As an idealist living in a world or at least a culture that often seems to focus on self-aggrandizement, celebrity, and greed, it is nice to know that many people devote themselves to the propagation of kindness, art, and knowledge. In this post, I decided to explore improbable libraries, from the very modest to the more ambitious ventures.
Photos, top left, clockwise: Mobile library in Pakistan, Free Little Library in Avondale Estates (my photo), Re-purposed newspaper vending machine on Desmond Drive in Decatur (my photo), Impromptu library in a Moscow park
A year or so ago, a former co-worker sent me a link to the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project for 2012. For a modest fee, you can order a sketchbook, and for a supplement, pay for the digitization of said sketchbook, allowing viewers around the world to peruse your personal pages. Otherwise, the undigitized volume goes onto the shelves of the Brooklyn Art Library, where anyone can visit, procure a library card, and sit down and enjoy original works of art and writing at no cost! The Brooklyn Art Library is a private venture and is not part of the New York Public Library system.
The arthouse coop was started in 2006 by two Atlantans, Steven Peterman, a printmaker, and Shane Zucker, a web developer. The duo then moved the project to Brooklyn, NY – first to Red Hook and later to Williamsburg, in 2010. Libraries live in the imaginations of the creative, and the Sketchbook Project allows amateur and professional artists from around the world to fill the 32 blank pages of a small book that will join the shelves and mobile library of the Brooklyn Art Library. The mobile unit travels around the world with parts of its collection each year, making stops in various cities around the United States and around the globe. This past summer you may have spied their bus at the Goat Farm in Atlanta.
Although I did not pay for the digitization of my first contribution to the Sketchbook Project, I do receive an email notification each time someone looks at my book. Each sketchbook is cataloged and has a barcode sticker on the rear panel, just like a “normal” library book. Currently, I am awaiting my new blank book – this time containing lined pages for the “fiction project.” Two hundred fifty writers around the world can submit their illustrated stories before the November 2013 deadline.
We all have seen or visited unusual libraries, and each is a tribute to the creative energy and generosity of those who founded these libraries, however large or small. When I lived in Baltimore, The Book Thing supplied free books to those hungry for knowledge, and it continues to do so to this day. Run entirely as a nonprofit and stocked by donations, the owner makes a lean living gleaning the more valuable donations to provide capital to keep the “store” running. Sponsors also provide funding.
The Book Thing (original location), Baltimore, MD
Train stations, coffee shops, motels, public parks are all places where impromptu libraries may appear. In Avondale Estates, near the community swimming pool and tennis club, there is a small windowed case on a pole containing children’s picture books that are free for the taking. I found two of the photos (included at the top) on a French language Facebook page titled “Improbables Libraries, Improbables Bibliothèques.” A reader living in Moscow posted the picture of the small box on a tree, labeled “Library” in Russian, mentioning that this type of impromptu book exchange is a frequent sight in public parks in Russia. The other photo borrowed from this page depicts an artisanal mobile library in Pakistan. After questioning patrons and co-workers, I found that there are several Free Little Libraries in Decatur, including the one pictured above off Clairmont, another in Oakhurst Village, as well as a geocache location in Hahn Woods. Here’s another link about Free Little Libraries in our area.
Other unusual libraries that I have visited include the amazing Cabinet des dessins at the Musée du Louvre. Although not open to the general public, with special permission, you can enter this beautiful room and handle original artist sketchbooks and drawings. The Bibliothèque Forney in Paris, housed in a beautiful medieval building, contains a rare collection of items on the themes of art and architecture. A patron told me that his favorite is the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. Below is a picture of their impressive reading room.
What is your favorite library? Have you thought about creating your own?