It started out on a whim. I'd driven past a couple of these colorful independent community libraries in my neighborhood, and always dreamed about establishing one in our little corner of Portland. It was just a dream, and I didn't put much stock on it because we live on a dead end gravel street.
But then someone developed the vacant lot next door into townhouses and the city created a bioswale sidewalk that is maintained exclusively by the city and is technically not residential property.
And the final clincher: I hit Level 40 on Pokemon Go and could officially nominate a Pokestop. Little Free Libraries that are NOT situated on residential property have been known to become Pokemon Go stops, so it seemed like killing two birds with one stone. Create a Little Free Library, possibly garner a Pokemon Go stop that I could spin without ever leaving my house. Could it be true? Was such a thing even possible? BUT with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, I knew it couldn't JUST be a home for neighbors to exchange books. It needed to be a waystation for food, hygiene products, COVID supplies, and other essential items.
All I really wanted for my 38th birthday was $380 to turn a weary and faded old closet into something cheerful and bright and chock full of resources for my neighborhood. I ended up scoring $500 (thank you friends and family) and we set about cutting shelves, refitting the door, sanding, painting, and affixing Pokemon stickers (of course). We also purchased a plaque and charter number that allowed us to register our Little Free Library on the global map. Now I'm officially a library steward. ;)
With the leftover funds we purchased culturally specific books from local Black authors Brian and Josie Parker (Believe in Wonder Publishing) and a wide array of diverse books from our local Gresham bookshop Books Around the Corner. Trace Kerr, an author friend, sent us a delightful book-filled care package all the way from Spokane, Washington. It boasted TWO copies of our book baby The Name We Take. And another author friend, Laura Stanfill, publisher of Forest Avenue Press, sent us a copy of
Our first Little Free Library Friday stocking session took place last Friday. And I go out daily to assess the food pantry aspect and restock important items like hand sanitizer, disposable masks, and feminine products. We cleaned my daughter's room over the weekend, and ended up with a couple gallon freezer baggies full of perfectly usable playdough, crayons, and markers as well as some preschool workbooks. Hopefully those will help tide folks over who are scrambling for school supplies in the absence of in-person instruction.
While I'd like to pretend there is a strong literary nuance to our library, my main focus is on supplying our community with books and resources to survive the next year. And honestly, the distinction between "good" and "bad" books wanders too far into a territory of classicism and intellectual elitism that I don't truck with. Somebody's "crap" book is another person's pleasure read. Literacy is literacy is literacy. We're all in this together, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. And maybe the best way to give back right now is to leave a book and lend a hand without being a judgmental a-hole.
One of the more important aspects of this project was having it greenlit by one of my MA cohort members, Desiree Wilson, who wrote her thesis on Little Free Libraries predominantly operating in wealthy neighborhoods and usually stocked with books for white folks (Spatial Politics and Literacy: An Analysis of Little Free Libraries and Neighborhood Distribution of Book-Sharing Depositories in Portland, Oregon and Detroit, Michigan). That concept really helped me develop what kind of books I wanted to stock on our shelves (diverse!), what readers I wanted to focus on (young adults and kids need books!) and how I wanted to steward (like a boss!).
If this idea intrigues you, I strongly encourage you to read Desiree's research paper before moving forward.
And to also consider, right now, what kind of needs your community has and how you can best serve it.
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.