Street Library: where pre-loved books await discovery

In Australian communities, little houses have been popping up around the place — dappling the nation with tiny homes encasing hidden paper treasures. But who’s responsible for these structures, and what are they housing? Enter Street Library Australia, the book-loving organisation creating a buzz. We asked Rachel Miles to tell us what it’s all about:

Where did the idea for Street Library originate?

Street Library Australia very much owes a deep tip of the hat to Little Free Libraries, which began in the USA. The notion of a free, accessible place to find and leave books really appealed to a few of us here in Sydney; we wanted to create a movement that encouraged neighbourliness, as well as promoting literacy and a love of books.

What do you hope to achieve through this project?

We hope to create community stop-points: places where a love of books is fostered and shared, and where conversations about what it means to be a reader begin. We want to ensure that all people have access to stories and ideas, even if they don’t come from “book homes”.

Tell us about the concept; how does it all work?

Street Libraries are, essentially, a box of books, planted in your (or your neighbour’s) front yard. They are accessible from the street, and are an invitation to share the joy of reading. Street Libraries are a window into the mind of the neighbourhood; books come and go; noone needs to check them in or out. People can simply reach in and take what interests them; when they are done, they can return them to the Street Library network, or pass them on to friends.

If anyone has a book or two that they think others would enjoy, they can just pop it into any Street Library they happen to be walking past. They are a symbol of trust and hope: a tiny vestibule of literary happiness.

Have people responded well to the idea?

We are getting so much love from the community. We held our first Builders Workshop in November 2015, and now have a network of more than 100 Street Libraries across Australia. We started out with a target of getting 500 up within three years, but that’s looking a little under-ambitious!

It’s so wonderful to eavesdrop on conversations that take place around Street Libraries, from the curious first-timer to the seasoned borrower, most people can’t walk past without taking a peek once one catches their eye. I chatted with someone yesterday at my own library who was on a mission to visit all of the neighbourhood Street Libraries; he’d already been to three that morning, and was looking forward to finding some more.

Some Street Libraries are seeing their books turn over four times a week, which is amazing. I live on a fairly quiet street, but we still have the books moving quickly. They come back just as quickly, too! It’s magic: an empty Street Library will fill again, and most never get to that point as the books cycle though so fast.

Where can we find Street Libraries?

You can find our current Street Library locations on our website.

How can people get involved?

There are a number of ways that people can get involved in the Street Library movement:

  • You can attend one of our workshops, and build your own Street Library
  • You can purchase a pre-made Street Library and get started as a Street Librarian right away
  • You can set up a Street Library in your office
  • You can donate books to help establish someone else’s Street Library
  • You can take photos of cool Street Libraries that you see around the place and share them on social media using #streetlibrary.

What’s the best book you’ve picked up at a Street Library so far?

The best thing I’ve found so far has been an amazing book called ‘Relativity’ written by a Sydney writer I’d never heard of, Antonia Hayes. It is set in the local area. It is just one of the gems that circulate through the Street Library network.

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Sonya Gellert

Sonya Gellert is a contributing writer and associate editor for Khoollect. She lives in Sydney....

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