Free Ideas

Several years ago, I initiated a free library at my condo complex in San Jose. I asked the Home Owners Association Board for their approval, and they were kind enough to donate some shelving that was in the community room. I moved the shelves to a lounge area, put up a notice about it in the mail room, and the shelves were soon filled.

The following year when I returned in the spring, I found that not only were the shelves filled, but so was the floor nearby. Books had been piled along the nearby wall and the piles stretched for about twenty feet. Many of those books were the novels and everyday reference books that I had anticipated, but some were college texts, some were large coffee table books about architecture, and some were religious books.

It seemed to me that those latter books would have limited interest among the condo community and, after waiting a few weeks, I decided they had to go. I loaded them into my wheeled suitcase and transported them to my car in the underground garage. It took three trips. Then I drove to a used-book store and explained to the man behind the counter that I had a lot of books to donate. I brought them all into the store for his assessment (again taking three trips), and was pleased that he took about two-thirds of them. He wanted to give me a store credit, but I declined. I had not paid for any of these books and didn’t feel I was owed anything.

What I was left with were all of the college textbooks and about half of the religious books. That surprised me. I thought the college textbooks were new enough to be of use, but it seems the academic textbook industry has made even two-year-old books redundant. This infuriates me, but is a topic for another blog post. The used-book store was happy to take the books on architecture and that pleased me because they were quite splendid. I have a feeling they were the remnants of some realtor’s property staging and probably would be used for the same purpose again. Whatever works is fine by me.

Next, I had to decide what to do with the remaining books. I drove to the San Jose State University campus and asked at their used-book store if they would like my donations. They demurred for the same reasons as the commercial used book store that I had gone to earlier. They did, though, suggest that I donate them when they had a fund-raising book sale later in the year.

I didn’t want to wait for that event, and I wanted to get the books out of the trunk of my car. So, I drove back to the condo and, with an aching heart, dropped them all into the trash dumpster. I would have put them in the recycling dumpster but, sadly, books are not recyclable. That is also a topic for another day.

Since then, the little free library has continued to be available and in regular use at the condo complex. The shelving has moved from the lounge (which is now the mailroom) to the space that had formerly housed the mailboxes. Each year until Covid-19 arrived I went through the contents, discarded miscellaneous litter that seems to collect behind the books, and moved the books on the lowers shelves up to the higher shelves. It always interests me to see what books have been donated and what books have remained un-borrowed. I have been unable to check on it since early 2020, and I wonder what has happened to this collection. I hope someone has cared enough to keep it tidy.

As I walk around my neighbourhood in Edmonton, I take note of the locations of the little free library boxes outside the houses. It is pleasing to see at least five within walking distance of my home. I have donated to some of them, and I have thought about getting one of my own. The official boxes from the Little Free Library organization are a bit too expensive for my budget and I have been thinking about whether or not I could make one myself. I could afford the materials, but my carpentry skills are wanting.

Today I think I found a solution. I saw the creative re-use of a free-newspaper box and that is what is pictured in this blog post. It is ideal. It it the right size, it will survive an Edmonton winter, and it doesn’t require a coin to open it. This owner has repainted it in cheerful colours and I was glad to see it filled with books. Now I’m on the lookout for a free free-newspaper box. If anyone in the area knows where I can find one, please let me know. I have the itch to create another little free library.