Little Libraries

16 Aug Little Libraries

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 15.8.22


When I lose faith in humanity, I go for a walk down to our local park. There’s a lot to do there – chat with the ducks, have a jolly good swing, and browse through the latest offerings in our Little Library.

We have, in fact, two “libraries” in our park – freestanding cupboards built beside the play area. The bigger box has a glass front door and is filled with grown-up books. Next to it and set lower to the ground is another with stories for the kids.

Locals are welcome to give, swap, or just take books. You will find thumping bestsellers, old classics, and the occasional whacky read about something like spoon collecting which you hope will find its dream reader. I discovered a copy of Margaret Atwood’s “The Testaments” there when it was still hot off the presses – left, I’m guessing, either by a speed-reader or a disappointed giftee.

When these outdoor bookshelves appeared a few years ago, I found it a little confronting to see books left unattended out in the wild. I was worried about the weather, or thieves, but mostly hoodlums who prefer to destroy rather than create.

Now and then, yes, the cupboards have been knocked about and books strewn, but whoever it is that tends them has never lost heart, and there are clearly more of us who cherish these treasures than there are vandals. Faith restored.

Also, “thieves” is a word that doesn’t fit in this context. These are books freely given for anyone to take. You can’t steal a thing that you’ve been offered.

Some days, after a swing and a slide and a flying fox, my mokopuna will read a book from the little one while I tidy (can’t help myself) the books in the grown-ups’ cabinet. Occasionally, books have been gifted from our household and swaps have been made.

Little libraries are an international phenomenon called Book Swap Boxes, Book Fridges, Hedge Libraries or Lilliput Libraries depending on the nomenclature favoured by a neighbourhood. They can range in size from a single bookshelf in a cafe to a shipping container filled with shelves – there’s one of those on Auckland’s waterfront. Regardless of size or geography, I’ve noticed they all tend to share a similar aesthetic sourced from the Dr Seuss colour palette.

My friend, Julie Fairey, is a passionate advocate and tells me the act of tootling round the neighbourhood popping good quality second-hand books into various little libraries is known officially as “book-bombing” – the most peaceful kind of bombing there is.

It’s a wonderful descriptor – there’s something very satisfying about placing a book you’ve loved on a shelf in a public place and trusting it will find its next home.

Julie notes that during Covid lockdowns when libraries were closed and before click and collect was set up, community book exchange spots were the only place people could get books for free. Kids’ books were especially popular for children stuck at home and hankering for a fresh story. So more little libraries popped up all over the country and now there are community Facebook groups to help people find ones in their area.

These are forever, of course, not just for pandemics. Look out for one in your neighbourhood, or even think about making one yourself. People who know about these things say they work best if they start as – and remain – a neighbourhood initiative, set up and cared for by the people who live and read nearby.