Between the Lines: Coming Soon – to a Little Free Library Near You

| September 4, 2013 | 0 Comments


Joan Crone stands next to one of the Free Libraries located in Mission Hills.

Joan Crone stands next to one of the Free Libraries located in Mission Hills.

On my neighborhood rounds a few months ago, I walked down a well-tended alley, more like a rural lane, off Goldfinch Street. On the wall next to a garage door was a shelf with an angled roof over it, and on it were several books. A sign read “take one, leave one.” The books were a mix of hardback and paperback, fiction and nonfiction, popular and obscure. I already have too much to read, so I kept walking, but I loved the concept and knowing that it was there.

I’ve passed by many times since, always scanning the titles, until recently I saw a pristine hardback of “When We Were Orphans” by Kazuo Ishiguro. I couldn’t resist (though I still have too many books to read) and took it with me. At home I unearthed three gently used Thomas Hardy paperbacks from the back of a bookcase—worthy classics that I’ll never reread—and took them back to the shelf.

This was my first encounter with a Little Free Library. This one was established last year by artists Al and Josie Rodriguez. Al says that “The idea is to circulate books that are languishing on our shelves.” He checks the shelf every day to manage the flow of books and find good reading for himself.

I’ve seen two more such libraries in Mission Hills, one on Pine Street and the latest at Crone’s Cobblestone Cottage and B&B on Washington Place and Ingalls. Joan Crone’s son, who teaches woodworking at Francis Parker School, built the replica of her house, a 100-year-old San Diego historic landmark. People in the area already knew Joan’s “Ponder Post” of pithy proverbs, so the book box was a natural addition. Joan had seen the others in the area and thought it would tie in well to her love of reading and her book art projects.

What started as a speculative nonprofit venture in Wisconsin in 2009 has become a movement. Little Free Libraries are everywhere, estimated at between 5,000 and 6,000 in 36 countries including Japan and India, Uganda and The Congo, Qatar and Pakistan, all over Europe and the U.S. There’s a website with how-tos, designs and signs, and a registry to get listed on the global map. You can buy hats and t-shirts, mugs and totes. Make your own custom library or buy one readymade: how about an Amish barn wood cabin, a Scandinavian cottage, or a little red British phone booth? Or you can just nail up a box. It’s the thought that counts.

According to the founders: “Little Free Libraries have a unique, personal touch and there is an understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books with their community. The secret to the success of this modest strategy is still individuals who want to share part of their lives, memories and dreams with their neighbors.”

Joan Crone sees the neighborhood exchanges as augmenting the public libraries and used bookstores. They’re open all hours, she says, and “people will be more likely to read books that are different than they might otherwise read.” Steve Wheeler, Mission Hills branch librarian, and Kris Nelson, owner of Bluestocking Books in Hillcrest, agree. They think the Little Free Libraries are a great idea. Both expressed unqualified enthusiasm for anything that encourages reading.

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