Is making the shelves of Little Free Libraries more diverse an appropriate role for their stewards? Emblems of diversity already, these little book nooks give pleasure by not being “stewarded” at all. Ideally, you never know what you might find in one. You don’t have the feeling that someone has pre-engineered your discovery.
Some people leave books there which they no longer want, and probably no one else will either—ancient computer manuals, outdated travel guides and the like—but their owners couldn’t bear to throw them away. There is a latent feeling among readers that books are sacred, and to destroy them is akin to censorship. Book-binning seems too close to book-burning.
A Little Library might contain treasure: a rare edition, a copy of something you used to love in childhood but had completely forgotten, a like-new copy of a current bestseller (bad news for bookshops!), or something on a topic you’d never have noticed in a bookshop, but you toss it into your carrier bag as you walk by—why not?—and it becomes your favorite read of the year.
It’s an agreeable feeling that this was pure chance, that no one was ideologically organizing your reading choices. That said though, there may be a place for curated Little Libraries which are labelled as such. That way a passer-by, or someone consulting the maps identifying their locations, can check them out or avoid them as desired.
“Di-verse” means turning two ways, and Little Libraries already provide diversion, already divert our attention. We “a-tend” (draw toward) them precisely because of their pop-up nature. No doubt some people remove books they disapprove of from these nooks, and throw them away. Sometimes businesses slip advertising brochures into them. One often notices free copies deposited by self-publishers who prefer non-paying readers to no readers. In their own modest way then, Little Libraries are little bastions of democratic free speech.
A steward, in the literal definition of the term, is an official who manages someone else’s property (typically a house or estate) but the point of Little Free Libraries is that they are everyone’s property. Everyone tends them, which paradoxically means preserving their not overly-tended nature.
Author bio: Sandra B. Julian, former librarian, present bookseller and memoir coach, writes plays, fiction, and nonfiction from the west coast of Canada. Her website is: www.overleafbooks.blogspot.com.