Carl Wernicke: Little Libraries Open Big Worlds

Sep 13, 2017

 Some years ago, small decorated, mailbox-like structures began to spring up in front of homes in our area, especially East Hill. Called free or sharing libraries, they were designed for people to share books.

It was a simple concept. Someone would put one up on the street in front of their house and stock it with books. Passersby were free to take a book or leave a book for others. The designs are as varied as the preferences of the builders, but usually include a glass front, and of course a hinged door to allow access while protecting the contents from rain.

When I first read about the movement, it seemed like a quaint little custom that was probably a passing fad. Then my wife and I moved into East Hill.

And now we are big fans of these mini-libraries.

The majority of my reading list in recent months has come from these libraries. The breadth of what is available is astounding. From nonfiction to fiction, from secular self-help to religious tracts, technical journals to you name it, the collected volumes available within a few blocks of our home amount to a remarkable resource.

I have discovered new writers, rediscovered old ones and gained a new appreciation for the general literacy of Pensacolians.

Still, I do have several complaints.

For one, it breaks up my walks by having to keep stopping to see what books are available. If your goal is to get your heartbeat up for aerobic purposes, stopping every block or two to browse doesn’t help.

Also, I wish people would be a little more orderly. People taking books often don’t bother to rearrange what’s left, so the books fall down and become disordered. It just looks messy. My wife and I have taken to reorganizing the shelves, especially when restocking books we had previously borrowed.

And really, what do people not get about putting the taller books on the taller shelves, and the shorter books on the shorter shelves? Seems pretty obvious.

Meanwhile, I do feel somewhat guilty in thinking that booksellers are probably losing some sales to people like me who might otherwise purchase a book. But given the number of books I have purchased over the years, I manage to forgive myself. Especially since I do still buy books.

On the good side, we find ourselves going for walks for the sole purpose of returning borrowed books, or in search of new reads. What could be more positive than pleasant exercise in the pursuit of literacy?

The bottom line is that I’m for just about anything that encourages people to read, especially books. I remember as a child growing up in Ferry Pass walking or being driven by my parents to the small, private library on Davis Highway that, if memory serves, was named the Bickford-Jones Memorial Library. Its eclectic collection sparked my love of reading. Starting with the Tom Swift series and moving on from there, I discovered the magic of words on the page. I still remember the library’s late fees, which usually amounted to a few pennies … just enough to impress a kid who paid for sodas and cookies at Bell’s Country Store by picking up discarded pop bottles alongside the road to collect the deposit.

Anyway, if you don’t have the mini-libraries in your neighborhood, you should. And if you do, and you haven’t checked them out, you should do that, too. You won’t be disappointed.