The Mini Libraries

What They Are. What They Are Not. What We Hope They Could Be.

Urban Librarians Unite is pleased to announce its own small network of little libraries. These bright orange newspaper boxes have been set up outside of library branches in Brooklyn and Queens closed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy. These tiny, all-weather libraries house about a hundred books each at a time and there is no expectation whatsoever that the books need to come back.

These Mini Libraries are a great way to get reading materials out to those who are still recovering from the storm. It is still an utter mess out there and a lot of people are still struggling. These books are a tiny spark of entertainment, they provide some distraction, and they remind people that the library has not forgotten them or their community. Our Children’s Book Campaign has been wildly successful and we have thousands of books to distribute. These little libraries are a direct pipeline to the public, a way of putting books right into their hands.

Some of us at ULU have had a very complicated relationship with the little library movement. As library professionals it can be difficult to see a static pile of books referred to as a “library.” While the circulation model is synonymous with the modern library it is, in some ways, the least of the work that we do. Yes, it is important to circulate information and entertainment and free access to take these materials away is at the heart of the library compact with its patrons. For many of us however the essence of the work is finding the RIGHT book. That is what drives us. It becomes difficult to embrace the little library movement when that aspect of service is removed. A library without a librarian is a pile of books. It lacks a life spark, an essential curation component and thus a dynamic inspiration.

The fear that library advocates have is that these little libraries will be seen as an alternative to public libraries. Why should taxpayers pay for a service that they can set up in their own front yards? What happens if the public decides to create these themselves and the public library is lost, diminished, or forgotten? This fear is, upon reflection, a juvenile one. Nobody could mistake any of the hundreds of delightful little libraries out there for that of a professionally run public library. Advocates of little libraries are often rabid supporters of big libraries as well and it is their respect for the institution that makes them want to emulate it. It is impossible to mistake a citizen’s reading exchange for a well run reference desk.

Our Mini Libraries will suffer from the same limitations as any little library. They could never be mistaken as an alternative to the branch libraries they substitute and intended to support. They do offer some comfort and succor, especially to kids and families, and they remind people that libraries–and their librarians–are nimble, caring and quick to respond to the needs of their communities.

We hope that our Mini Libraries will evolve. They are out and working but we want to augment them as we go as well. Should we put counters in them so we could track how often they are being used? How about if we could install some lighting? Let’s take it further and directly attack the base limitations on the little library model. What if we had teams dispatched to the Mini Libraries for a few hours on the weekend so people could get direct reference and library services? What if, as well as providing information and entertainment in the form of books, these libraries were transformed into library advocacy resources where people could get information about what was happening with their library and how they can support it? What if we could install a Library Box in each unit so in addition to being a repository for physical books each Mini Library can provide digital resources in a wireless radius around itself?

The Mini Libraries are a resource for our communities, a chance to experiment in library science, and a reminder to the public that even if the library itself is in ruins, the librarians are still thinking of them. We are excited about the possibilities and hope you will join us as we try new things with our teeny tiny libraries.

Posted in Hurricane Sandy Children's Book Drive
5 comments on “The Mini Libraries
  1. As a working public librarian, I love the logic in this post. I also just had a vision of the mini library as a food truck but instead of sodas and knishes, there will be paperback best sellers, children’s easy readers, and poetry collections!

    • Barbie Booklover says:

      Love that idea! In China, they have library book vending machines. You put in your library card and take out any book you want. You can return them to a vending machine or any branch of the library. Why don’t we have these?

  2. Vicky says:

    Totally ingenious and inspired!

  3. Thea says:

    Where does one donate books? I just went through and culled my collection and have 50 or so books that are good reads, and am not sure what to do with them. I’d love to donate them to you guys if I can!

    • Bullhorn says:

      We are actually done with our book drive for now, unfortunately we don’t have the space for any more donations. :(

      But thank you for thinking of us, I would suggest Housing Works as an alternative.

5 Pings/Trackbacks for "The Mini Libraries"
  1. [...] yet, these librarians came together to create unattended mini-libraries for communities in need.  I’d say some of that spark lingers [...]

  2. [...] tatt problemet i egne hender. Som en reaksjon på de store skadene etter Sandy (orkanen, altså), har de plassert knall oransje bokser med omkring 100 bøker rundt om i Brooklyn og Queens. Her kan folk rett og slett låne bøker på ubestemt [...]

  3. [...] advocacy and support group, founded by 2012 LJ Mover & Shaker Christian Zabriskie, also placed Mini Libraries in front of libraries that were closed by storm damage. Locations include Queens Library branches [...]

  4. [...] the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Urban Librarians Unite in New York has set up sidewalk mini libraries outside less-mini libraries that have closed due to storm damage. These tiny, all weather libraries [...]

  5. [...] December. Ruined books litter the boarded-up, fenced off entryway. Urban Librarians Unite’s mini-library box inviting one to “Take a Free Book” stands empty. The Brooklyn Public Library’s [...]

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