I have had several Little Free Library-inspired lately. The first happened at my friendly neighborhood Target with the Hobbit in tow. A woman approached me and asked if I was Michele. Suspicious, I replied, “Yes.” I don’t get out much, so celebrity sightings of Mrs. Fakefish are rare unless you know my hang outs. Like Target. And thank goodness it was one of those days where I wasn’t yelling at my kid in public! Next, this mystery woman asked if I was married to Chris. Again, a little more wary, I replied, “Yeeeees,” and she smiled and introduced herself as one of my husband’s former colleagues. Whew! Mystery solved! I knew her by name but not by sight, which contributed to my confusion. I won’t go printing her name all over the blog-o-sphere for privacy’s sake, but she stops in here and reads my ramblings and has made many generous donations of books to our Little Free Library effort. It was so nice to be able to thank her in person. The books she’s donated have gone out into the community, starting a ripple effect that originates from that cute little box at the end of my drive way.
(Reminder: if you have books to get off your shelves, consider finding a Little Free Library near you and donating them to the steward. Most of us keep our libraries stocked with books from a combination of personal collections, donations, and in many cases, out-of-pocket purchases. Getting those books out there is love in action. I am always so, so pleased to see new faces picking up books and immensely grateful to the anonymously donated bags of books that find their way to my front porch from time to time. )
My second encounter came the following day, a woman and two small children came to the front door to ask about the Little Free Library. She asked if I worked for the (city) library and could she get some books for one of the boys with her, whom I assume is her son. I invited her to look through the LFL and the overflow shelf that sits on the front porch. I explained that the LFL is something I do for the community and the books are free.
Then the woman asked me a question that I have had posed many times before and I never know how to answer it. She asked, “How many can we get?” On one hand, there’s no limit. The books are always a gift, free for the taking for anyone who stops by. On the other hand, I spend a lot of time over thinking things and begin to wonder if the person asking the question needs someone to set limits for them because they aren’t so good at doing it for themselves. For example, when the LFL first went up, there was a little boy in the neighborhood (who has since moved), that stopped by often and wanted to know how many books he could have. I told him there was no limit, and as a result, he’d come by at least twice a week (sometimes more) and take every single book on the shelves that he could hold and still manage to ride his bike. He probably hit me up for about 12-15 books a week and wasn’t inclined to bring any of them back, which was okay, but I did wonder what his parent(s) thought. Weren’t they curious as to how he was getting so many books? Even if you have an honest and trustworthy kid, if they start showing up with armloads of books a couple times a week and they tell you they’re free, wouldn’t you want to find out what was going on and who was providing this bounty? I was surprised when no parent ever materialized. I eventually told the kid to take no more than 5 books at a time, because there are others using the LFL and they’d come along to get a book and the box would be empty.
So yes, with kids I set limits if they ask. But what do I say to an adult? I want to tell people, “It’s like a buffet, take what you’ll use,” but I’ve seen people eat at buffets and the eyes are often bigger than the stomach. I don’t want to discourage people from making good use of the library and I also don’t want to have to set up a limit or policy that will have to be monitored and enforced. The public library already has that market cornered. Accessibility is a big deal to me. This city I live in only has one bookstore, and I want to make sure that books get into the hands of people who wouldn’t normally go buy books, who can’t afford to buy books, who are intimidated by the library process or don’t have access to library resources because they don’t have a physical address. I want them to feel comfortable picking out the books they’ll read. Setting limits might deter new users. I suppose I’ll just have to keep muddling through like I have been until I’m struck with a brilliant idea, and restocking the shelves as often as needed, getting those books out there.