A Lesson from the Little Library by Lindsay Yearta
While Little Libraries are becoming ubiquitous in our town, a few years ago, there was only one in the vicinity and my then six year old daughter decided that simply wasn’t adequate. Grace recognized the Little Library for what it was, a way to share her love of books and reading with our community. So, at Christmas, she asked for a Little Library of her own, set to work on some signage for her bedroom door (“Librayen at Work: Do not Disturb”), and started making lists of books that she needed for her library (that she didn’t own yet but was nevertheless counting on). Grace got her wish that year. She was given a plethora of used and new books inclusive of poetry anthologies, informational texts, young adult novels, and picture books. She was also given architectural plans and a “trip to Home Depot with Daddy” to select and purchase wood and paint.
Grace and her dad spent the next few days building her Little Library. As they worked, I thought about how Grace was going to learn so much about sharing her books with others. A lesson that I, her book hoarder mother had not quite learned. I can never tell if it’s sad or impressive, but I collect books like some people collect imported chocolate or fine wine. As I stood there, watching them build the Little Library and reflecting on my inability to share beloved books, I assumed it would become increasingly difficult to keep the Little Library fully stocked.
After it was constructed and waterproofed, Grace and her dad erected the Little Library in our front yard. We had more books than could fit; so, the overflow books were placed in a pink plastic crate in Grace’s bedroom. She checks the Little Library every few days to make sure that it is stocked. If it appears to be sparse, she fills it up with books from the pink crate stockpile. After the first month, the replenishment crate was nearly empty, I had combed through our shelves, unwilling to part with any more books, and had written myself a note to purchase additional books that weekend. But before I could, something surprising happened.
One afternoon, while I was sweeping the leaves off of the driveway, a van pulled up in front of our house. Since I was outside, I walked over to introduce myself. As the lady got out of her vehicle, she said, “Oh good, you’re here,” reached into her van, and pulled out a stack of books that her grandchildren had read. I was taken aback. I had only expected patrons to borrow, not donate, books to Grace’s Little Library. The lady mentioned that her grandchildren had loved these books, and while they were well-worn, she assumed that other children could still benefit from the authors’ words. “Well, thank you!” I stammered. As she climbed back into her van and drove away, I hugged the books close to my chest and the thought occurred to me that the best way to love something is to share it. Her grandchildren had loved these books and wanted to share them with other children who frequented the Little Library. Inspired, I marched up the driveway, into the house, and straight to my bookshelf. Although I am not known for sharing my books, I felt that if these children could pass along a few of their favorites for others to enjoy, so could I.
A few weeks later, I pulled into our driveway after picking my children up from school and noticed two full grocery bags, bulging with books, leaning up against the Little Library. We took the bags inside and joyfully added them to Grace’s crate of replenishment books. The book love hasn’t stopped there. The nurse and several teachers at Grace’s elementary school have donated books, family friends and former coworkers have brought books for the Little Library when they came to visit, and countless community members have anonymously placed books directly into the Little Library.
Grace and her Little Library taught this reformed book-hoarder a lesson about the power of sharing and the joy that comes from circulating a beloved book. When you give a book away to someone else, you don’t lose the book. The story, the message, the characters are already a part of your life. Passing the book along just helps it to become a fixture in someone else’s life. Books are not tchotchkes; they cannot live on shelves. Books matter. Stories matter. It is through reading that we grow as human beings. I no longer fret about books being returned. Perhaps the unreturned books are deposited in other Little Libraries, perhaps they are shared among friends in the school cafeteria or read nightly with a younger brother. The important thing is that they not merely collecting dust, but are being read, shared, discussed, and enjoyed.
I leave you with a challenge, dear readers. Look at your bookshelf, select a favorite book, and pass it on. Give it to a colleague, a student, or a friend, without the stipulation of “Please return this to me.” And, if you’re interested in building a Little Library of your own, check out https://littlefreelibrary.org/
Lindsay Yearta taught elementary school for a decade and is currently an assistant professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill. She is the author of many peer-reviewed, journal publications and is co-author of From Pencils to Podcasts: Digital Tools for Transforming K-6 Literacy Practices (Solution Tree, 2017). Lindsay has always loved reading and is happiest when she’s got a book in her hands, sand beneath her feet, and the roar of the ocean in her ears. Her Twitter handle is @LYearta.