Lilliputians and Thumbelina race around town these days looking for libraries just their size. And they’re finding them.
Walla Walla has a sprinkle of charming book-exchange — little libraries —poking up like lollipops. Found along sidewalks or curbs, sometimes screwed down onto fences, freestanding wooden libraries hold treasure for the mind.
Paperbacks, hardcovers, picture books, how-to-manuals, fiction, nonfiction, biographies — anyone can shop the choices to keep or swap — without paying a dime.
Just as these freewheeling little libraries hold stories, each freestanding cabinet has its own story, often its appeal enhanced by colors and ornamentation, especially now that local artists with paintbrushes in hand are donating imaginations and time.
Watercolor-painting teacher Joyce Anderson is a visual artist and a new little library steward. On her property, the little library stands next to the bike path wending toward Bennington Lake. Anderson’s lock-free cabinet holds an ever-replenished stock of donated or exchanged books — children’s books in English and Spanish, adult and young adult fiction and nonfiction, biographies, field guides.
“Nothing earthshaking,” Anderson said.
“Such a variety of people come. The full assortment appeals to all kinds of people,” she added. “I think books are when people search in themselves, it’s when people can get away in their minds from COVID.”
The library features a standard look, an erected wood and plexiglass cabinet. Hers is 24 inches by 24 inches with exterior walls. That blank cabinet siding became too much for her to resist this fall.
Working with acrylic paints — a new medium for her — Anderson created images of clouds, birds, nearby deer and even the airplane of Jack Shannon, a nod to the friend who built the kiosk al fresco in the heat this past summer. Adding art to attract community members is the name of the game for the worldwide little libraries phenomenon.
To her chagrin, “the first thing that moved in was ants,” she said. Ants now gone, besides books, a few jigsaw puzzles showed up in the mix and she put in a big bottle of hand sanitizer.
There is a formal organization based in Wisconsin called Little Free Libraries, ubne.ws/3msKL1D.
Besides a blog, American-made kits and book supply connections, it has a link on its website to best practices for those concerned about viruses on kiosk surfaces. As of this past May, the Centers for Disease Control said surfaces are unlikely to be carriers of virus.
Generally, a disinfectant wipe-down on shelves and books is good practice, but understandably, not all little libraries in Walla Walla are operating during the pandemic.
Kay Barga, who is also active in Books for Babes distributions, has had her kiosk going for three years, and her collection is usually “full all the time,” she said. But, concerned about today’s coronavirus, she closed off her cabinet for now. “You can’t control who touched them,” she said.
The miniature libraries, which only have enough room for one adult to reach its shelves or maybe two children, does offer an alternative when public libraries and schools are closed during the pandemic. And, of course, if people cannot afford new books, the eclectic options at the little libraries help feed hungry minds.
Anderson, besides being an artist, is a retired elementary school teacher. She described in an email her 6-year-old neighbor, Lyra the Librarian.
“She put the first kids’ books in the lower shelf. She brought her friend over and rearranged books with her. I stayed out of it.”
One of the local enthusiasts and a book lover herself, Jennifer Riggs repurposed one of the family’s old kitchen cabinets as a little library.
Her husband added flourishes such as windows and a roof. Her son, age 8½, picked out the paint: yellow, orange and lime.
“We wanted it colorful and super visible,” Riggs wrote in an email. “And kids weren’t in school. People needed books, I wanted to help them get them.”
The shelves soon filled with donated books. “It’s too early to tell what genres move best,” Riggs wrote, “but I stock new kids’ books pretty frequently.”
She “loves” the Little Free Library website with its blog and social media connections.
Riggs recently signed up with the organization’s new initiative, Read in Color.
“I’ve signed the pledge to not only read, but to provide diverse books in our library,” she wrote. And as a registered steward with the Little Free Library organization, she receives new releases for free from Celadon Books.
In the past, groups such as the Sherwood Trust Community Leadership Class of 2015 and a loose organization called Walla Walla Little Free Library, established several little libraries with volunteer homeowners willing to monitor the ebb and flow of books and the condition of the structures.
These libraries that actually give away their stock seem as much a fantasy, in some ways, as “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Peter Pan.” And adults find it a bit unnerving, Anderson observed.
“Adults are kind of shy. But so far, the one who has benefited is me.”