Hashtag IMPACT!

The Little Free Library® (LFL) phenomenon has been growing exponentially since its start in 2009. News of these little libraries that anyone can put up on their property has been spreading through the media with countless stories of their community building potential and their contribution to improved literacy. It has thus far been my observation that there has been very little critique of the movement. I’m aiming to change that.

“Wait, what could you possibly have against such a nice idea? Who doesn’t love sharing books?”

Yes, yes, aren’t they adorable? Aren’t they nice? Sure. Are they libraries? Absolutely not. I have no issue with community book exchanges. What I do have an issue with is an non-profit organization co-opting the concept of libraries to create an empire for what is essentially a glorified way to recycle books you no longer wish to keep.

I’m going to be probing several angles of this phenomenon. I really want to know if this organization is (inadvertently) undermining the mission and progress of public and school libraries. We all know that they are not free and inherently complex organizations to sustain. Is a community of well-intentioned people who are clearly dedicated to literacy actually hurting real libraries? LFL® posits itself as a growing organization that is creating positive impact in book deserts and enhancing literacy and community (much like actual libraries, but I needn’t rant further on that one… for now). Those are big claims. How do they measure up?

I’m approaching this in various ways:

  1. I decided to get up close and personal with my research topic and got myself a chartered LFL®. How else to understand how they work than to run one? I’m giving myself permission to change my mind and grow to appreciate it, but in order to really work through how I feel about them, I have to participate.
  2. I’m calling in a pro. Jordan Hale, of U of T GIS fame, has graciously agreed to help me out with the mapping aspect of this research. We’re going to investigate the predominate socio-economic profile of the Canadian neighbourhoods in which LFL®’s are most prominent, and fact check some of these book desert claims they make. I’m really excited about this part of the research – not only do I get to work with Jordan and learn a bit about something new, but this is a really meaty bit of primary research. Good fun.
  3. I’ll be combing through quite a bit of media coverage to draw some conclusions about the dominant discourse that has been created. I haven’t determined the parameters of this part yet, so don’t have much more detail to offer.
  4. How, exactly, are LFL®s different from libraries? How do their mission statements and values match up? How do they contrast? What are LFL®s not doing that real libraries do? This may seem self evident to those in the know, but it never hurts to plainly state that which can sometimes be taken for granted. Especially when we are living in a society where people like Rob & Doug Ford have significant power and the Birmingham Public Library has to stop buying books and asks for donations instead.

There are about a zillion other angles that have popped to mind as I work through the topic. I have to decide what is within my capacity given the time I’ve got available, and at what point I have to limit my curiousity or go through an ethics approval to go further. Such is the excitement of a new research project!

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