There are days when I miss going to the library.
Our city has cut public library hours. Funds were available to build new beautiful branch libraries, but then jobs were cut, self-checkout machines installed, and the library hours reduced. They say we can do most of our research online, but some of us still need books.
The library clerks were quirky, but they were employed, and that was a bonus. The machines are also quirky, but their performance is more erratic. One machine knows I owe $14.50 in fines–the limit is $15–but asks me again and again if I want to pay now. (No. No. No.) One machine won’t read my card and says I don’t exist, and that’s a bit of a drawback. Another machine flirts with me: it tells me I’ve checked out the books, lets me through security without beeping or clanging, but when I return the books weeks later I learn there’s no record of their being checked out.
Is the machine set on STEAL THIS BOOK?
The machine is in love with me. It is set to: Give these books free to her.
Today I could not go to the library, because it was closed, so I decided to check out the Little Free Library.
You may have seen these things in your neighborhood. They look like birdhouses, with little signs saying Little Free Library.
On an island at an intersection in a quiet neighborhood of brick houses, a small house sits on a stick. Only it is not a house, it is a Little Free Library. At the back is a hinged window that reveals a bookshelf holding perhaps 20 books.
Take a book. Return a book.
It’s a charming idea. You can build your own library or order a kit from The Little Free Library, a nonprofit organization founded in Wisconsin “to promote literacy and book exchanges.” Plant it on your lawn, fill it with old books, and neighbors can borrow, trade, or steal.
Cute as the library was, I saw nothing I wanted: there were best-sellers like Mary Higgins Clark’s The Shadow of Your Smile, John Irving’s The World According to Garp, and several by James Patterson.
Some Little Free Libraries have remarkable collections, but this was not one of them. The book in my bike pannier may have been the only good book in the neighborhood. (I photographed it in my bike helmet.)