local businesses. Those flyers went into the recycle bin, and I didn’t feel bad about it at all.

I also know I wouldn’t feel bad about pitching any pornography, were it to appear. My little library is often used by children. Can you imagine if little Johnny came home with a Penthouse magazine and Mom found out he got it from my box? No. Not appropriate at all.

I also get rid of books that are in poor condition. If the spines are torn off, for example, they get sent to Goodwill. I don’t want to be the dumping ground for everyone’s garbage books. That, and no one will want to take a disintegrating book to read, so it’s just taking up much-needed space. I also get rid of moldy books and ones that reek of cigarette smoke. I don’t want to trigger someone’s asthma. Again, these are situations that don’t feel morally ambiguous to me.

But here’s where it gets a little sticky. I’ve also donated religious books to Goodwill. I’m all for seeking your own spiritual path, but there are other sources for this information. I don’t want to proselytize, either purposely or by accident. It’s just not in my nature. I also know that the people in my neighborhood participate in a wide variety of religions. I don’t want anyone to feel alienated. Maybe I’d include a book on comparative religion, if it wasn’t promoting one philosophy over another. I don’t know.

I’ve also been avoiding putting blatantly political books out there. Mostly the books I’ve come across have been in alignment with my point of view, but if I put those out there, then I’ll have to put out ones I actively disagree with, and that would make me cringe. So, further down the censorship slope I slide.

Since I started my Little Free Library, I’ve met a lot of LFL stewards online. They’ve shared a multitude of moral dilemmas that have made me realize what a complicated task I’ve taken on.

For example, one steward received a children’s book which said, “For Boys Only” on the cover. I don’t think I would include this book in my library. I don’t want to participate in making girls feel as though there are things they cannot do or read.

Another steward discovered a bunch of anti-vax literature in her library. No. No. A thousand times no. I will not actively participate in spreading false information that could potentially lead to death. I refuse. This information has been debunked by the scientific community, so I’m not spreading it. I could not share literature that denies climate change for the very same reason.

Another steward received a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In a world that is experiencing a shocking escalation in hate crimes, would I want to put that lunatic’s poorly written, hateful ramblings out there? Hell to the no. While I think this is an important book, for researchers and historians and people wanting to learn about hate without being sucked into it themselves, it requires context. I am unable to provide that context, and so it wouldn’t be included in my library.

I’ve had my library for less than two months, and I’ve already come a long way from simply tossing out pizza advertisements. Rest assured, there are plenty of amazing books in there. I get excited every time I look. Reading enlivens me. It’s an adventure.

But here’s what is making me lose sleep: Where do I draw the line? Who am I to sit in judgment? Do I have the right?

What do you think?

Censorship

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Reading Your Way to Success

Recently, I blogged about the Little Free Library that I put out in front of my house. It’s been an amazing experience so far. I love seeing the books disappear. I love the positive feedback. I love knowing that people get as excited about reading as I do, and I really love making that possible for them.

The most unexpected thing about the whole experience is that I’ve been struggling to keep children’s books on the shelves. They vanish almost as quickly as I put them out there, and they rarely if ever come back. But to me, that’s good. Kids love to read books over and over and over again. The whole point of this library is to encourage reading, not for me to become the book police. It’s not about the inventory. It’s about the adventure.

Fortunately, I know how to ask for help when I’m struggling. I visited a Unitarian Universalist Church near me one Sunday, and during a period when people are allowed to make announcements, I mentioned my library and my need of children’s books.

The minute the service was over, I was approached by an elementary school teacher, and since then he has provided me with a huge box full of books, and he says there will be plenty more where that came from. Yay! Elementary classroom teachers, and their school libraries, are always rotating out their inventories. He’s now my children’s book source. He was even more enthusiastic about it when he realized my little library probably services students from his school, as we’re only about a mile and a half apart.

He and I are definitely on the same page about this: Reading is the most important skill a person can have. According to this article,

The benefits of leisure reading are enormous:

  • Readers do better in all subjects including science, math, history and civics

  • Provides higher verbal ability and better college readiness and success

  • School work is easier for readers–readers are more likely to stay in school

  • Stronger civic and cultural engagement including volunteering and voting

  • Leads to better workplace readiness and performance

  • Reading is a deep source of joy and curiosity

  • It increases our imagination, creativity, empathy and understanding

As Dana Gioia, former-Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, put it a few years ago, “If I could only know one number about a kid at 18 that would predict how successful he’d be in life, it would be his reading proficiency.”

So I’m very grateful to have found this teacher, and I’m thrilled to assist him in his goal to help children experience the joy of reading.

He heard my plea and came to my aid, so it’s only fair that I spread the word about his plea as well. His school, and all elementary schools, need volunteers who are willing to listen to children read. That sort of thing may not seem like a big deal to you or me, but lending an encouraging ear to a child can do wonders for his or her self-esteem, and it can create enthusiasm for reading.

This kind of volunteerism can be tedious, but it’s so important. You have to be willing to make it a positive, enjoyable experience, not a pressure-inducing disciplinary tool. (This could be the perfect job for a lonely, yet sharp-minded senior!)

Check out this article if you’re interested in learning more about it, and then reach out to a school near you. They sure could use your time, and the child involved would be getting the chance to read his or her way to success. What a gift!

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A Little Library for You

I’m so excited! For decades, I’ve dreamt of having a little free library on the street in front of my house. I just never had the kind of skilled support I needed to build such a thing. I also never had the time or money, if I’m perfectly honest.

But now I’m married to someone who is supportive of my dreams, and tolerant of my artistic nature, so we started to build. Or, uh, actually, he started to build. I just told him my vision, and did the painting and decorating after all the splinters and smashed fingers were done with. (Thanks, honey.)

Having said that, though, I’m not sure either one of us knew just what we were getting ourselves into. Because, you see, it started off as a simple, waterproof box with a door, on a post. We had those kinds of supplies lying around. It really wouldn’t cost anything. Just a little time and effort. But then I started becoming more and more enthusiastic about the project, and well… away we went.

For starters, wouldn’t it be fun to have a window in the door so people could actually see the books? And the door would need hinges. Oh, and a magnetic latch, so the cars driving by don’t blow the door open and let the weather in. And it would be cute to have a pretty, colorful handle for the door. That shouldn’t cost much, right?

And, you know, the whole point is to encourage people to read. So we really ought to make it colorful and eye-catching. So I should get some colorful paint. Green. Red. Blue. Maybe sparkly blue! Ooh, and glow in the dark paint, too, so it will be noticeable for at least an hour or so after dark. And we’ll need primer, too. And sparkly copper color for the trim.

Trim? Well, yeah, wouldn’t it be cool if it had trim? Maybe a thin strip of wood with decorative carvings on it. Yeah, let’s do that.

Oh! Oh! And look at this quirky little free library design that I found! The roof is slanted, so tall books can be on one end, and short books on the other! And it has a living roof! It has plants on top, so the slanted roof helps with drainage. So yeah, let’s get some metal to line the roof with, so the water won’t leak down into the books. And some weed cloth to line it, and some soil, and some succulents. Perennial succulents. Low maintenance. But flowering, for the bees. We can’t forget the bees.

Of course, what with the books and the plants, the whole structure is going to be really heavy, so we’ll need a bigger post. And we don’t want people standing too close to the street while they look at the books, so we should have it back off the street a bit, and we should put some pavers on the grass, so they are not standing in mud.

And wouldn’t it be fun to have little rubber duckies in the planter, too? Rubber duckie, you’re the one. Or two. Or six.

Oh, and the side walls are kind of blank, so how about we make little murals? Free hand? No. Maybe decoupage. So let’s get some lettering and glue from the craft store. I’ll print out some clip art. Oooh. Maybe I could paint some flowers on one side? I bet someone has some colorful nail polish I could use. (Thanks, Necia!)

And the Pacific Northwest is not known for its nice weather, so we better put a lot of coats of paint and decoupage glue and, what the heck, maybe some polyurethane on top of all that…

And sweety, honey, I’m reading that the books shouldn’t sit directly on the cabinet floor, so do we have some kind of rack that will raise them up a bit in case water gets in? And I need a little compartment to hold my log book so people can leave questions and comments (yeah, I’ll need to buy one of those, too), and a place for pens and gifts like bookmarks and such.

Bookmarks! I should have pretty bookmarks printed with the address of my blog on them. Oh, and lest we forget, books. We need books. And we will probably need more, over time.

So, yeah, this turned out to be a bigger project than we anticipated. Some surfaces got about 15 coats: 3 coats of primer, 3 coats of paint, 8 coats of decoupage glue, and 1 coat of polyurethane. This little free library could survive a nuclear attack. (Let’s hope vandals don’t test that theory.)

When it was finally up, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was really proud of how it turned out. I already feel more connected to my community. If I encourage one person to read something they wouldn’t already have read, then I feel as though I’ve accomplished all that I’ve set out to do.

Just for giggles, I put a copy of my book in there, so now my book is in 6 libraries that I know of. (I hope you’ll ask your library to carry it, too!) And those blog bookmarks turned out great, so I hope it helps expand this community as well.

This little library was up for less than a day, and it already got a wonderful comment in the log book:

“This is a wonderful idea. It makes me happy to know I live in a good neighborhood that will support such a nice contribution. Thank you for being thoughtful and generous. We appreciate you.”

That brought tears to my eyes. Happy, happy tears.

So now, I’m going to make it a PokeStop, to attract people who use the Pokemon GO app. Also, we plan to put a geocache somewhere around it, to attract other people, too. And we’ll always be on the lookout for appropriate books in good condition. Just sayin’.

A library steward’s work is never done.

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Book Review: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

I picked up this book for two reasons. First, I heard an interview with the author, Joshua Hammer, on NPR, and I’ve never disliked a book that I read based on an interview from that source. But second, and maybe most important, is that I absolutely love the title. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu makes me want to know more.

I’ve known more than one bad-ass librarian in my time, but never one from Timbuktu. In my opinion, librarians, as the keepers of truth and knowledge, are the coolest people ever. And this is a non-fiction book, so I was eager to learn the whole bad-ass story. I’ve got to say, the book doesn’t disappoint.

First of all, it taught me a lot about the Republic of Mali, and about the city of Timbuktu. Before this, all I basically knew was that Timbuktu is in the middle of nowhere. What I didn’t know was that it was at one point a major epicenter of education, civilization, and enlightenment.

Because of that, scattered all over the country are hundreds of thousands of centuries-old manuscripts, sometimes bound in leather, sometimes illuminated in gold leaf and gorgeous geometric patterns, that treat subjects including mathematics, medicine, astronomy, poetry, diversity, philosophy, religion, and history. These manuscripts are hand-written, one of a kind, priceless works of art that are irreplaceable  pieces of our human heritage.

In this book we meet Abdel Kader Haidara, a lifelong lover of books, who makes a career of traveling throughout the country to convince people to bring their books out of their dusty trunks and give them to libraries in Timbuktu, where they can be restored, preserved, archived, and made available to the public. He would spend weeks on end on camels and donkeys or floating down rivers and trekking through the desert, building up trust, to achieve this goal. In the end, Timbuktu became the repository for 377,000 ancient volumes. That’s pretty darned impressive.

And then, unfortunately, the country was torn by war. Al-Qaida took over Northern Mali, including Timbuktu, and began employing measures ever more violent, destructive, and austere. If they were to discover that there were ancient, secular, and scientific books lying around, they’d surely destroy them. And it was a very near thing.

The book also discusses how Al-Qaida happened to be there in the first place, and the battles and bloodshed resulting therefrom. It familiarizes you with several brutal leaders and their wrong-headed thought processes. It also makes you realize what a risk Haidara was making to protect these manuscripts.

In the end, Haidara, with the help of a large group of people who were literally risking their lives, smuggled in hundreds and hundreds of trunks, loaded these trunks up at night, and then carried them, a few at a time, to safehouses throughout the region.

As the war heated up, it became clear that even these safehouses weren’t going to be safe. So they decided that they’d have to smuggle all 377,000 books to southern Mali, where Al-Qaida wasn’t in control. To do this, they had to drive past check points. Many drivers were arrested. Ultimately, they put many of the trunks on boats and nervously floated them down the river. But in the end, all the books were saved.

We owe Haidara and his team a debt of gratitude. And I’d also like to thank Joshua Hammer for sharing this amazing story with the world. Score one for the good guys!

Check out this book. It’s bad-ass.

Bad-Ass book

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The Book of Our Lives

I was feeling a little nostalgic the other day, and decided to listen to Longer, by Dan Fogelberg. I love that song, and it’s been ages since I’ve heard it. I was particularly struck by one portion. “Through the years, as the fire starts to mellow, burning lines in the book of our lives, though the binding cracks and the pages start to yellow…”

What imagery. We all are writing books of our lives. No two books are the same.

Mine would say things like, “She went from a mansion to a tent in less than 3 weeks.” “After falling in love for the first time in Holland, she then moved to Mexico and had adventures while her heart broke into a million pieces.” “At the age of 49, she started life over by moving across the country to Seattle, a city where she knew no one.” “She published a book.” “She was married for the first time at age 53, and it was right and good that she waited, because she found the perfect person for her.”

No one in this world ever has, or ever will have, those same sentences written in the book of her life. Our books are precious, and we have a responsibility to make them as amazing as we possibly can.

In the process of writing our lives, we can follow our hearts, take chances, do our best to make the world a better place, or we can be cruel, heartless bullies. These are choices we can make. We can be forces for good or evil. We can help others or ruin them. There are so many plot twists that are possible.

And yes, if we’re lucky, we can live long enough to see our pages start to yellow. Hopefully we will be remembered after we are gone. But the fact is, our books are written mainly for us, and for the people that we love. And while centuries from now, most of our books may have crumbled to dust, the generations that follow will have started creating their own chapters, and perhaps they’ll have been influenced by the echoes of books past.

I hope you are writing the best book ever, dear reader.

pages_of_a_book_folded_in_to_a_heart_shape

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