Books for the asking

At Shannon Zirkle- Prabhakar’s cosy apartment in Egmore, there is a batch of cookies and a plate of sandwiches set up for an informal meeting. Five of her friends join her for a discussion on the Little Free Library — a concept started in the U.S. that promotes reading by setting up small libraries outside homes, cafés and shops where people are encouraged to take a book and return another in its place.

Shannon, a photographer, along with her friends, introduced this concept to Chennai. The first Little Free Library came up at the Chesney Lane community in Egmore, set up by Shannon in August this year. And the number has grown to six already. “For the last few years, I’ve been thinking of starting a small library that people have easy access to. I honestly didn’t expect such a good response,” she beams. For her, the hardest thing about setting it up was putting together a bookshelf. Thankfully, she says, she had an old one she could use. The initiative came about when Shannon realised her house was overflowing with books; she immediately wanted to give some away. “Through the Little Free Library organisation, I set up the shelf and had a small launch party. Now, we have a thriving group on Facebook,” she says.

The concept is based on an honour system, where you trust people to return the same book or add another book to the pile. The little bookshelves, that resemble well-stocked birdhouses, have stickers on them, and every book that goes into a shelf is stamped with a small logo. Every location has different books, and for now, Shannon says, they’re starting with fiction. “Separating books into genres will take some time and it also depends on the location. For example, if we open one near a school, we may stock it up with school books,” she says.

Like Shannon mentioned, the problem of people not returning the books or stealing them is imminent. This, she says, can be looked at in two ways. “If they don’t return the book, we consider it to be donated. If they take a book and sell it for money, it means they really need it. We’re okay with both outcomes.”

If that is one problem, the initial cost of setting up is another. Shannon says she spent close to Rs. 5,000. “But that went towards making labels and becoming official — it means having a pin on the map.” On the official website of the Little Free Library, you can register your library for a small fee. Once you’ve been accepted, the map lists your library and lets visitors be aware of your presence, apart from making your library eligible for free book donations.

Ishani Appaya, who runs the Rutland Gate Yoga Studio, Nungambakkam, says that she’s had a lot of requests for books, and Moina Faheem Moosa, whose library makes its debut today at Sandy’s in Ganapathy Colony, says that she spoke to mothers about donating books to make the library children-friendly. She is also looking at schools to participate in a book donation drive. Farhana Suhail, who set up a library at Harrington Road’s Souk, praised the Harrington Road Residents Association for promoting the initiative and pitching in heavily. “Thanks to the association’s efforts, we’re soon planning to add another shelf.” Nisha Thota, who plans to set up a library at Shuddha International, Velachery, to reach out to the underprivileged, says she is looking out for Tamil books and also plans to take this initiative to the office of the Mylapore Deputy Commissioner of Police on December 5. Abhimanyu Prakash, a patron of the library at Luz House in Mylapore puts this project in perspective: “What makes the library is the community, more than anything else. If more people hear about it, the more it’ll grow.”

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 8:14:39 PM |

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