Books on Loan

Just hold on.

Before you say, that’s corny, or that’s not something I would ever put the time and energy into doing, think: a lending library of my own, that I design, at my house. A library! It could be like the libraries of old, the private ones maintained by Samuel Tilden, John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. They merged theirs to form the New York Public Library, with a $24 million bequest from Tilden, in 1895. In 1906, one of the greatest libraries in the world arose from its foundations at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, taking the place of the Old Croton Reservoir.

NYPL, 1906

The Lenox Library sat atop a hill on Fifth Avenue between 71st and 72nd Streets, back in the 1870s when that was the boonies.

upper fifrh, 1893 1 copy

Lenox wouldn’t let just anyone into his bibliographic fortress, its contents were that precious. Scholars had to purchase a ticket.


But you, you would admit the public, if you created a library.

Library 6

Graciously, you might even let people in to take away books without a library card.

Little Free Libraries make this possible. With founders who are all about promoting literacy and community, this phenomenon has spread from the Midwest across the country, even as normal size branch libraries suffer funding cuts or close.

Library 1

What you do is build your own. And they will come.

Library 2

You take a crate, or some other frame, and you decorate it as you will. There are suggestions for how to build if you need them.

You can also, of course, order one pre-made. This is America.

Library 3

You set it outside your house.

Library 4

Fill it with whatever books of yours you think should be in your “collection” – because you loved them and want other people to know them, because you hate them and can’t wait to get rid of them, because they take up too much room on your shelves, whatever.

Library 5

The founders of Little Free Libraries say, “there is an  understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books with their community. These aren’t just any old books, this is a carefully curated collection and the Library itself is a piece of neighborhood art!” You can get special stickers to put in your books.

Library 7

People wandering by your house can simply take a volume. No questions asked. When they’re done with it they return in. They can add another if they wish.

Library 8

My sister-in-law Medith and her husband Thomas put this beauty in front of their home in Wisconsin. She says, “I get such kick out of seeing someone walk by, stop and go back, check out the books and then proceed on carrying their new read.”

Mimi's Little Free Library

Ellie, a neighbor, thinks it’s pretty exciting.

I wonder if she’s seen the map showing how many Little Free Libraries now throng the world?

I’m beginning to itch for one. I want to take a laminated shoebox and fill it with tiny books exclusively: miniature volumes like The Book of Whale Insults, The Incomplete Book of Dog Names, and Songs of Robert Burns. Maybe I’ll squeeze in a bound manuscript of Savage Girl. The only thing is, we don’t get any foot traffic on our dirt road through the woods.

Maybe a story hour that would appeal to squirrels?


Filed under Home, Publishing, Writers

2 responses to “Books on Loan

  1. Well, Carnegie’s are grander, but these are definitely more adorable.


    I didn’t know! I’d seen a few random ones, very picturesque, on FaceBook, but didn’t realize the scope of the thing. Some communities resist:

    However… The organizers of LITTLE FREE LIBRARIES have proudly announced on their website that they’ve recently passed 2,509 libraries, the total number of libraries that Andrew Carnegie endowed worldwide.

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