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.
I love that the idea of sharing with one another has taken off and seems to show no signs of losing its momentum. It renews my faith in humanity. We are all in this together.
I suspect this trend has a lot to do with the fact that we’re starting to realize that we can’t count on help from those in positions of power. The one percent doesn’t care about us. We therefore must step up and care about each other.
Even the smallest gesture, like the gift of a ball of yarn, can make a difference. It’s a step away from selfishness. It’s a way to reach out.
We are taught the importance of sharing in kindergarten. But it never hurts to be reminded. And good things come from it.
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.
I’ve had my Little Free Library for nearly 7 months now, and I have to say it has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. When I see someone standing in front of it and gazing at the books like a kid in a candy store, it makes me smile. When someone takes a book or adds a book to the collection, I’m thrilled.
I’m a member of a Facebook group called Little Free Library Stewards, and I’ve heard a lot of heartwarming stories there, too. Unfortunately, I’ve also heard some horror stories. Vandalism. People taking out every single book and leaving the library empty. People filling the library with hate speech or adding books like Mein Kampf. Angry notes that say that this library should be taken down because it reduces patronage to public libraries. (Huh?)
Fortunately, the only bad experience I’ve had so far is someone making off with the log book. I promptly replaced it with another log book that is chained to the library, and I haven’t had any problems since then. And it’s a good thing, too, because the log book is my favorite part of this whole experience.
I’ve gotten so many gratifying comments in the log book. One gentleman from the local Sikh community blessed me for having this library, and asked that I add more fairy tales to the collection, as English is not his first language, and fairy tales are easier to read for him. (I’ve done so.) I’ve gotten some very enthusiastic comments from children who enjoy telling me the books they’ve borrowed and the books they’ve donated. A mother of small children said that she’s had the opportunity to read some great bedtime stories because of this library. A homeless woman thanked me, because she says she loves to read but has a hard time accessing books. All of these comments never fail to bring tears of joy to my eyes.
One of my favorite little commenters at present is Sydnee. She leaves comments like:
Thank you for this little library! I took The Puppy Place. I am excited to read it. Thank you. I look forward to bringing the book back. Love, Sydnee
Thank you. I got Dear Dumb Diary and I gave a book to you. Princess Posey. Love, Sydnee
Hi, I am Sydnee and I took A Wrinkle In Time. I can’t wait to read it. So excited. Love, Sydnee
I love knowing that she’s been back more than once. Her last comment prompted me to respond:
I hope you liked it, Sydnee! It was one of my favorites. – Barb
I don’t know if she has seen the comment yet, but I hope so!
All of this wonderful community contact has inspired me to start yet another Facebook group called Clark Lake Park Little Free Library. Everyone is welcome to join! I’d love to make this library a true community effort.
As the title post says, this little free library is warming the wintry cockles of my bookish heart. (Thanks to a fellow little free library steward for that wonderfully expressive title. Hi Bilby!)
I am a very goal-oriented person. That’s part of the reason that I started working at age 10, and I’ve been to 22 countries. I prioritize savings for my objectives over instant gratification or fancy electronics or a nice car or the latest smart phone. I never started smoking, not only because it’s a disgusting, life-threatening habit, but also because I had other plans for my life and my money.
And there is nothing, nothing at all, like the high you get when you achieve a goal that you’ve shed blood, sweat, and tears for, over an unbelievably long period of time. It’s better than winning the lottery, because it’s your sacrifices that make it happen. It’s like standing on a mountaintop, enjoying the view, after having crawled up there inch by inch, month by month, all on your own. There is no more beautiful view than that. Excelsior!
Recently, I achieved a goal that I had all but given up hope on. My little free library was made into a pokestop on the Pokemon Go app. This might seem trivial to many of you, but after having achieved the goal of having that library, I then wanted to draw as many children to it as possible, to encourage reading and literacy. Pokemon Go is very popular with young people. To play the game, one goes to pokestops in the real world. If my library is one of those pokestops, more children will visit it.
Achieving this goal took many months and hundreds of hours of dedication. I figured I’d have to play the game to suggest the pokestop, so I put the app on my phone and started playing. Then I found a suggestion form on the Niantic website (the creators of Pokemon Go), and filled it out. They responded, politely, that you have to be at level 40 in the game to make a pokestop suggestion, and that they only choose a few countries at a time, and that at present the US wasn’t one of those countries. I was crushed.
But I figured that I could at least work up to level 40 in the game so that if the US gets chosen, I’d be ready. Well, I’m at level 32, and that took forever. And each level takes longer to achieve than the last.
Meanwhile I figured that my suggestion had been discarded. Well, recently there was a Pokemon Go upgrade, and I installed it, and blink! My pokestop was there! Just like that.
But after going back to the Niantic website, and reading the requirements for pokestop suggestions, it seems that I may have just gotten lucky. Some level 40 person must have made the suggestion for me. And in retrospect, the description attached to the pokestop is in different words than I’d have chosen.
But still, goal achieved. Woo hoo! I’ll take it!
But after that “Excelsior!” moment, I experienced a little bit of a letdown. I had been working toward this goal for so long. Now what?
Once a goal is reached, especially if it’s reached so unexpectedly, you kind of go through a period of mourning. Life will be different, now. You have to find another purpose. You have to let go. You have to move on. Change. It’s really disconcerting.
And then there’s the awkwardness of knowing that I’m now addicted to Pokemon Go, and I no longer have a “legitimate” reason to play, other than the fact that it’s fun.
That should be enough, right? But it was ever so much nicer to have a loftier purpose. Now I kind of feel like a creepy adult who refuses to grow up.
I’m sure I’ll get over it, though. At least until I focus on the next goal, whatever that turns out to be.I guarantee there will be one. For me, there always is.
Maybe I should continue to try for level 40, and then suggest that every little free library I come across as a pokestop. That would increase literacy, too. Hmmmm…
I always thought the Pokemon franchise was for little kids. Cartoons. Trading cards. The stuff of childhood. If I’m honest, I never paid it very much attention.
Then I placed a little free library in front of my house. We get a lot of foot traffic, so a lot of books are coming and going, which is fantastic. But of course, the goal is to encourage as much reading as possible, so I was casting about to find ways to attract more people to the library, especially younger readers, and one suggestion was Pokemon Go.
For the uninitiated, as you go about your daily life, the Pokemon Go avatar that you create in the game is also walking through a parallel world. If you’re walking down a street, that same street exists there. The difference is that there are pokestops within Pokemon Go where you can receive gifts and gather points. These pokestops correspond to landmarks in the real world. Public art. Historical markers. Starbucks coffee shops. Churches. Playgrounds. And, yes, little free libraries.
Players of this game are drawn to these pokestops. I want them to be similarly drawn to my library. But, how do I make my library a pokestop? Obviously, I had to put the game app on my phone. I did so. But I couldn’t find any way to suggest a pokestop.
After a little bit of internet research, I discovered that you have to get to level 40 in the game to make such suggestions. Well, alrighty then. I guess I’ll play Pokemon Go. Just for the sake of my library, of course.
But who am I kidding? By the time I reached level 5, I was hooked. I enjoy encountering, capturing and collecting the “POKEt MONsters.” Each one is unique. I enjoy visiting the pokestops and learning about places I may have otherwise overlooked. I like being part of this secret, all but invisible world.
And by the time I got hooked, I discovered that Niantic, the Pokemon company, only allows a few countries at a time to suggest pokestops, and the US is not currently one of those. I also discovered that each level is harder to get past than the last, because you have to get an increasing number of points. At this rate it will take me years to reach level 40. I only hope that the people in the US can make pokestop suggestions by the time I reach that point.
The frustrating thing is that I’ve seen little free libraries that have pokestops. How did they get them? I don’t know. If there’s anyone out there who has the ability to create a pokestop, please, I’m begging you, contact me. I’ll give you all the information you need.
In the meantime, I play on. And I’ve discovered that this game has a lot going for it. If I had a child, I would be thrilled if Pokemon Go were a part of his or her life. Here are some of the benefits of playing this game:
-First of all, and foremost, as far as I am concerned, is that Pokemon Go encourages walking. That’s outstanding in this couch potato world we’ve created for ourselves. You need to get out there to visit those pokestops. Also, if you obtain an egg, which will eventually hatch into a pokemon, you have to walk a certain distance to “incubate” that egg. And the more places you go, the more pokemon you encounter. I have actually lost three pounds since I started playing this game, and that’s even more remarkable when you consider the fact that I took a week-long, food-ladened cruise during that period.
-Second, it broadens your horizons. Not only are you discovering interesting places that have been right under your nose this whole time, but you also “meet” people from places you’ve never been. You rapidly discover that the best way to succeed in the game is to have friends with which you can exchange “gifts”. You can obtain free gifts to give to friends at pokestops.
But how do you make these friends? If you’re an adult like me, it would be a little creepy to hit up random children for friend requests. (I’m also hesitant to spend too much time at playground pokestops. It just looks weird.) So instead, I put my Pokemon friend code out there on Facebook and got a few that way. But only a few.
But then I got smart. I googled “Pokemon Go Friend Codes” and discovered this website. From there, I’ve made friends from all over the world. Not a day goes by when I don’t receive “gifts” from these friends, and the gift includes a little postcard from the pokestop where they obtained this gift. As I wrote this, I got a postcard from a quirky little statue in a small town in Portugal. Now, how cool is that? And it’s perfectly safe to make these friends. You’ll never actually communicate with them. They’ll never know your real name or contact information. It’s just fun to get the occasional cyber-hello from another part of the planet. (Incidentally, if you play Pokemon Go, my friend code is 2823 6831 5660. Friend me!)
Pokemon Go teaches you a lot, as well:
You can’t win them all. You won’t catch every pokemon you go after. You won’t win every competition you engage in. And that’s okay.
You get further in life when you’re part of a team.
Organization is important. There is no point in keeping duplicate Pokemon. And there are benefits within the game for getting rid of the ones you don’t need.
Diversity is great! The wider the variety of Pokemon you have, the more fun the game becomes.
It’s important to plan ahead. Some Pokemon will evolve into cooler, stronger, more beautiful Pokemon, but it takes a little effort and focus to reach that goal.
You begin to realize that a lot of people’s weird “migration patterns” are a result of Pokemon Go. Why do people park their cars in that deserted stretch of parking lot all the time? Because it’s a pokestop. That’s also why people often drive into that church parking lot but never enter the church. And it’s why you see parents with kids in the back seat driving slowly through intersections. Hidden world, revealed.
When in doubt, do some research. Unfortunately, a lot of the rules and tricks about this game are not spelled out for you. It can be a bit of a learning curve, and Niantic doesn’t explain things well, if at all. But there are a lot of forums on the internet that can tell you all you need to know.
Delayed gratification is tolerable. Sometimes you can’t achieve your goals or complete your tasks in this game until you’ve received a particular object or reached a particular level, and that’s okay. You’ll get there. Patience is a virtue.
Perhaps the one downside to this game is that if you do struggle with delayed gratification, there are plenty of opportunities to spend money to get to where you want to be. It’s possible to play this game without spending a dime. It just takes a lot longer. This is a temptation I wrestle with whenever I play.
Perhaps the weirdest aspect of this game is that some people protest that it encourages animal cruelty, because you capture these pokemon, and you can battle with them. But this is a far cry from dog fighting. There is no glorification of blood and guts in this game. And I think that any child who is mentally healthy can distinguish between a cartoon monster and the family pet. Give kids a little bit of credit. Sheesh.
To summarize: A) Please make my little free library a pokestop if you have the ability to do so. (And my bridge, and the statue just north of my bridge, if the spirit moves you.) B) Friend me if you play, and C) have fun while learning stuff.
Oh, and pay attention to your surroundings so as not to walk out into traffic and get yourself killed. Because that’s no fun at all. And I’d really feel horrible if you did.
I never thought I’d buy something that weighed over 900 pounds unless I was planning to drive in it or live in it, but the other day we did just that. We kind of had no choice. People love to do u-turns in our driveway, not realizing how soft the ground is if you leave the paved area. And they always leave the paved area. We have the deep, muddy trenches in the lawn to prove it.
We tried putting several cantaloupe and watermelon-sized rocks there, but they’d just drive over them or shove them aside. We’d just look away and shake our heads as these people sped off with nary an apology for their destructive natures. But now we have our little free library out front, and there’s the fear that some fool would slide up in there and take out a pedestrian or the library itself. So it was time to get serious.
So we went rock shopping. Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. Who goes rock shopping?
You don’t realize just how much rock variety there is out there until you start looking. All different shapes and sizes and compositions. You kind of have to have an open mind when making this sort of purchase, because you’re never going to find one that is exactly the right shape and size for your purposes. You can’t be inflexible. You can’t be rocklike when rock hunting.
Personally, I fell in love with a thick granite slab with golden streaks through it. It was beautiful. It had a nice flat top, and when the sun hit it just right, it sparkled. I could have gazed at that rock all day long. Images of kids sitting on it to read books from the library. I mean, I really, really, really wanted that rock.
But dear husband made a good point. It was too low to the ground. Our neighborhood truck driving fools would probably just drive right over the top of it, or a smaller car wouldn’t see it in the dark and would rip out their undercarriage.
Well, shoot. There’s nothing more annoying than practical observations when you’ve already fallen in love. But yeah, I had to reluctantly turn my back on that gorgeous boulder. I will remember it fondly.
There was a better option. It was ugly compared to its golden-streaked neighbor. I was just a lopsided chunk of basalt. It didn’t speak to me, really. You might even say it maintained a stony silence. (Sorry. Had to.)
But it was the right size, and tall enough so that it couldn’t be overlooked or driven over. And basalt is a very dense rock. Nobody is going to move this sucker without some heavy equipment.
In fact, they had to use a forklift to get it over to the scales so we could find out how much it would cost. This place prices their rocks by the type and by the ton. And it turns out that this particular rock weighed 900 pounds.
Think about that for a moment. The average male deer weighs about 150 pounds, and we all know what one of them can do to your car’s front end. This boulder is one to be avoided. It’s your basic working class, utilitarian rock. I became convinced that it was what we needed.
So, we bought ourselves a rock, and it was delivered a few days later. There was much conversation with the forklift operator, because as he said, once this thing was off the pallet and on the ground, it wasn’t going anywhere. There would be no tweaking its position. Welcome home, rock, you’re here to stay.
I had grown up around large rocks in Connecticut. I used to love climbing on them. Then we moved to Florida, the land of sand and limestone. I missed the rocks of my youth. It’s lovely to be in the Pacific Northwest amongst rocks again. But I never thought I’d own one.
It’s kind of sad that we’ll never know for sure where our rock came from originally. Boulders, as a general rule, don’t come with certificates of provenance. But I can’t imagine anyone would bother to transport it very far. It may not weigh a ton, but it weighs a lot.
But the bulk of the Columbia River Gorge right here in Washington State is made up of basalt. So I’d like to think that this rock was once along the banks of that mighty river. It’s kind of romantic, if you think about it.
And just like that, I became attached to the thing. So that’s how we bought ourselves a boulder. I’ll say it now so that you won’t be tempted to clutter up the comments section: Yes, we rock.
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?
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!
I’m 54 years old, and for 52 of those years, I was desperately lonely more often than not. So I’d like to think I can speak with good authority on this subject. There’s a certain stigma attached to loneliness. Being in that state makes you feel as if you’re a failure at life, because everyone who sees you as lonely tends to pity you or assume that you are, indeed, a failure at life. (And in case you’re wondering, the odds are quite high that you are NOT a failure. Please know that.)
Seclusion is a catch 22 situation. Often, to break out of it, you must first admit that you’re there, and admitting that you’re there could brand you as some substandard, clingy, desperate outlier, and that causes people to avoid you. Confessing to loneliness also makes you vulnerable, and opens you up to rejection.
So I was really intrigued when a friend shared an article with me about Chat Benches. I started looking into them, and I must say that I was delighted by the intent behind them, but not quite as thrilled by the media spin.
Chat benches seem to have originated in England, and the idea is quite simple. Put a sign on a bench that says, “The ‘Happy to Chat’ Bench: Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello.” Brilliant.
I think of the many thousands of times that I’ve shared a bench with strangers and was too afraid to pass the time of day with them, for fear of making them uncomfortable. A bench with this type of sign would remove that hurdle, and make the moment pass by more pleasantly. And who knows? I might have made a new friend.
As we become more isolated, as we all bury our noses in our smart phones, we might need a little extra push to take that step into the land of social interaction. These benches provide just that sort of push. I applaud them.
I’ve read several articles on the subject now, and it seems that they launched this movement to coincide with United Nations World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. All well and good. The elderly quite often disproportionately suffer from loneliness and depression. The articles go on to describe how loneliness in that generation makes one susceptible to abuse and suicide. Also a legitimate concern.
Here’s where it gets sticky, though. As a friend says, “I think it’s a mistake, and unhelpful, to frame this as a ‘help lonely people by speaking to them’ story. Asking people to self-identify in public as ‘lonely’ is to ask them to publicly admit to social stigma, and asking the supposedly not lonely to provide public and demeaning charity by deigning to talk to the self-identified ‘lonely’ is to further that stigma. We could all benefit from talking more with each other in safe, casual public situations, stigma- and charity-free.”
I couldn’t agree more. I think these benches are a great idea. But I also think the media spin, and the public conversation, needs to shift. We’re all lonely at one time or another. We could all use new friends. We should all talk more, and listen more. I think everything that gets the community to interact with each other is worthwhile, and if part of that community just happens to be elderly, then so much the better.
What I hate is the idea that whoever sits on that bench first is projecting this “I’m lonely, please help me” image, and whoever sits there second is doing them a great favor. Based on the wording of the sign, that was not the intent of the creators of this movement. Good on them! But the articles I’ve read on the subject would have you believe otherwise, and that’s a great shame.
Hey, I just had a great idea! Perhaps every chat bench could be placed next to a Little Free Library. That way, the person who sits on this bench alone would have something to do until the next person comes along. The sign would make it obvious that person one isn’t so absorbed in the book that he or she isn’t willing to talk. And talking about books is a great ice breaker. Hmmm.
I envision a day when there’s a Chat Bench website, where you can register your bench and have it put on a map to indicate where the nearest bench can be found, just like littlefreelibrary.org does with its libraries. Incidentally, if you go to that website, you can see a bench design that includes little free library books in its base. (A bit pricey, but probably not that hard to imitate.) These two organizations could so easily go hand in hand. An idea whose time has come.
Meanwhile, if you do decide to put up a chat bench (and I hope you will), please make sure it’s in a high traffic area, so that the first person sitting there can avoid that wallflower feeling.