Five lessons from a Little Free Library

As I approach the anniversary for my Little Free Library (LFL), I have been pondering a few things I’ve learned from the experience.

1. Enjoy your surroundings

On the advice of LFL, I created a Facebook page to go with my LFL. It’s my understanding that these kinds of FB accounts are better received if they post occasional updates. I have incorporated the idea of “Shelfie Saturday/Sunday” (going out and taking a picture of the shelves on either Saturday or Sunday). I occasionally make a recommendation based on my own reading. Once in a while I post a funny “pro-reading” cartoon.
And I post pictures of happenings in my yard or around the neighborhood.

This has made me more aware of what is happening in my little segment of the world. I’ve posted pretty flowers, interesting skies, and children’s chalk art. Berries, birds, and books. Vistors, vegetables, and vines.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoy coming across a pretty little site on walks around the neighborhood and snapping a quick pic on my phone to post later.

Many times over the last year I have seen families  come down the sidewalk, mom, dad, stroller, dog, and kids. They selected several items and I had a nice chat. I was so happy “my” Little Free Library was a local family stop. Since adding a geocache to the library, new people come around and a few minutes later I’ll get a nice little email with a complement about the library.

2. What is value?

Books are an odd thing in terms of value. To a bibliophile, there is little more precious than a good book. However, the surest way to put me in a foul mood is to recommend of a bad book. The value of the reading experience of any given book clearly outstrips the retail price of the item, whether for good or ill.

Then there is the retail price. Books are a physical item with a price. But all you need to see to question that is to go into a used bookstore and see copy after copy of “Twilight” or “50 Shades of Gray” to ponder the issue of value versus price.

And then, regardless of value, I am giving books away. What does value mean? What else am I holding onto as “valuable” that ultimately is just an object.

3. Ponder social justice

There is something inherently odd about the idea of putting out an item for others (who you may not even know) to take. The first time I acknowledges this was when I took out a book I had really enjoyed (The Spellman Files), that I had kept for several years, but felt I did not need to keep any longer. I put the book on top of a pile of lesser books to take out and paused. I didn’t want the book to go. But I didn’t want it to stay either. As I thought about it, I realized I wanted it to go to a “good home” and my reluctance had more to do with not being able to choose the home than about releasing the book itself.

I still grapple with this idea. I try to focus on the books getting to good homes, not the books being sold to support a drug habit or a homeless person’s hoarding. And even in those cases, it’s only my ideas about what people “deserve” that makes me feel bad.

There is an entire system behind the individual choices we make. LFLies are the tiniest DROP in an attempt to make that system better.

Some people add a “community box” to their library, where people can deposit food or other needed items. I am thinking about adding one soon.

It’s still hard to see the books disappear.  Before I got a stamp for my LFL, one day I took out a batch of my personal books that I was ready to release. The next day, all of them were gone. Someone had come along and taken all the “trade paperbacks” and newer books, the kind that sell pretty easily at the local bookstore. I ordered a stamp, but I still mourn that none of my neighbors got to read “The Hidden Lives of Owls.”

4. Let go of your expectations

I’ve always wanted a LFL, but I really didn’t know what to expect. I just loved the idea. Books going to people and neighbors and children. I quickly learned that you can’t count on what will happen with your “customers.” As I mentioned before, my library has been cleaned out several times. I never expected adults to use it, but I have a gentleman who comes over a couple of times a week and carefully selects a book, but only a certain kind. I’ve had to start shopping Westerns just for him.

My proudest moment was when a neighbor told me that her grandson finished his first book ever on his own, and it was a LFL book. My most confused was when I went out one morning to find the little metal owl I had affixed to the post had been ripped off, the jagged remnants mournfully poking out.

5. Embrace the new

From the first moment, book turnover in my LFL has been good, but periodically things just started sitting there. After a few weeks of no movement, I’ll swap books with another nearby LFL or my inside stash and things began to “sell” again. From the beginning I’ve tried to keep children’s book in stock, but there are weeks when nobody touches them and it’s all about the adult books. Then I’ll get a few new items and suddenly there is a run on board books.

Here’s to another year of “Books on Breys: Little Free Library Charter #67289.”

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