Linda-Marie Barrett, General Manager of Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe in Asheville, NC

My Love Affair with Libraries birthed a Little Free Library!

by Linda-Marie Barrett

I've been shaped by libraries, from childhood to the present day.  Pack Memorial Library is just a few doors down from Malaprop's and often my next stop after work. One of my earliest childhood memories was when I was about seven and applying for a library card at the bookmobile that visited our neighborhood. My mother didn't drive then, and our family had no discretionary funds for books. The bookmobile was our family's source of books. The bookmobile librarian checked my hands to see if they were clean enough to handle books, then allowed me the privilege of a card. The checkout limit was seven books a week, and I always hit the limit. The librarian usually selected books for me in advance and placed them on the bookmobile's hold shelf with my name on a piece of paper slipped in among the pages. I'd check out whatever she chose for me--usually novels with magical themes and biographies of women trailblazers--then wrestle the pile of books under my right arm and walk home with my mother, feeling like I'd won the lottery.  That bookmobile was my traveling circus, my magic show, and my church all wrapped up in one enchanted box on wheels.

Even though I spend my working life as a bookseller and cherish our sacred bookstore space, the library, any library really, is another home away from home. I deeply relax when I'm in a library. I'm surrounded by thousands of possible friends, escapes, challenges and comforts, all available to me for the price of a library card.  I love the smell of books that have spent some time in the world. I imagine who might have read the same book I'm holding. I wonder how it might have changed their life?

When I noticed Little Free Libraries popping up in neighborhoods around Asheville, I realized I could at last fulfill my dream of being a librarian! My partner, Jon, is a publisher representative; between us we have access to books for all ages and reading tastes. I went online to visit the Little Free Libraries organization and checked out their libraries for sale. Tempting as some of the deluxe styles are, I opted for the "Book Dynasty" model, described as a "no-frills, durable library" which we could customize.

I wanted to create a Tolkien-themed library to honor one of my favorite writers. Tolkien's works, particularly The Hobbit, have served for so many as a gateway into a life of reading. I sat down with Jon and we selected Tolkien images for three sides of the library: Smaug, The Tree of Gondor, and Rivendell. Jon beautifully painted those images based on Tolkien's original illustrations. We glued a gnome statuette on the roof to serve as Guardian of the Library.

On the 3rd of January, we installed our library with the help of Isaac Allen, the son of one of Malaprop's best customers, Maria Fire.  I was almost shaking with happiness when I finally put out my selection of books. The next day I practically ran to the library to see if any of the books were gone.  Half the books had been checked out!  Since then, some neighbors have added books, too--the Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet are recent additions.

I live in a modest neighborhood where many people walk to exercise and take in what's going on in our little community in East Asheville.  From my perch on our living room couch I've seen lots of neighbors visit the library and sometimes take a book. My goal is to curate a selection that children down the street will love, as will my older neighbors who aren't getting out as much but still would appreciate great reads easily available.  I want to make it possible for anyone in my neighborhood to enjoy a book without worrying about paying for it, for my library to be what the bookmobile was for me. I didn't need to own books when I was a child; I just wanted to read them! Our library is so new that I'm still learning what it takes to be a great steward, but I plan on being one.


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