In Praise of Libraries Large and Small

by On April 15, 2013 in General, Reading


“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”?

–Jorge Luis Borges (writer, poet, librarian)


April 14th – 20th is National Library Week and this year’s theme is “communities matter.”?The American Library Association (ALA) reminds us that libraries help support:

  • Local economies (providing jobs and job development resources)
  • Literacy and lifelong learning (often in partnership with families and schools)
  • Community development goals (providing an open place for all to share ideas, socialize and learn together)

As Caroline Kennedy, Honorary Chair of National Library Week explains, libraries are places where you can “get help with your homework, use a computer, see friends, learn new skills, and find out what’s going on in the world.”

Our family makes frequent use of the wonderful variety of libraries at our disposal, large and small. In recent months, our daughter Hope has visited:

  • Her first large academic libraryMcHenry Library at the University of California fascinated Hope. Her reactions: It’s so big! All those books! Art shows! Look at all the big kids studying! It has a cafe! This place is amazing!
  • Our local public library – Once a week after school, Hope is excited to return books, pick new books, and use the self-check out machine. If she runs into her school buddies, that adds to the library’s cool factor.
  • Her school library – Hope’s kindergarten class visits the school library weekly to select three books of choice, and describe their favorite books in a weekly journal.
  • Her personal libraries – We have taught Hope that people can create wonderful personal libraries, too. The books on her bookshelf constitute her “regular book library.” ?The books she stars on Bookboard make up her personalized e-library.

distance shot littlelibrary case

Recently, Hope and I were tickled to discover a very unique, very small library to use and love. We were walking home from school one day when we saw a crowd of parents and kids gathered in front of a home. They were investigating a curious, brightly painted cabinet on a stake, erected on the front lawn.

The cabinet had two shelves, filled with a few dozen books for adults and children. A mounted plaque read “Little Free Library” and “celebrating healthier neighborhoods.” Additional signs said, “Take a book” and “Return a book.”

I learned that homeowner Nancy Schultz and her boyfriend took less than a day to create this charming little library as charter members in the Little Free Library program.?By encouraging people to offer these libraries in their communities, this charitable organization hopes to contribute to community building, literacy promotion, and improved access to books in remote areas.

closeup lilfreelibrary caseSocial entrepreneur Todd Bol built the first little “giveaway library” in Hudson, Wisconsin as a tribute to his late mother. He later teamed with Rick Brooks, another nonprofit veteran, to offer more giveaway book libraries. As of 2012, this grassroots program had expanded to 2500 libraries in 40 global locations.

I admired everything about this idea, from the impossibly cute library to the juxtaposition of books for readers of all ages. There was Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes next to Rosemary Wells’ Shy Charles, and thrillers by Dean Koontz and John Grisham leaning against Arlene Mosele’s Tiki Tiki Tembo. ?How cool is it that both parents and kids can walk away happy from such a little library?

“Isn’t it fun?” Schultz said as she greeted me one day, smiling. “My inspiration was, in part, my love of books. But it’s also great because I’ve met so many neighbors, and all the kids of course,” she explains, adding “Everyone has some books that they’d enjoy sharing with others in the neighborhood.”

Large or small, libraries do a great job of delivering the message that books are wonderful, reading is important, and communities matter. ?Next time you’re visiting, remember to say “thanks!” to all those who work to make libraries such wonderful resources for all.


Diana is a sociologist, freelance writer and mom, though rarely in that order. Her writing spans topics from parenting joys and challenges to prevention education. She writes a monthly parenting blog for Yahoo and has published feature articles on adoption, family rituals and the childcare industry for parenting publications. Diana earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California at Santa Cruz. These days find her hanging with her husband and book-loving six year old in the San Francisco Bay Area, while happily blogging and serving as a reading advocate for Bookboard.

Comments are closed.