DIY libraries

Last April I mentioned tiny DIY libraries in my Library Love post. You’ve probably heard about this concept which includes the “little free library” movement, phone booth library installations, and Occupy libraries around the world.  For the most part, librarians seem to have embraced DIY libraries; we may champion our profession, but we are book lovers as well, and we’re all for sharing that love. Read Michael Stephens’ Library Journal column on little free libraries and you’ll see what I mean; he notes that librarians are involved in the LFL movement and some library schools are teaching about it.

Library Journal also recently featured a high school student, Amalia Wiatr-Lewis, and her community project in Indianapolis. She opened a mobile micro-library named for her neighborhood, Cottage Home.  She had help from a teacher, volunteers, and a grant in opening this self-service mini library, which is free and open to all and not subject to building codes and other regulations since it’s on a trailer.

I really love this idea, but I wonder whether DIY libraries impact public library use. Part of me feels anything that draws people — especially young people — into reading is a good thing. But a friend and fellow librarian told me recently that her small town library is caught in a funding spiral. Their budget is justified by library use, and use is down because of recession-related budget cuts that make services and new books harder to fund; the less they can buy or do, the less the public supports them, the more their budget is cut and so on. So if a popular free alternative that no local government had to fund moved into town, would it be the death of her library?

One thing I appreciate is that not everyone has access to books even in places with healthy public libraries. The homeless, for example, can’t usually get a library card because they don’t have an address. I am a big fan of the Quaker Homeless Action mobile library in London, which I read about last summer in The Library Book.

Does your area have DIY libraries? Are they impacting traditional public libraries? Do you see places where they work well? Leave a comment and join the conversation.