The First “Un-iversary” of My Little Free Library

On July 24, 2019, with the help of my husband, I fulfilled a dream that I had had for many years. I was able to place a little free library in front of my house. It was an exciting moment, because books mean a great deal to me, and literacy means even more. By providing this service, I felt as though I was doing something very significant for my community.

For the uninitiated, little free libraries are boxes placed in communities and filled with books. You take a book, but you don’t necessarily have to return it (which is often the case in my library). You can also donate books for others to enjoy.

These libraries are great for those who don’t have the time or ability to go to a public library. They’re particularly effective in areas of high foot traffic. In my neighborhood, they seem to be used most by parents who are taking their children for a walk. It’s hard to keep children’s books in my library. And that gratifies me a great deal, because children who read become adults who read, and adults who read are more intelligent, and develop the critical thinking skills that are necessary to have a positive impact on society at large.

I don’t think I quite realized how much fun I would have in this endeavor. We have no neighbors right next door. It’s not a pop-in-and-borrow-a-cup-of-sugar kind of community. So I wasn’t expecting this magical little box to do so much to make me feel connected to the people in my area.

Now, when people see me watering the plants in the front yard, they say hello. If they are walking down the street and they see me pulling out of my driveway, they point at the library and shout a thank you. I have a log book in my library, and they leave the most gratifying notes. They talk about how much they enjoyed this or that book. They ask for books of a certain genre, and I do my best for them. They tell me about the books they’ve donated. They thank me for being an easy source of reading material for people who don’t have cars and can’t easily get to the public library. All these things bring tears to my eyes.

Unfortunately, due to this pandemic, I felt it was necessary to temporarily shut down my library. I didn’t want to. I really struggled with the concept. But in the end, I knew that doing the responsible thing takes precedence over doing what feels good.

This, for me, has been the hardest part of this pandemic. And I’ve been told by more than one passerby that it has been hard for them, too. In fact, they have begged me to reopen.

So we’ve decided to do so on a trial basis, with certain precautions. We have added a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a sign asking patrons to use it before touching anything. We’ve also removed the logbook, pens, rubber duckies, and bookmark giveaways. This breaks our hearts, but safety first.

I worry about the health of everyone in the neighborhood, but as tensions and boredom and temperatures are rising, and morale is at an all time low, I feel as though our little library is needed now more than ever. I hope that all of us have learned enough about safe behavior during this pandemic to treat the library safely and responsibly.

So there you have it. Today was supposed to be an anniversary celebration. I was thinking balloons and bookmark giveaways and cookies and a table with an even wider selection of titles. Instead, it has turned into an un-iversary, because we were closed for about 1/4th of the year, and we really can’t have a big fete.

All of this has me longing for better, healthier days. But it reminds me that it really is possible to make a difference. And that, in these chaotic, unpredictable times, is something to hold onto.

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Voluminous Tragedy

I’m heartbroken right now, because I just read an article about a 77,000 volume library in Porterville, California that has burned to the ground. Libraries are sacred things to me. They house knowledge, which is, in my opinion, the most valuable thing a human being can possess. They allow us to explore our universe. They make children dream and wonder. They feed our curiosity.

The only downside to collecting so much information under one magical roof is that when books burn, they tend not to stop. And that is, indeed, what happened in Porterville. But the more I learn about this fire, the sadder I become, because this was a tragedy on a whole host of levels.

First of all, the library, having been built in 1953, did not have sprinklers, so even though the fire department was only a block away, the firefighters were unable to combat this blaze. In fact, two of them died in it. Captain Raymond Figeroa was only 35 years old, and Firefighter Patrick Jones was only 25. Even worse, Jones’ body was not found until 24 hours later, so his loved ones had to suffer through a “missing” status before the truth came out. My heart goes out to both their families and all their coworkers.

I think firefighters are among the best of us. It’s been my experience that a firefighter’s primary motivation is to save lives and help the community, and they often put their own lives on the line to do so. Two men, so young and of such high quality, were taken from the world, and that is a loss to every single one of us.

But it gets worse. It seems the fire started in the children’s section, and just after the blaze started, two 13 year old boys were seen fleeing the scene. They’ve been apprehended. They will be charged with arson, manslaughter, and conspiracy.

If they did this, do they feel any remorse? If so, they’ll carry that burden for their entire lives. If not, they are animals. Either way, their lives will never be the same. Their potential, too, burned in that blaze. It saddens me that they were not taught to respect books, libraries, human lives, or their communities.

To recap, this one event has produced a long list of tragedies:

  • The fire itself.

  • The destruction of the library.

  • The inadequate fire protection system.

  • The death of two young firefighters.

  • The grief of the loved ones they left behind.

  • The fact that it was most likely arson.

  • The alleged arsonists are two 13 year old boys.

  • They face arson, manslaughter and conspiracy charges.

  • Their lives are effectively ruined by their own idiotic actions.

  • The community is left without a library, and is emotionally distraught.

Sometimes I just feel like weeping for the world.

Library-fire

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Yet Another Way to Share

I’ve written with great pride about the Little Free Library in front of our house. I’ve also written about Chat Benches and Little Free Galleries and Little Free Gardens and even Bug Houses. Another friend recently sent me this little article about another wonderful idea: Stick Libraries for Dogs.

It seems that this gentleman’s dog loves sticks, and there were none in the dog park in New Zealand that they frequent. So, being handy, he built a box and filled it with smooth-edged sticks for the dogs who visit to use and return. What a delightful gesture. A lending library for dogs.

All these ideas have a recurring theme: Sharing. Sharing builds community. Sharing gives people a stronger sense of place. Sharing promotes generosity.

In a world that seems increasingly polarized, the guy who built this box seems to be saying, “I’m not worried about your politics or your religion or your race or your social standing. I just want to make your dog smile.”

I’m sitting here on the other side of the world, and the concept is making me smile, too. I hope it catches on. The dogs of the world would thank us.

Stick Library

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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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The Checkered Past of Public Libraries in America

Well, my goodness. I just read a fascinating and highly recommended article entitled A History of the American Public Library by Ariel Aberg-Riger, and I learned a great deal about libraries that I didn’t know previously. Some of the facts below are profoundly disappointing, but in an odd way, they give me hope. Because if our libraries can emerge from their dark past to become the amazing institutions that they are now, then perhaps there is hope for our government as well. Fingers crossed.

I’ve always known that one of the very first libraries in America was started by Ben Franklin in 1731. What I didn’t know was that this could hardly have been considered a public library. You had to pay an annual fee, so it was basically a collection for Franklin and his rich white male cronies. Women and African Americans weren’t welcome, and the working poor couldn’t afford a membership. This makes me think rather less of Ben. As enlightened as we’d like to think he is, without a doubt he was a product of his times.

In the wake of Ben’s library, I was pleased to see that women’s clubs cropped up as well, until I discovered that these, too, were exclusively for rich white women. They claimed to believe in the importance of having access to books, but they kept out Jewish, black, and working-class women.

So other libraries were established, each one every bit as exclusionary as the first. There were libraries for people of color, for example, and Jewish libraries. But women did seem to advocate public access to libraries long before men did. Funding was an issue, though, until Andrew Carnegie took up the torch and donated 60 million toward library construction.

It wasn’t really until the turn of the last century that libraries became truly public, but they still had to contend with segregation to a shocking degree. Many civil rights sit ins took place in libraries for that very reason.

Now libraries are a source of reliable information, internet access, education, and community gathering places, and all these services are basically free to all. That’s why I love libraries so much. Knowledge is power.

So naturally, Trump is trying to cut federal funding for libraries. Because he’s a man of the people. Sigh. Please support your public libraries, folks. They’re the last truly democratic institutions that we have, and it was a long and winding road to get them to that place.

Carnegie Library Dallas Oregon

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The Curse of Summer Vacations

Holy moly, it got up to 88 degrees here the other day. If I were back in Florida, I’d be thanking my lucky stars for that nice, cool respite. Here in Seattle, the land of no air conditioners, 88 degrees is pure, unadulterated hell. It’s really hard to sleep when it’s that hot. People start getting cranky and acting crazy. Welcome to summer.

When I was a kid, I used to long for summer. I’d daydream about summer vacation while sitting at my school desk. (I daydreamed quite a bit. I was usually about a dozen lessons ahead of my classmates.) School was tedious for me. I could have moved much faster along my academic path if I didn’t have to drag all that dead weight behind me.

So summer vacation, for me, meant freedom. It was a time of lightening my load. It was my idea of Shangri-la.

I have absolutely no idea why I felt that way. The reality of summer never fit with my fantasies. I came from a hard working, very poor family. It’s not like we summered in the Hamptons or something. My mother had to work. If we went anywhere, we rarely went far, and we didn’t stay for long.

The reality of summer for me was lots and lots and lots of horrible daytime television, interspersed with the escape of library books, and naps. Blessed naps to break up the suffocating boredom. Often by the end of summer I was sleeping all day and watching TV all night.

It’s a wonder I didn’t lose my mind. Maybe I did. Because as soon as school started back up again, I would revert back to counting the days until the next summer vacation. It took me years to stop looking forward with miserable longing. Now is where it’s at, baby.

summer vacation

My Book is in Another Library!

During my last trip to Canada, I stopped in to visit the Vancouver Women’s Library. I’ve blogged about this great organization before, and I remain very impressed with their mission. Because of that, I was really excited to add my book, A Bridgetender’s View: Notes on Gratitude, to their collection. They’ve invited me to do a book reading at some point. I am waiting until my second book is finished. (And I’m making slow and steady progress on it, so please bear with me!)

So now my book is officially in two different library systems in two different countries. I happen to know it’s in other countries as well, including Mexico, Argentina, Great Britain, Germany, and Australia. People have also sent me pictures of my book on their nightstands, vacation cabins, and various book shelves, and it always makes me smile.

One person even donated my book to a Little Free Library, so I’m sure it’s been on some interesting adventures. I also gave one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, a copy. I’m sure it got abandoned in either his hotel room or the airport, but still… he touched it!!! Another interesting adventure.

Here’s a recent pic of me visiting my book in the Renton branch, just south of Seattle, in the King County Library system. (Because, yeah, I do that. More often than I care to admit.) I would be really honored if you added one to your bookshelf or requested that my book be included in your library system as well. You’d have much more influence with your library than I would. Just sayin’.

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The UW Library

Recently I wrote a post about the cherry blossoms at the University of Washington here in Seattle. I didn’t want to take away from their glory by including information about a little side trip we took to the UW Library. It’s amazing and deserves its own focus.

I absolutely adore libraries. Everything about them. They house knowledge and truth. My mother once told me as a child that when you enter a library you can go anywhere in the universe. To this day, I get butterflies whenever I go into one. I love how each one has its own personality, and I particularly love the ones that have their own intimate little nooks and crannies.

This was my first time entering the UW library. I don’t know. I just assumed you couldn’t go in there unless you were a student. But we were allowed in. Granted, we wouldn’t be able to check anything out, but it was the ambience I was looking for. And the UW library is chock full of ambience.

The first place we went was the reading room in the Suzallo Library, where I took this picture.

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Wow. I mean… wow. I felt smarter just walking in there. The 65-foot-high vaulted ceiling alone took my breath away. The unique leaded glass windows, I learned, include the shapes of 28 Renaissance watermarks that one can see in a book that the library bought back in 1923.

The chandeliers are absolutely gorgeous, too. Especially the ones in the shape of globes. And the top of the oak bookcases that line the walls are carved in the shapes of native plants. I love that the books in this room are shelved randomly, “to encourage exploration and discovery.”  I’ve never heard of a library doing this. Pretty darned cool.

Near the grand stairway (which is, indeed, grand), there’s one of the biggest books in the world. It’s called Bhutan:A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom, and believe me when I say that it’s not something that you’d just toss on your book shelf. Opened up, the thing is at least 6 feet long. They have it displayed under glass, and the librarians turn a page about once a month.

We also checked out the Allen Library, which was added on in 1990. It includes a really cool art installation called “Raven Brings Light to This House of Stories”. Each raven is carrying symbols from other cultures of the world. There’s also a large prayer wheel that a local artist created as a gift for the Dalai Lama, who then turned around and donated it to the university. (I just love that man.)

I wish I had looked more closely at the brochure that the nice gentleman at the information desk gave me, because we missed a few neat things, like the cast of a 28-foot Pleistocene era crocodile, and the statues along the façade of the building of notable contributors to learning and culture, including my personal hero, Ben Franklin.

Yay! An excuse to go back!

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The Vancouver Women’s Library

Can I just say that I love Vancouver, Canada? It’s quirky. It’s diverse. The food is good, the people are friendly, and there is much to do and see. One of my favorite things about this city is that people aren’t afraid to be controversial and/or cutting edge.

What better place to start a women’s library? This library is run by women, for women, and it’s about women. All the books therein are written by women. It also hosts lots of interesting community events, such as an open mic night where you can display your talents, writing workshops, holistic hormonal health workshops, and a summer film series. If I lived up there, I’d be hanging out in this library all the time.

But even in Vancouver, this library sparks controversy. At their grand opening, protesters claimed that the library founders were feminists so radical that they were excluding Transgenders and sex workers. (For what it’s worth, I don’t get that sense from their catalog at all.) These protesters were aggressive and tried to block access to the library. That seems kind of self-defeating to me. In a world that’s as misogynistic as ours, any pro-women effort, whether it’s flawed or not, needs to be celebrated.

What I love most about this library is that it’s not “just” about feminism. It even goes beyond women in history. It also has a wide variety of women-authored fiction, poetry, and different points of view. It’s a safe place for women to have a voice in a world that so often seems to discount what we say. I’ve yet to visit this place, but it makes me very happy to know that it exists in the world.

Next time I go to Vancouver, I plan to stop by and donate a copy of my book. It’s not radical. It’s not controversial. But it was written by a woman who holds a non-traditional job, and the photographer was a woman, and the editor/designer/catalyst was a woman. And that, too, makes me proud.

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Heartfelt Hyperbole

It’s been proven time and again in this blog that I’m several years behind trends. Don’t feel sorry for me. I get to luxuriate in that fresh, new, exciting, trendy feeling even years later, simply because, while my discovery may not be new to you, it’s still new to me. Just pretend I’m in a different time zone; one of my own making.

If you have to feel sorry for someone, feel sorry for yourself, dear reader, because you get to hear me rave about something that you’re most likely already over. Think of it as the penance you do to read my other, more current stuff. Am I asking too much, here?

Anyway.

This discovery came about because I was massaging my own ego. I was honored to hear that four copies of my book are now in the King County Library System, scattered in branches all around the Seattle area. Holy cow! I have a call number! Just call me 814.6 ABE.

So I couldn’t resist. I had to see what authors I was sharing my shelf with.

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Omigod. Calvin Trillin? Rebecca Solnit? Seriously? I wanted to shout, right there in the library. But I resisted the urge. (I did tell the librarian at the checkout counter, but she seemed unimpressed by the enormity of it all. Buzz kill.)

But I thought that the best way to honor the event was to choose a book on my shelf (my shelf!!!) to read. So I chose Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. (Hence, the unsatisfying encounter with the checkout librarian.)

So here goes trendy me, discovering the most amazing book from 2013. I mean seriously, if you are as out of the loop as I am and you haven’t read it, do so. Right this minute. You can finish it in one sitting if you’re motivated. You’ll thank me.

Allie Brosh has the most amazing literary voice. I constantly found myself laughing in sympathy. I understand her. I suspect a lot more people do than would care to admit it. She has humorous angst down to a science.

Her spot-on description of chronic depression and how people react to it is quite the revelation. She talks about feeling nothing as if feelings are dead fish. And people are trying to help her by saying they’ll help her look for them. But she knows where they are. They’re right here. They’re just dead.

I get that. I have felt that way on and off for much of my life. Trying to help someone “snap out of it” doesn’t work. Trying to cheer someone up doesn’t work. But after reading Allie’s description of depression, I know what I will say to the next depressed friend I have.

I get it. I’ve been there. It feels like nothing matters. It feels blank. You don’t care, even though you want to. But here’s the thing: somewhere, deep down, underneath that wet wool blanket of utter despair, you still care just enough to stay alive in that bleak, painful wasteland that you find yourself in. You care enough about the people who love you to not want to hurt them by taking yourself out. That’s something. That’s huge, actually. It’s heroic. Hang on to that.

Hang on.

Since publishing this amazing book, Allie Brosh has dropped off the radar, depriving us of her amazing talent. But that’s her prerogative. If she wants to be left alone, so be it. But Allie, I hope you’ll hang on. I think you are a wonderful addition to this planet. Just sayin’.