Little Libraries Are Having a Big Impact

Public libraries across America are threatened by reduced staffing, resources, and hours due to budget cuts. However, "little libraries" are popping up in communities across the country as urbanists seek to redefine public space and librarianship.
June 2, 2012, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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At the same time that municipal budget cuts threaten the very existence of publicly supported library systems, so-called "little libraries" have emerged as their own subset of the DIY/Tactical urbanist movement.

"Nowadays we have libraries in phone booths and mailboxes, in public parks and train stations, in vacant storefronts and parking lots." writes Shannon Mattern. "Often these are spaces of experimentation, where new models of library service and public engagement can be test-piloted, or where core values can be reassessed and reinvigorated. They are also often an effort to reclaim - for the commons, for the sake of enlightenment (or does this term now carry too much baggage to be used without scare quotes?) - a small corner of public space in cities that have lately become hyper-commercialized, cities that might no longer reflect the civic aspirations of a diverse public."

Considering examples such as the People's Library in Zuccotti Park that was part of the Occupy movement and the UNI project, Mattern attempts to "identify a loose, and inevitably leaky, typology of "little libraries" - to figure out where they're coming from, how they relate to existing institutions that perform similar roles, and what impact they're having on their communities."

"The little library movement is enabling us - sometimes unintentionally, sometimes not - to appreciate the distance that separates these ephemeral, marginal spaces and projects from the strong, stable public institutions that have been so central to our cities, and to our democracy."

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Published on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 in Places
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