The Countless Ways That Our Love of Stories and Books Connect us to our Community
Have you heard of the Little Free Library?
I have heard it often discussed that getting to know your neighbours isn’t as easy as it used to be. More and more individuals are going to creative lengths to create a feeling of connection in their communities; one such initiative, the Little Free Library project, not only seeks to connect neighbours but aims to also foster a love of reading and reduce waste.
Perhaps you have spied a colourfully decorated box located within your community that is stocked with books and you have wondered what it is all about? The first Little Free Library was conceived of and built by the late Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin in 2009. The idea, based on a wider known “public bookcase” concept, soon evolved into countless individuals across the world building innovative and attractive boxes, many no larger than a breadbox, to share books with a “need a book, take a book, have a book, share a book” concept. The founders soon incorporated their mission into a non-profit foundation and their group now boasts over 150,000 Little Free Libraries in over 100 countries exchanging over 70 million books annually!
What’s great about the Little Free Libraries is that they provide access to books 24/7 and any passerby can either take a book to read or leave one for someone else to find. The creator of each box maintains it (or designates a group of people to do so) and the only criteria is that they should be watertight to protect the precious literary treasure held within. Residents can get very creative with their libraries, building them in all sorts of sizes, shapes and themes. There is no cost or obligation to the user; one can take or leave at will! It's an ingenious alternative that helps ensure books get a second life, rather than finding their way into a dumpster. Do you have a Little Free Library in your neighbourhood?
How Many Books Go Into Landfills Each Year?
Here are some astonishing figures: it is estimated that somewhere around 30-40% of the books produced annually end up going directly into recycling before even going to bookstores! Another estimated 640,000 tons of used books are sent to the landfills annually, which equates to approximately 320 million books that are discarded each year and not being recycled.
What could you do to lessen the demand for new printed books?
Make regular use of your local public library. Your community library is not only a great resource of free books but their knowledgeable staff is always willing to help source books, facts, any find literally any information you are looking for whether it's held within the library’s books or beyond. It’s their job!
Buy second hand books, either from in person resellers like or online marketplaces. Many secondhand booksellers also donate part of the proceeds to charity so you are not only being ecological but charitable as well.
Buy an eReader and load digital books onto it. The books can be purchased through online booksellers, or “borrowed” from your local library. An added bonus is that you can easily take a whole library with you wherever you go!
7 easy ways to find a new home or a use for unwanted books
Create your own Free Little Library.
Donate to a local charity or a book reseller like Secondhand Stories (more below).
Host a book swap with friends.
Use it to create art (read more below).
Try the old classic hollowed-out-book idea for storing valuables.
Your imagination is the limit!
When one person’s book waste becomes another person’s profitable business
Inspiration struck Hudson, Quebec resident and mother of two Andrea Smith when she noticed the local library putting piles of books into the recycling bins. “I started to take books that were still in good shape and pass them around to family and friends or read them myself.” Fast forward 15 years and she has now built this hobby into Secondhand Stories, a small business she is passionate about. “A friend helped me distribute the books around town and in the area spots like community bookshelves and hospitals. After a while she suggested that, since I was putting so much time into relocating the books, I should start a little business selling second hand books. So I did!”
What started as a bookshelf in a corner of her house soon grew to a porch library stacked edge to edge with bookshelves that her husband helped her build. She felt compelled to keep it going because the donations kept coming! “When people come to see the books they often ask if I take donations. The look in their eyes is usually what convinces me to say yes, even though I'm already tripping over stacks of books. I can't say no to the people who have that look of concern that they want to make sure that the books they enjoyed and love will go on to be enjoyed by someone else and not simply cease to exist. One older couple dropped off a box of books and literally said the books were like grandchildren to them.”
Andrea started a Facebook group where locals could see photos of her book collections and send her requests, and the membership grew and grew. “When lockdowns shut bookstores and cut people off and isolated them, many turned to books from my porch. An older lady told me last summer that my books had saved her. They provided a needed escape so one wouldn't focus on feeling lonely. A couple months into 2020 we surpassed 1100 members.”
Andrea says she is humbled that Secondhand Stories has been a beacon of light for many Hudson residents these past few troublesome years. “A neighbour posted a quote by Neil Gaiman on our Facebook page the other day saying that a town isn't a town unless they have a book shop and therefore my porch makes Hudson a town. It was very flattering.”
Providence is continually showing Andrea that the work she is doing matters to her community. “A mom asked if I had a specific textbook because her daughter lost hers and it would cost $80 to replace, and I only had to lift the lid of the recycling bin the very next day and find a copy of the textbook on top of the pile!” Another customer was coming to get board books for her future granddaughter. “She was so happy and excited because I happened to have a copy of a book she used to read to her kids. Well, low and behold, she opens the copy I have for her and her name is on the inside! She was able to give her daughter the very book that had been read to her when she was a child. That one gave me chills. So when I doubt what I'm doing, I am reminded why I am doing it when I see people's faces light up.”
And Andrea doesn't just sell books; when she gets donations of books damaged or not in good enough condition to resell, she finds ways to use the colourful images and discarded pages within to make buttons, framed prints and other crafts, and she also shares her ideas in the Facebook group to inspire members to do likewise.
With all the thousands of books passing through her hands yearly you may be wondering if Andrea ever discovers anything left behind from previous owners. “The things I have found in the books can be so touching it would leave you speechless. So many beautifully pressed flowers. Some have been there for almost 100 years. I opened a huge dictionary from the 1940s and found photos from a photoshoot that a couple had taken when WW2 had ended. He was in his military uniform and she was in a nurses uniform. I've found prayers for soldiers in battle, navy badges, sketches and so many family photographs! I try to locate the owners for every one, and have had a few success stories. One gentleman was so thrilled to be reunited with the only photo he had of his grandparents. I continue to save the treasures I cannot find the owners of because you never know when I might find them.”
Andrea also loves the idea of Little Free Library. “For anyone interested in setting up a little free library I say: dive in, it will be received with open arms. I've seen so many imaginative bookshelf boxes, and they always make me smile.” This blogger is always excited to see one as well, as you never know what treasures may lie within.
Books as a Connection to Present and the Past
Books for many people can provide a connection to the past. Ties to their childhoods, their ancestors, and through the sharing of the love of reading stories, ties to their communities. To many book lovers, just the smell of old books gets their hearts pumping so much that a phrase has been coined for the term: “bibliosmia”! In fact, in a recent study when participants didn’t know what exactly they were smelling, they associated the smell of books to favourite smells such as chocolate or coffee! For many, the smell of books is tied to olfactory memories that call them back to fond memories of time spent enjoying the stories within, either alone or with a loved one. Finally, books are also a great form of entertainment that requires no electricity or batteries, and they are easily shareable. Whether it be with a neighbour or friend, sharing stories is how we help understand each other and build connection by immersing ourselves in the stories of others. In the words of renowned African-American writer James Baldwin: “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
About the Author
With a BFA from NSCAD, Marion brings more than 15 years experience in marketing-communications to her role as Executive Director for Nomomente.
As an artist, photographer, graphic designer, and blogger, Marion’s craft has always urged her to take a deep dive into the things that fascinate her, particularly understanding and connecting with people.
Marion is an ardent nature lover and plant person, and in her free time you can find her exploring the woods with friends and her two boys.