Books without borders

Take a book, return a book: The Little Free Library at the Office of the Deputy Commisioner of Police, Mylapore, Chennai.   | Photo Credit: Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

You would go there if you lost something precious. You’d probably also go there if something is irking you in your neighbourhood. And, more often than not, you’d try your best to never go there. But, have you considered going to your nearest police station to bring home a book of Shakespeare’s writing?

If you live in and around Mylapore in Chennai, you can do just that. Walk into the Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mylapore, and walk out with a book in hand. And, you don’t have to be afraid to just pick one off the shelf, and walk off, because it is a Little Free Library!

You can find Little Free Libraries in many parts of the world and anyone can start one. All you need to do is keep a book in place of the one you take from the shelf. And, there’s no librarian to keep a watch on you.

If you have a few good books that you want people to read, a shelf and a space that is accessible to the public, you can even start one. And, the one at the police station is a fairly recent addition to the list of Little Free Libraries in Chennai, and India.

Farhana Suhail, Nisha Thota, and Shannon Zirkle-Prabhakar who together helped start the Little Free Library at the police station in December along with Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mylapore, V. Balakrishnan, say that the idea was to reach out to a wide range of people.

Nisha, who is a Managing Trustee of the NGO Shuddha, says that the Deputy Commissioner has been keen on stocking books at the police station.

“We have books in Tamil and English other than reference books here. People usually come to a police station when they are distressed and books can have a calming effect on them,” she says.

Mr. Balakrishnan says that he has started a library at places he has been posted earlier as well. “The idea is to enable visitors to spend their time productively when they are at the police station. The schedule of a police officer is not always fixed and if there is an emergency they would have to rush,” he says.

To make the visit pleasant

More importantly, the idea, he says, is also to make their visit to the station pleasant. “People often hesitate to visit a police station. Putting them at ease through books is our way of making it pleasant,” he says. “We have also got donations from visitors to the station,” says Mr. Balakrishnan.

The shelf at the station is stocked with books such as Bharathiar’s poetry, Abdul Kalam’s writing, the Oxford Dictionary, as well as classics such as Jonathan Livingston Seagull and The Time Machine, among many others.

Farhana, who is the steward for the library, says that they also get books from the community. “There are people who hear about the Little Free Libraries and donate books. We divide them among the libraries in Chennai depending on the specific needs,” she says.

Children from the Police Boys and Girls Club in Mylapore, also visit the library, they say. He says there are plans to take it to Police Boys and Girls Clubs in the short run.

Concept catching on

Shannon who started the first Little Free Library at Egmore in Chennai, says that the concept has picked up quite well. “There is nothing like having a book in hand and the library can help children get into the habit of reading. And, a Little Free Library is community driven,” she says, adding that they hold a regular meeting of stewards in Chennai. She has also started a book club, where people can discuss a book picked up from one of the libraries.

Suchitra Chari, who started a Little Free Library dedicated to children’s books at Vaer Organic in RA Puram, says that it will also encourage children to share and learn. Or as Sriram Narayanan, owner of Vaer Organic puts it, there is no money involved. “It runs just on goodwill and trust.”

What is a Little Free Library?

* Little Free Library is a concept that started in the U.S. and is now present in several countries, including India. It is essentially a bookshelf filled with books which is not supervised by anyone, and accessible to everyone.

* “Take a book, return a book”. That’s the idea. If you want to take or borrow a book from a Little Free Library, bring one to keep instead.

Anyone can start a Little Free Library

* All you need are a few good books that you would want people to read and a bookshelf. You can even ask your friends and neighbours to donate some!

* The shelf does not have to be huge or fancy. Use your creativity. You could even convert a shoe rack into a bookshelf.

* Fill the shelf with books.

* Now you have to find a space that is accessible to the public.

* Many Little Free Libraries can be found outside shops or cafes. In the U.S., many are placed near walkways since they have all-weather resistant bookshelves and are covered.

* If you want to start one in the common area of your apartment complex, for example, consult your apartment’s association and find out what they think about it.

* Once you are ready, you can register with the Little Free Library organisation, and they will officially put you on the global map. But this is optional.

* Also, see the map ( to find a library, closest to where you live.

* Each Little Free Library has a steward who takes care of the books.

* Visit for more details.

* Visit for help on getting started.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 12:41:13 PM |

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