Street libraries are boxed shelters for books, managed by passionate local ‘librarians’. These tiny vestibules of literary happiness can be enjoyed, refilled and built by anyone.
Often planted in a front yard, community garden or close to schools, street libraries are easily accessible 24/7. There’s no need to ‘check out’ a book or sign up for a library card, you simply take whatever piques your interest. Once you’ve finished with the book you can return it or pass it on to a friend.
Cecile Schuldiener, general manager of the Street Library organisation, hopes to reach the goal of 5000 registered street libraries across Australia by 2021. In NSW alone, there are now over 1000 street libraries and this number is steadily growing.
Here’s a snapshot of six splendid street libraries in NSW, from Springwood to St Leonards, Matraville to Mudgee.
1. Springwood Gumnut Library
This beautiful street library can be found nestled in the garden of Springwood Pink House in the Blue Mountains. For Wendie Sullivan, one of the most enjoyable parts of being a street librarian is overhearing people chatting near her home while picking out a new book.
Wendie believes that sharing books is especially important in the age of social media. ‘The act of sitting down and reading a book, flicking through the pages, seeing the crease marks or notes someone has made is something that social media cannot recreate,’ she said.
2. Evan’s Garden Library
Located at Glenwood, Evan’s Garden Library has it all — books, plants, seeds, soil, homegrown fruit and handwritten notes. Jenny and her 7-year-old son, Evan, started this community project when COVID restrictions hit in March 2020.
‘In a time of uncertainty, worry and turmoil this little project brought our community together,’ she said. ‘Sometimes it’s the kids walking home from school who drop in for a snack, or the tired new mum out on a walk who needs a chocolate pick me up.’
3. Taren Point Street Library
Outside the gates of Taren Point Public School lies a bookish box, full of literary treats. Office administrator Anyes McLean said, ‘We wanted to share our love of reading outside the school gate to the wider community.’
One memory that fills Anyes with joy was a heartfelt conversation she had with a regular borrower. ‘He told me how much he values the library, especially since he was not working due to COVID… He loved reading but was unable to afford books.’
4. The Country Exchange
This cute, willow-themed street library in central Mudgee has brought together lifelong readers, curious kids and generous handymen. English teacher Kirsty Skinner was thrilled when the Mudgee Men’s Shed agreed to build the box.
‘I believe books and storytelling are important to us as humans and how we engage with our world. Reading can open doors and inspire us to think about life and experiences beyond our understanding,’ said Kirsty.
5. The Very Hungry Street Library
Inspired by everyone’s favourite hungry caterpillar, this fabulous street library can be found at Matraville in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. Eveline Molines said the library was inspired by her granddaughter’s favourite book.
‘I have just retired and planting a street library in my street helps me to meet people who live around me. Even if it's a simple hello and a smile to brighten up the day,’ she said.
6. Multilingual Street Library
This special street library is planted in St Leonards, Sydney. It was built by Elisa Jeffrey, an educator at FROEBEL — a bilingual childcare centre that recognises the importance of sharing diverse books.
‘Being in a big city, sometimes the sense of community can be lost and something as simple as a little library can bring some warmth and a sense of belonging,’ said Elisa. ‘Reading to your child is a great way to enhance their language skills and it’s also a beautiful way to have some one-on-one time as a family.’
To find out how you can build, register and find street libraries near you head to streetlibrary.org.au
Annie Tong, Media and Communications
This story appears in Openbook Summer 2020.