The first Little Free Library was opened in Wisconsin in the United States in 2009. Now there are thousands worldwide, and are increasingly springing up around the UK and especially in London. The Little Library Project is a registered charity whose purposes include promoting reading, art and community engagement. And by increasing access to books and engaging people to read more books they hope to play a small part in the essential task of improving literacy rates in the UK. Now, one has sprung up in our front garden (pictured above) in Haringey, north London.
I can’t claim the credit for the idea of having one of these libraries (but I can for the small civil engineering job of getting it up and running), or the effective management of the operation, that is down to my partner. She reports that business has been brisk in the week and a bit since its official opening, both in people borrowing books and donating them too. She says that she was attracted to idea because she loves books and thought it would be a fun thing to do. Also, although these libraries are not intended to replace local authority run ones, it does highlight the threat to free public access to books.
People often stop for a chat if we’re in the garden, ask about the project and all have been very positive about the whole thing. When I talk to people from other parts of the UK, they all seem to think that those who live in London don’t know who is even living next door to them, let alone that local communities exist in London, just like anywhere else.
I do have what some have called a ‘romantic’ view of community, which I think has its roots in my childhood. In those days, in Manchester and across the north of England, municipal socialism was the order of the day, and I have much to thank the council for my education and decent home to live in. But more than this, there was a genuine feeling of solidarity and community, where many people helped their neighbours, through favours and community activity. Although this still exists, I think it is much weaker than it was, as we have been encouraged to see ourselves as ‘individuals’ and in effect in competition with each other in the mad scramble to get on in life. As Margaret Thatcher once notoriously announced, ‘there is no such thing as society, there are only individual men and women’. But Thatcher was wrong, there is such a thing as society and it is local communities that underpin it.
I also like the idea of sharing. Sharing has got a new lease of life, since it became a social media buzzword (Facebook, Youtube etc.) and is the basis of the ‘global commons’ on the world wide web. But the concept is an old one and libraries are a great example of sharing. It is also good for the planet, reducing unnecessary production and demonstrating a more sustainable economic model.
It seems to me that this is a small step in the direction of ecosocialism, a pre-configuration if you will, of the type of society we must build in the future, if there is to be a future worth living.
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