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Crows on a Cloud

Lately I’ve been noticing adorable libraries of breadbox proportions popping up all over Flagstaff. You can take a book or leave a book, and many carry age-appropriate options for children. Depending on the area, some Little Free Libraries seem to remain fully stocked with new books, untouched for months, while others are bare. The Downtown Business Alliance has placed five or six themed LFLs downtown over the past two years. They make for a great pick-me-up and are a convenient way to find a book you may have never picked up before. They’re also an excellent alternative to throwing unwanted books in a landfill or leaving them cluttered around your home.

The first LFL was created by Todd Bol of Wisconsin. You can find out where they are in our town by accessing the map on the website, although all may not choose to be registered with them. In Flagstaff there are 25. Many of the books stocked in the Flagstaff Little Free Libraries are donated by The Bookshop. FALA has one of its own in campus quad.

These libraries are fun and save us time since we barely have to get out of the car to pick out something new before continuing our drive. They give us great bike destinations, too. 

However, I was made aware of a different opinion last week when the Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece claiming the LFLs were gentrifying the Washington, D.C., area. The writer also argued it takes attention away from the public libraries taxpayers pay for in a city. It was stated that they harm communities by this library patronage stealing and making literary circulation corporate. (Personally, that would be a corporate incentive with which I have no beef.) The writer also believes they function more as a trash can for unwanted books, although the executive director of the D.C. library did not agree with this perspective.

In 2015, Marianne Snow wrote an article: a call to research inside the tiny book depositories. Her conclusion is if they provide literature to the marginalized then they have succeeded, which leads me to wonder, are we accomplishing such in Flagstaff with our Little Free Libraries? 

Dianna Sanchez, executive director of The Literacy Center, does not agree with the perspective written in the Journal. The Literacy Center received its library in the Sunnyside neighborhood for free via a grant program run by the Little Free Library company.

“We love it and think it provides a need by providing books for folks,” Sanchez says. “Every other week they refill them.”

The center receives many book donations. Sanchez says she hasn’t seen many Little Free Libraries in Sunnyside, at least not as many as seen in areas such as downtown, Upper Greenlaw and University Heights.

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“Someone who doesn't feel comfortable coming into The Literacy Center can still use our books,” Sanchez says. “Reading and literacy is a fundamental human right, and if we can provide access to those resources we are making our community a richer place.”

What can we do to make Little Free Libraries a continued positive for our community? More can be placed in lower income neighborhoods, and they could carry new, high quality books, including native and Spanish language books. Another idea is to pin up a list inside the LFL asking which books frequenters are most interested in.

Clearly not all people can afford books, even from places like Bookmans, and if you have fines from the library it can be a financial deterrent from bringing more books into your life. 

It’s important for schools and nonprofits in the Sunnyside neighborhood to know that the grant is an option if they can’t afford to buy their own LFL, which can cost as much as $400. Interested parties can apply for their Impact Library Program with an application at www.littlefreelibrary.org. Or, like many, you could build your own. 

I think the only cost here is not a cost but a call to our own awareness and responsibility to these roadside book portals. I know my son would be sad to see them go. It does not decrease our library visits. It does increase our literacy and our frequent visits. Let’s brainstorm ways to make this a good thing. Is there a way a Little Free Library has positively or negatively affected you? Write to the editors at Flag Live! and let us know. 

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Katie King lives at high altitudes telling middlebrow jokes, mostly to her son who tells her to get real. She is an actor, writer and songwriter, and claims 17 years as a Flagstaff local.

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