Chances are you’ve stumbled upon a Little Free Library (LFL) in your neighborhood or someone else’s. If you’re like me, your eyes light up when you find one. You rush to it inspecting the treasure, a tiny, mini lending library! You admire the craftsmanship (Have you seen some of them!) They’re architectural marvels! You browse the collection. Maybe you find children’s literature, science fiction, or sapphic romance! Maybe you take a book and maybe you leave one. It’s a brilliant concept and with step-by-step instructions available for free on the Little Free Library website, it’s easy to create your own and join the growing list of volunteer stewards with a passion for sharing the joy of reading. In case you didn’t know, LFL is a nonprofit organization with 100,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide in over 100+ countries with 42 million books shared annually. It’s more astonishing when you dig a little deeper and realize the impact Little Free Libraries have on the literary community.
Little Libraries are so much more than blueprints for building libraries, they bridge gaps and fill book deserts in underinvested communities. Without basic resources, like safe, affordable, and reliable transportation accessing a public library is difficult. The greater the access to books in or near home the more a child will learn and love to read. This is especially powerful because “…Two out of three children living in poverty have no books to call their own.” Book access matters.
In addition to increasing access to books, another core value to LFL is promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Publishing has a diversity problem. There are data to back this up with national and international organizations leading research to better understand the issue. Lee & Low Books published a Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS 1.0) in 2015 which resulted in an eye-opening reflection of the state of publishing in the United States and confirmed a long-held assumption, that publishing is white. In 2019, Spread the Word, based in the United Kingdom led the research, Rethinking Diversity in Publishing that focused on diversity among employees inside publishing houses. Through research, the industry is seeing trends on who is being published, who works in publishing, and what barriers to inclusion exist. Lee & Low’s DBS 2.0, conducted in 2019 again painted a similar picture as what was portrayed in 2015 with “some” reflections of diversity in some areas however, “The 2015 survey reported that overall, 79 percent of people who work in publishing self-report as White. Given the sample size difference, this 3 percent change in white employees does not meet the bar for statistically significant change. There is no discernible change to any of the other racial categories. In other words, the field is just as White today as it was four years ago.” Equity work takes time. Disrupting the status quo is daunting, but it can be done when there is a commitment to do so.
Understanding why inequity exists and a willingness to acknowledge there is a problem is a first step in the right direction. Undoing racism is also learning more about it, understanding its roots and structure, how it's operationalized, and then using the tools and techniques to bring about change. Racial Equity Tools offers, research, data, case studies, and ideas for getting started. It's a great place to be inspired, however, the work doesn't stop there. There must be a commitment to doing racial equity work even when it's hard, and even in the face of power structures that are designed to oppress and which are lead by powerful, complacent people. This work, albeit hard, is also deeply satisfying. Seeing change and being a part of it even if it's incremental is reason to celebrate!
While on Instagram I ran across a call for action from the #standupforaapi community. They shared clear, actionable ways people can support Asian literature. It's no surprise that the Little Free Library is on the list. Little Libraries are a part of the solution and it's an easy way to inspire change starting, right now.
Little Free Library's Read in Color is a new initiative that helps bring more perspectives on racism, social justice and brings Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQ, and other marginalized voices into LFLs. Volunteer stewards can apply to receive shipments of diverse reads at no cost, which are purchased from BIPOC-owned independent bookstores. Another way to fill your LFL with diverse reads is to purchase books written by BIPOC authors. In a panel presentation on this topic, with my friend and fellow author, Anne Shade she recommended when purchasing books written by BIPOC authors, to purchase two. One for you, and one to share. Brilliant I say!
West Roxbury Diverse Libraries Little Libraries in West Roxbury, MA is dedicated to diversity and anti-racism education, knows about the joy that comes along with diversifying Little Free Libraries. "Since starting the little libraries I've received many messages from people in the community thanking us for creating a space where they and their families can find themselves represented in stories or learn about experiences different than their own."
Are you ready to take action and diversify your shelf? Let me know the title of the last book you enjoyed by a BIPOC author (by July 1, 2021) to be entered to win my latest novel, Prize Money, and a $25 gift certificate to either Interlude Press Web Store, or Book Depository where you can get even more diverse reads for your neighborhood Little Free Library!*
*If a winner is chosen from the US, the prize of a signed copy of my novel and a $25 gift card to the Interlude Press Web Store. If an international winner is selected, the prize is an unsigned copy of my novel and a $25 gift to Book Depository (which has free worldwide delivery.)
Special thanks and a debt of gratitude to the world-famous, fabulous, Jae for sharing her platform and resources and helping me meet new readers!