Little Free Libraries (LFL) have continued to dot the streets of Calgary, reaching more than 200 registered ones in seven years. While the book exchange initiative doesn’t always run smoothly, its users say the good far outweighs the bad.
Maureen Pyne calls the late Cheri Macaulay, who put up Calgary’s first LFL in 2012, a trailblazer. Seven years later, it’s hard not to encounter a book-sharing box when traversing the four quadrants of the city.
“I still think it develops a nice relationship between people and their neighbours, and children and books,” Pyne says.
After happening upon one in Brentwood, Pyne put up her own LFL in September 2013, making it one of the first in the city.
A few months after, she started the LFL Calgary Facebook page, which now has 1030 members.
Pyne says it has grown into a platform where stewards and users alike can connect and share their experiences with the little libraries.
“I was really pleasantly surprised by that because it really gets the word out more than I could ever do on my own,” she says. “It’s exciting to see new people join.”
Although Pyne’s little library has been self-sustaining for the most part, other stewards might experience more challenges when trying to maintain their curbside shelves.
Rachel Mukono, a University of Calgary student and avid reader, says the books were wet when she visited a little library around City Centre a few years ago.
“Calgary’s weather is pretty gross,” she says. “There’s nothing you can really do about that because they’re outside.”
But weather-proofing isn’t the only challenge. In fact, there seems to be a spectrum of book exchange dysfunction.
Sarah Reuangrith, an LFL steward from Langdon, Alta., says that people sometimes use the libraries as dumping grounds for the books they don’t want.
But the intended purpose of LFLs is as Reuangrith says, “to share books we love, not ones we can’t get rid of.”
Pyne says that passersby who are unaware of the “take a book, share a book,” concept leave stewards with more onus to keep their highly-frequented libraries topped up.
However, the misuse can go even further.
“People that steward libraries that are not outside their house might experience more vandalism because people see that nobody’s watching them,” Pyne says.
Global News Calgary reported one incident of malicious destruction back in 2015, in which a family found their little library ripped up and its contents strewn blocks away.
There are also accounts of suspected arson on multiple book-sharing boxes throughout British Columbia.
Moreover, it’s not just ill-intentioned people who have recently posed challenges to certain libraries. The Covid-19 pandemic has compelled stewards to enforce regulations to prevent their curbside shelves from becoming contaminated in the hopes that users won’t transmit the infection through high touch points.
LFL’s website detailed in a March post that while some owners decided to close their book exchanges to the public, some wished to keep it open to serve as a beacon of hope, and commit to routine disinfection practices.
Despite these ongoing challenges, LFLs prevail not only in Calgary, but also worldwide.
The non-profit organization celebrated their 100,000th registered book exchange back on March 10.
In February, LFL steward Carla Knipe took to the Facebook page to find help repairing two northwestern little libraries that have been ruined by weather and vandalism. “I am really scared that within the next year, they will deteriorate to the point they are unusable,” she wrote in a post.
“I will be absolutely distraught if that happens, I feel they are such a part of me!”
Knipe is not the first to need help with her curbside library, but those requests are outnumbered by stories of successful book sharing in Calgary.
Pyne says that the book exchange has become a wonderful resource for her own family, because her five-year-old granddaughter loves to check out the library when she comes over.
“I love to know that she’s going to be as big a reader as I am.”
Reuangrith also places importance on the initiative. She says her daughter always wants to see what’s new in their library, and would take a book in the house to read every day in the summer.
The little library has also made her personal reading experience better, since she can share books, too. “I know that it’s going somewhere else and then it might touch somebody else’s life as much as it touched mine,” she says.
Mukono, who didn’t know there were so many LFLs in Calgary, says it’s a great way to build community.
She usually purchases her books online, but likes that the book exchange is more sustainable.
“I’d like to stay away from [buying books from] Amazon,” Mukono says. “I had no idea there were so many [LFLs]. I’d like to keep an eye out for more.”