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Sad truth about Little Free Libraries – they are just cute

Posted May 10, 2017

Have you heard about Little Free Libraries? Sometimes called just Tiny Libraries they are said to be a cute modern way to share books. The idea is incredibly nice – you come, open the door and take any book you want. You read it and then return it. Or you can donate your books to them. However, a new study from University of Toronto and Ryerson University revealed a little sad truth about tiny libraries.

Little Free Libraries really look nice and are created with all the right intentions, but are they effective? Image credit: Burkhard Mücke via Wikimedia

Because the idea is so nice and people generally like sharing (whether to feel good about themselves or because they just have too many books, or because they really do believe in the cause, or whatever) tiny libraries quickly spread across the globe. One would imagine that free books are very helpful to those who cannot usually afford buying books or getting better education. Maybe even homeless people, for that matter. However, this new study revealed that it is rarely the case.

As it turns out, most of mini-free libraries are concentrated in well-educated, well-to-do neighbourhoods, where conventional libraries are situated too. Scientists doubt that this phenomenon encourages people to start reading, as residents in the area can afford to read if they choose to pick up this hobby. And they can go to public libraries, which are also free. Researchers say that because of this reason tiny libraries are “examples of performative community enhancement, driven more so by the desire to showcase one’s passion for books and education than a genuine desire to help the community in a meaningful way.”

Little Free Library is actually a non-profit based in Wisconsin, claiming to have 50,000 registered book exchanges worldwide. But does it really make a difference? Scientists completed spatial analysis of Little Free Libraries in Toronto and Calgary and found that most of the book exchange boxes are in well-educated, mostly white, wealthy areas. Furthermore, most of the little libraries are situated by actual libraries.

Finally, these little libraries are not exactly free. If you want to establish one, you will have to pay a registration fee, get permission from municipality and also pay for the box itself. And then in some parts of the world, municipal government may see it as an opportunity to reduce funding to actual public libraries, which is not good. So at the end of the day, the idea of tiny free libraries is very nice and highlights the communal spirit of sharing. But that is as far as it goes – it does not help disadvantaged people as much as we are lead to believe.


Source: University of Toronto

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