An article at the BBC website reported last year that 343 public libraries have closed in the UK. That is a disturbing statistic. Will our libraries follow?
Perhaps I’m too pessimistic: the library closures in the U.S. have not been on that scale. The ALA (American Library Association) reported in 2016 that the number of closures of American libraries had dropped. Five states closed library branches in 2016, as opposed to 10 states in 2015.
You know who’s pessimistic? Canadian librarians. They are fuming not about a lack of government funding, but about the populist Little Free Library movement. They reason that if Little Free Libraries, those cute bookshelves-on-sticks planted in people’s front yards, pop up in every upper-middle-class neighborhood, public libraries will lose their clientele.
I have to laugh: if the Little Free Library is their competition, librarians need to upgrade their collections. But some Canadian librarians have anxiously studied the LFL trend in Toronto and Calgary and published results in The Journal of Radical Librarianship. You can read a mocking American editorial of the panic at Library Journal. And the LFL movement seems to me to be a good thing for librarians to back: there is a Little Free Library inside the Iowa City Public Library.
There are 60,000 registered Little Free Libraries internationally, and at least 15 on my urban walks. Today I went on a Little Free Library hike, carrying a bag of discarded books. I planned to visit six, but, Lord, it was almost the Equinox, and the sun went down just as I left books in the fifth. On another day I’ll visit the sixth.
Here’s what I saw:
FIRST STOP, in a residential neighborhood. I left a copy of Trollope’s The Prime Minister, the last in the Palliser series. This well-curated LFL has a mix of literary fiction and best-sellers: it is as good as it gets with LFLs. Today the shelf has Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy, Elizabeth McCracken’s Niagara Falls All Over Again, a yoga book, a Maeve Binchy book, mysteries, and more.
SECOND STOP, outside of Snookies Malt Shop. Snookies is open just five months a year, so there has been no traffic in months. The majority of the books are romances and Y.A. books, among them the despicable Fifty Shades series. I left a copy of Marguerite Duras’s The Lover as a joke, hoping someone will mistake it for a romance.
THIRD STOP, in a residential neighborhood. As you can see, there is almost nothing there. I dropped off Hans Christian Andersen’s adult novella, The Ice Virgin. which, alas! was not for me. Surely someone else will like to continue his or her reading of Hans Christian Andersen.
FOURTH STOP, in a residential neighborhood. This LFL is very visible, strung with Christmas lights and in a high-traffic area. People take books but tend not to leave them. And so I donated two books, Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night, a nonfiction novel about the March on the Pentagon in 1967, and Jon Hassler’s novel, Dear James.
FIFTH STOP, in a residential neighborhood. This is one of the loveliest of the LFLs, because the family keeps it neat and well-stocked. The choices in general would not be mine: Robert Ludlum, Mary Daheim, and a business book called Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. But they also have a Jane Austen and a Dickens, so I left Trollope’s Barchester Towers.
What are your Little Free Libraries like? Are they better stocked than the rather scatty collections in Iowa City, Des Moines, Adel, and Winona, Minnesota? Do let me know.