Hunting for microlibraries

Refinement succeeds invention.  Things get smaller.  The cordless to the bluetooth.  ENIAC to the tablet.  The gramophone to the mp3 player.  TVs are the odd exception.

But now even libraries are getting smaller.

The small library structure itself. (Chelsea Woods)

Behold the advent of the microlibrary.  What was once only a large, central building, likely made of marble but possibly also brick, now manifests in old telephone booths, small sheds and unused newspaper racks.  These can spring along city avenues or side streets.  Sometimes they are created by their communities.  Other times, they are an artistic expression.

My daily (read: constant) scanning of Pinterest first tipped me off to these majesties of bibliomania (pinned to my Library Swag board).  Little stacks of books inside pay phone booths for passersby struck me as odd, but I became increasingly curious.  The main appeal of these little libraries was the accessibility.  Even I have often thought:  what a pain in the rear to drive all the way (read:  half a mile) to the local library.  You know what would be awesome?  If there were some books in that traffic light fuse box outside.

Well.  Perhaps I haven’t thought exactly that.  But your ascertainment of the essential laziness is the key, here.  While I don’t think it is this essence behind the creation of the microlibrary (unflattering as it is), I do think their clever embedding in the everyday thoroughfare is quite ingenious.  I had to scout one for myself.

After a good few days of tracking down some microlibraries near me, I finally found some promising locations.  Armed with a camera, my best friend Julie, and a Metrocard, I set off through the five boroughs in search of the creations of Colin McMullan, an artist who calls his micro-set The Corner Libraries.  I chose a locale I found off the L train in Brooklyn, even though at present the L train and I sustain a certain mutual resentment born of its spotty weekend punctuality.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, even though I had seen some pictures.

Little was I prepared for the sprinkling-of-confectioner’s-sugar-to-my-eyes surprise of … a tiny house on a street corner.

The creators have embellished the front door with membership instructions.” (Chelsea Woods)

It was incredible.  The front door, painted an alarming shade of red, detailed the library’s lending policy (as we say in the MLIS), overseen by several local librarians.  An email is also listed, and if potential patrons want to sign up for a card, they can send a note requesting the combination to the door’s padlock.

Patrons can both borrow and submit materials of any kind, which lends a distinctly local flavor to the collections of any of these diminutive athenaeums sprinkled around the Brooklyn area (N.B.:  McMullan’s website touts the first Corner Library’s location as New Haven, Conn., though his website’s location information is frustratingly vague.  There could be one near you.).

I was supremely happy to see that McMullan’s project was thriving in the midst of an urban center.  However, I went hunting for another location (apparently installed in some other phone booths) I found listed elsewhere on the interwebs, in SoHo.  After a thorough searching of the blocks surrounding the cross-streets without any result, I finally gave up.  This reminded me that although these projects are ideal for a big city, sometimes the city streets absorb them back as quickly as they emerge (like the first project of another artist, John Locke, mastermind of the Department of Urban Betterment Project.  The preliminary microlibrary was replaced by a second after the disappearance of the first).

I felt satisfied with my discovery, however.  I hope these projects work their way out to the suburbs and beyond!  What about you?  Any tiny libraries in your neighborhoods?

(Feature photo of me standing next to this amazing micro library structure was taken by Juliana Morro.)