Random thoughts I’ve been thinking about LFL®

I’ve not said much about the project since it was launched back in September. In the interest of sharing imperfectly, here’s an update!

Jordan and I have a dataset to work through (big ups to Jordan for her mad skills – I followed maybe 2% of what she was doing with ArcGIS) and we’ve been able to confirm several suspicions. We’ve got a dissemination plan, but just have to get going on it. That’s always the hard part, isn’t it? I’ve been running my LFL® with some success – it’s pretty well used but I’m sure I haven’t radically changed anyone’s life for the better just yet. I’ll leave that to the great folks over at TPL (insert tip of cap here). Otherwise, I’m trying to wrap my head around some critical theories to use as frameworks as we move forward with the analysis. This is outside of my comfort zone and is slow going.

In no particular order, here are some random thoughts I’ve had about the project that I intend to further probe, a couple of months in.

  1. This is totally a trend among the middle class – even strangers I speak to agree that it’s quite trendy. We already have our suspicions about the quality of material available in LFL® … what happens when we hit Peak Urban Whimsy and every other house has one in their front yard? I’ve already been privy to several steward conversations about how to drum up traffic. Why would you even run one if nobody is interested? I really don’t get this. I’m trying, but I don’t understand the motivation.
  2. What does this say about our consumerist society? We have so much stuff kicking around that we don’t value enough to keep for ourselves, but can’t bear to recycle. Other people must be interested in my old VHS tapes and ancient diet books, mustn’t they?
  3. Are neighbourhood book exchanges the Uber of the library world? Is this a bold new direction in the sharing economy and Big Society? If so, what impact does that have on actual libraries?
  4. What do authors think of LFL®? Particularly when their publishers participate in “takeovers” (yes, it’s a thing)? LFL®, or any other neighbourhood book exchange program, aren’t covered by a Public Lending Right program. Authors definitely got their knickers in a knot (and rightly so – for many reasons, not the least of which remuneration) over the Toronto Public Library’s ill fated “sell your books to us” project; why have we not heard much about where they stand on this alterna-library trend? Margaret Atwood, if you are reading (!!) this, tell us what you think!
  5. Why does everyone love these things so darned much? The installation in Newmarket was a fascinating case study. What is it about a pseudo-library branch (not actually a library branch) that everyone finds so charming? I’ve seen commentary on aesthetics and the power of delight to capture the public’s imagination. What can public libraries do to learn from the success (working definition of success still up in the air, for sure) of LFL®? What is it about LFL® that makes people feel good while public libraries are standing by and wondering “what’s wrong with us?”.

…. only half-formed thoughts at the moment. Commentary and discussion welcome!


2 thoughts on “Random thoughts I’ve been thinking about LFL®

  1. A book exchange lacks the library cataloging. How could you do more than browse titles? When I come across a book title and author I check to see if they carry it and put a hold on it. If that can only be added to the LFL. I am guessing it would require a scan of the book cataloging info together with the location information for the LFL. and sending that data to your local library online database. Some aspect of the LFL would have to be automated in order to do it well. … I am not saying that this is a fully formed idea its just a ramble on the lack of cataloging of a book exchange.


  2. J. Smith says:

    “Why does everyone love these things so darned much?”

    I love them for their aesthetic value to the neighbourhood; for their hygge feel. I am fascinated with how every box is unique. Even those that are ‘mass’ produced by a community–see Kitchener-Waterloo, many are gable roof style or shed style developed by the Menno S. Martin contracter and provided for a very reasonable price. Many LFLs in KW are a Menno box, but everyone adds their own unique touch–the paint, tile mosaic, illustrations, ornaments, etc.

    I’m also warmly affected by the generosity and hospitality of people to share books for free, no strings attached. Yes, they do tend to be in the wealthier neighbourhoods, those with income to use on books for their personal collection. But I have to admit, I enjoy the quality of the books in the box. Most are in pristine condition. I also enjoy visiting those neighbourhoods and admiring the money spent to create and maintain beautiful sharing boxes. Tattered books laid out in a cardboard box, with a LFL sign, would not have that same appeal, especially in a neighbourhood where I might feel concerned about safety. (I grew up in a tough neighbourhood — thankfully we had a public library about a 30 minute walk away, where I spent a lot of my Saturdays–little libraries do not provide that haven of escape and the more mind-expanding resources).

    I also like them for the get-out-and-walk value. We spend hours walking from box to box in Toronto. We start with a map of known LFL boxes then end up usually finding about 50% more. The joy of discovery. The joy of walking. The joy of exploring. The fun of meeting and talking to some of the generous little ‘library’ owners. The comfort of stopping for at least one great cup of coffee at the many wonderful cafes in Toronto. We hope to expand our walks to other parts of Ontario to discover more beautiful little library boxes.

    I do agree however, that it irresponsible of politicians to obfuscate what Little Libraries really are. They are libraries only in the broadest sense…a collection of books. It’s negligent, deceitful, and corrupting of politicians to use book exchanges as an excuse to remove funding from public libraries.


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