This past weekend, people from all over the region gathered in Rutledge Park for a picnic. All these folks had one thing in common, little free libraries!
A while back, Jean, the lovely person who installed the 200th little free library (LFL) in our city, got in touch with me about the possibility of hosting a summer gathering of LFL people. I loved the idea, but didn’t quite have enough time in the day to organize the whole event. So Jean stepped up to serve as lead organizer for a LFL picnic.
The picnic was an absolutely delightful and I thought that sharing more about this wonderful event would help show people the community-building power placemaking, as well as hopefully inspire future events in Victoria and beyond!
We held the event in Rutledge Park, Saanich, as it was relatively central, had picnic benches and right next to the LFL that I manage. We had nearly 30 people attend, and the group included people from across the region, representing a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Some folks had been running their LFLs for years, and others had just installed theirs last week!
One comment that someone made really stuck with me, they said that we had, in an instant, created a community. And it was true. Sure everyone at the event had a shared interest in LFLs, but as conversations began, it was apparent that we had so much more in common. I participated in and overheard conversations about books, community-building, placemaking, travel, urban infrastructure, baking, dying with dignity, art, insects (the wasps loved the food!), cycling, and comedy writing, to name but a few.
Jean and I had planned a number of activities to keep everything rolling, though these were scarcely needed as people immediately struck up conversations that sounded like they’d known each other for years.
We had to pull people away from great conversations (and an excellent spread of food) to facilitate a couple of activities, but these were definitely worthwhile, as they helped bring the group together. Here are those activities:
At one of the tables we had bookmark making, particularly for young people, but open to everyone who needed a nifty new way of saving their place. This was a very easy craft activity to set up, and a good activity to include as it gave younger folks, less interested in talking, something to do. I brought pre-cut strips of heavy bond paper, cut from a ‘craft paper book’ I found at a LFL a while back, along with markers, a hole punch, and a portion of my ribbon collection, and the activity took care of itself.
Blind Date With A Book
For those unfamiliar with this activity, here are the instructions we gave to attendees:
- Take a book that you have previously enjoyed (or with which you are familiar from your LFL).
- Wrap this book (in recycled paper) as you would a gift (or in any other creative way you can think of).
- Write some enticing clues on the outside of the wrapping, shedding light on the genre and content of the book. This can typically be individual words or short sentences, and should be enough to entice someone into picking up a book they may enjoy, but not sufficient so that they know what the book is.
For example, on a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull you could write: “Self-discovery, adventure, flight.” Or “birds, transcendence.” Or a copy of Game of Thrones: “Fighting over furniture, Death, Dragons.”
Blind date with a book in many ways replicates the whimsy of LFLs – the surprise of finding something new and unexpected in book form! Some of the fun can be in trying to guess the book based on its vague description, or trying to come up with a description that is enough to ensure that it will be picked up by someone who is likely to enjoy it, without giving away what book it is. The last book I picked up as a blind date with a book was “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared,” which I thoroughly enjoyed but would never have guessed from the description on the wrapping.
Sharing Your LFL
We encouraged people to bring a picture of their LFL, so that we could associate people with their LFLs, and perhaps share design tips. Not everyone was able to print off a picture, so the GVPN LFL map came in handy. We have pictures of most of the LFLs in town, though if you see one with a purple marker it needs a picture (yellow markers need their locations confirmed). It ended up being like sharing baby pictures, and we stuck all the pictures to a tree!
LFL Maintenance and Enrichment Tips
As I mentioned, some of the people attending the picnic had been running their LFLs for years, while others had set theirs up this week, and as a result, the picnic proved to be an excellent opportunity for people to share maintenance and enrichment tips. Many of the tips we discussed can be found in some of our previous blogs, especially “Teale’s Tips for Managing your Little Free Library,” though some wonderful new ideas emerged.
- Leave a coil notebook with a pencil in your LFL so that people could leave comments and even requests. The best advice here was to use a coil notebook so that it is not mistaken for a regular book and accidentally taken home by a visitor. Additional tips included adding a bookmark so people knew where to write, and typing the writing implement to the book so that it didn’t wander off.
- How to recycle old and damaged books. This is always a tough topic with book lovers. It took me years to get comfortable recycling a damaged book that is no longer fit for circulation. We discussed how to recycle these, and also some other ways to use old books, such as in crafts! See the wonders of Pintrest for a wealth of ideas.
- One of the LFLs included a small box which served as a seed library, allowing neighbours to swap flower and vegetable seeds!
- How to encourage neighbours to bring books to your LFL. Those with freshly installed LFLs often find that far more books go out than come in, and I often get questions about how to encourage people to bring more books to an LFL. This is one of the reasons that the GVPN has a supply of books to help top up collections. However, people who have run their LFLs for a number of years reported that after time this issue goes away. Neighbours get in the habit of brining some books along when they go out for a walk, for example. I can attest to this. In the first year of managing the Rutledge Park LFL I must have added over 2000 books! With its 3rd birthday just passed, I’ve found that I add far fewer, and can go for weeks without the need to top up the collection.
- How to bring your LFL to life on Twitter. I first learned about Victoria’s newest LFL, BellevueBooks, through Twitter, and the Rutledge Park LFL that I manage has over 2000 followers! Online communities of LFLs can be found on every media! Look for a longer blog article on this subject soon!
- The challenges of dealing with humidity on the lovely west coast climate were discussed in detail. Ventilation was encouraged, and for those with serious humidity issues, the use of desiccants was recommended.
Anyone who runs a LFL will tell you funny and inspirational stories if you ask them, and you should ask them! At one point during the picnic, we formed a rough circle and swapped tales. We had a couple of prompts, the first asked people to share funny stories about the strangest books that had appeared in their LFLs.
For a year I’ve been telling people about finding a copy of “Crafting with cat hair: Cute handicrafts to make with your cat” in a LFL. I took it home and not having a cat or friends willing to lend me a cat to craft with, I decided to send it back out into the world via my LFL. I wandered down to my LFL, popped it in, and then walked to the Roundhouse Café to pick up a delicious pumpkin scone. While getting my scone I regretted my decision. The idea of making small felt cats out of one’s cat’s fur was just too fanciful. I hurried back to my LFL, and despite the fact that no less than 10 minutes had elapsed, the book was gone! After I told this story, someone at the picnic informed me, much to my delight, that it had originally been their book, and that I must have found it in their LFL.
Someone told a story about a couple of young people who visited their LFL every day on the way home from school. The LFL steward noticed these folks checking the LFL but never taking anything home. The steward asked the young people what they were looking for or hoping to find and they said they really wanted a copy of ‘Game of Thrones.’ No copies of this popular book turned up, so the steward went out and bought a copy, and had it on hand for the next time the young people wandered by.
Another librarian told us how their LFL was used for correspondence between two young teens who left notes to each other about liking certain books.
We also encouraged people to bring books that for an unknown reason had remained on their LFLs shelves for too long. My LFL, for example, had a pristine signed copy of a Maude Barlow book for almost 3 months! These were exchanged with the hope that the books would find appreciative neighbours in different communities.
Organizing the picnic depended on our being able to reach LFL people around the region. I have an email list of all the people I know who run LFL in the region, and it is in no way complete. It has mostly been compiled through meeting people at their boxes, or through people submitting their LFLs for inclusion on the GVPN map. What I only found out at the event is that in addition to the email invitations I circulated, Jean used the GVPN LFL map and went around to a bunch homes and dropped off invitations in person.
If you run a LFL in town and did not get an invitation to the picnic, please get in touch with the GVPN through the handy form on our LFL page to be added to the list. This list is reserved for LFL-related announcement, such as events like this one, when books (especially children’s books) are available, and it includes a waiting list for those aspiring to set up their own but who might need a box or materials.
Given the success of the event, we are looking to hold a winter gathering and possibly explore other ways of building the LFL and placemaking community in the region. If you have any ideas, please get in touch, or just go out into the world and enact them!
Happy placemaking and go visit a LFL near you today!