May 4, 2015 by Debra Gittler
CONTEXTOS’ LITTLE FREE LIBRARY… (SIGH)
A few weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune highlighted the presence of Little Free Libraries in Chicago neighborhoods. Little Free Library (LFL) is a global grassroot movement that encourages people to set up free-standing book-exchanges on their lawns. In Spanish, the movement is known as Libro-Libre (Free Book, but free as in “freedom” or “liberation”, more than expense.)
Immediately, we at ConTextos got excited. Over FaceTime, we talked about setting up a LFL in front of our office in Santa Tecla, El Salvador and our home-office in Chicago. We started imagining LFL’s in front of each of our schools. After all, these free-standing exchanges aren’t just about access to books, but also about the community building as neighbors connect around a central meeting point.
Of course, there were concerns. In El Salvador, would the libraries be stolen or vandalized? In Chicago, I’d read the LFL’s website and some owners complained of books being stolen. And then, of course, the practical concerns: it’s about to be rainy season in El Salvador… How would we keep the books dry?
So here’s the story of the birth of ConTextos’ very first Little Free Library. And it’s death…
Monday, April 27, 2015
In under 48 hours I would be returning to El Salvador, and I desperately wanted to get our LFL started. I went online to LittleFreeLibrary.org and signed up so that our library could be part of the worldwide global network. Then, I headed to my neighborhood thrift shop, The Ark.
At The Ark, I was looking for shelves or maybe a type of cupboard when a super-outdated microwave caught my eye. It was perfect! Almost as big as an oven, couldn’t possibly be useful these days, and big enough for books. Plus cool, hipster and DIY (do it yourself)—exactly what I was looking for. I scoured the store for a stand and found a small metal tabletop. Then I went looking for books and found a small collection of 10 books including picture books, children’s books, novels… good stuff that would draw the attention of users.
Mondays is 50% off at The Ark. I bought everything for $23.
Then I got home (via a very helpful Uber driver from Lebanon. We talked about Peace in the Middle East…). He helped me set everything up right outside ConTextos’ Chicago home to see if it was a good fit.
It looked awesome! It was a beautiful sunny day and I was excited to get going. Wanting to spend as little money as possible, I remembered some old paint samples that were stored away, so I began to paint.
I talked to Rebe and Ale in El Salvador. “We’re worried that a microwave here would get stolen,” the ladies chimed in unison over the phone. Our office microwave had gone kaput a few weeks before. I joked back saying that, according to what I’d read on-line, my biggest worry in Chicago was the books getting stolen! And besides, we didn’t have to use a microwave in El Salvador… it could be something more permanent…
But I realized that, as much fun as I was having, it would’ve been a lot more fun—and meaningful—with some help. So I called my nephew Kelema, who was busy playing at the park after school (K’s in Kindergarten), on one of Chicago’s first beautiful spring days. “I need help painting,” I explained. Kelema was at my door within 30 minutes.
Kelema took over the painting! (of the microwave, a sweatshirt, his forehead and my pants). But also took control of the design! Over FaceTime, Kelema and I connected with El Salvador to discuss with Ale and Rebe.
“Should we call it Bibliotequita Gratis?” I asked.
Ale explained that in Colombia, the movement is called Libro Libre. But in Spain some people call their libraries Pequeña Biblioteca Gratuita—a literal translation. We decided on Bibliotequita Gratuita.
I printed out ConTextos’ logo to add to the library as Kelema wrote up our signs:
Little Free Library / Bibliotequita Gratuita
Take a book / Leave a book.
Yes… it’s amazing! Kelema turned six just last month and can already write that well! Kelema’s a reading-writing Rock Star!
We set up the library. Taping on the logos and instructions.
Kelema immediately started screaming: “Books for sale! Books for sale!” I had to explain the concept… I explained to K that I wanted to see how things went while I was out of town so that when I returned to Chicago in a month, we could have a Library Opening Party, and invite all of the neighbors. Kelema started planning a Library for his apartment, too.
Thursday April 30, 2015. Not even 72 hours later
The Little Free Library is free at last… gone. Taken. Not just the books. Not just the microwave. Everything.
My instinct says it was the metal scrappers. Vans go up and down the alleys daily grabbing anything and everything they can.
We aren’t going to give up. We will launch a new Little Free Library in Chicago—this time with a chain and lock—and are going ahead to establish one in front of our office in El Salvador.
Honestly, it makes me laugh. I’m not worried or even too bother that it got stolen. After all, I didn’t lock it up. I’m glad it got stolen rather than vandalized… I was a little worried that someone drunk on his or her way from the nearby bars would have tossed the microwave through a window.
This can happen anywhere! It doesn’t mean we give up. And since we’re going to try again (and maybe again and again and again and again) in Chicago, there’s nothing to stop us from making it work in El Salvador, too!
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