Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 9, 2016

Street Library

Libraries aren’t always free or public. For most of history, literacy itself has been limited to certain classes or castes. As marks inscribed in wet clay or drawn in (expensive) ink on (expensive) papyrus or parchment, handmade written records were costly to create and distribute and were often controlled by institutions ranging from governments to religions (sometimes essentially one and the same). “Libraries” were almost entirely held by those institutions or privileged (and wealthy) individuals.

As printed books emerged, they were limited in number and still expensive. But, gradually, and at an increasing rate, both access to books and literacy itself spread.

For anyone reading this piece, a book  is no longer a rare and exotic thing to own. We’re fortunate, because not all our fellows on the planet can read; not everyone has access to books.

Libraries have made great efforts to be accessible, for a long time, and not only inside the library. Consider this quote from the 1941 U.S. WPA Federal Writers’ Project Guide to the City of Angels:

The character of the city is also reflected in the facilities for open-air living. Angelenos not only enjoy sports the year round, but also patronize outdoor libraries — “parasol stations” — three of which are maintained by the Public Library in downtown plazas and parks.

Here’s a photo from that book of one of the “parasol stations” in downtown L.A.’s Pershing Square in the ’30s:

Parasol Library001

The sign reads, “Borrow a book to read in the park.” Wonderful. In your own time, you might have gotten a book from a “Bookmobile,” or benefited from a program in which your library brought books to your school.

This week, we saw two contemporary attempts to make books available to as many people as possible.

First, a photo shot on a Friday night in a trendy little restaurant area in Anaheim, California:

IMG_3319 Brad Nixon

Pretty nifty, eh? They blocked off some parking spaces, set up some folding tables and chairs, and a musician was playing to give it a kind of outdoor coffee house atmosphere.

There’s another trend we’ve seen in a lot of towns. I noticed it first in Portland, Oregon: a small box on a post or even a fence, from which you can take a book, or leave one for someone else.

IMG_3358 Brad Nixon

I don’t know if these neighborhood free library boxes have a name. Do you? This one’s in Rolling Hills Estates, California, not far from my house.

IMG_3356 Brad Nixon

Books matter. Libraries are important.

NOTE: After blogger Dewey Hop gave this post a “like,” I found an article on that library-oriented blog about “Little Free Libraries,” the name on the photo above, which, apparently, IS the official descriptor for these boxes. Dewey Hop has some additional background on Little Free Libraries and other outreach programs. Go give them a look, HERE. Thanks, Dewey Hop.

HENCE, now that I know what they’re called, here’s a link to the Free Little Library organization.

On the subject of books, I invite you to participate in the Under Western Skies National Library Week Project. Before April 6, I’d like to receive your reminiscences or observations about the role libraries have played in your life. What is it (or was it) about some particular library or librarian that made a difference, or holds a special place in your memory? Is there a library that was particularly memorable for its atmosphere? Is there a library you use now that is worthy of mention?

CLICK HERE to see the full details about submitting your contribution. I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to invite others, too. Thank you.

© Brad Nixon 2016. Quotation and photograph from Los Angeles in the 1930s: The WPA Guide to the City of Angels, © University of California Press,  2011. Parasol station photograph by F. W. Carter.



  1. Awesome article. Read about my Little Free Library here:

    Liked by 1 person

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