THE Irish are said to be a nation of writers, and this love of books extends to miniature free libraries, which are popping up in hotels, train stations, schools and even in telephone boxes.
The miniature libraries are made of wood with glass cases that can be opened; users take a book and bring a book. The libraries are spreading, thanks to two organisations: the international littlefreelibrary.org, founded in America, and the freeweelibrary.com founded in Donegal in 2013.
Christian Shaffalitzky’s library, on Vernon Grove, Rathgar, Dublin, has been causing a stir since it opened a year ago.
“My wife and I enjoy it a lot — it’s great craic and a great way to meet the neighbours. Basically, my house was drowning in books and I used to do a bit of carpentry and wanted to build the bookcase. Local taxi-drivers were probably our first users; they read a lot, but kids’ books are the most popular — sometimes, you hear them squeal in delight when they find a book they want. The bookcase always has books in it, except last August, when everybody went on holidays and we were almost cleaned out.”
In Donegal, freeweelibrary.com started as a community scheme to promote positive mental health. Artist Geraldine Timlin said she wanted to share and also encourage people to explore the outdoors, so their first ‘wee’ libraries were in scenic areas.
Now the libraries are expanding commercially.
“We’re doing a library for Mount Shannon, in Clare, and we even gifted a library to Michael D Higgins, when he visited Inishowen during our recent Feel Good Fortnight — we understand his library will be in the grounds of the Aras,” says Geraldine.
The freeweelibrary.com can build a book cabinet for you and send it to your venue. Your library will also appear on an online map, showing people your location.
In Dublin, the Sandymount Hotel, became the first hotel in Ireland to open a ‘free wee’ library, this October. The hotel’s green policy co-ordinator, Ruth Cooper, says she was aware of the library idea internationally and wanted to initiate something similar here.
“We didn’t buy any books, all were donated; some by staff and sometimes books are left behind by guests. Both guests and staff love it, but our next goal is to promote it more amongst local school children and to the wider community,” Ruth says.
Others, too, have embraced miniature libraries, but are doing it their own way. There are miniature libraries in Portmarnock, Dublin, and on Valentia Island, but in Ballinahown, Westmeath, a quirky library in an old phone box is such an attraction locals have their wedding photos taken beside it.
“A few years ago, we rescued our phone box when it was being removed and then the nearest library to us were doing a clear-out and I’d an idea we could start a library in the phone box,” says artist, Helen Conneely, who is involved in the Tidy Towns initiative.
“In the Tidy Towns, they award extra points for sustainability and upcycling. The idea is to make something out of nothing and to do it creatively, so even the shelves in the box are made from fencing,”says Helen.
In Kerry, at Killarney train station, station master Catherine Cahill installed a book cabinet in the waiting room, in the autumn of 2013, and plans a second ‘library’ for Tralee station.
“Staff bring in books, as do regular customers. People do appreciate the library — it creates a talking point. It’s recycling, as well, and with Killarney being a tourist spot we’re encouraging people coming on holidays to bring us their unwanted books, next time they’re passing through’ says Catherine.
The idea of a book exchange occurred to Tipperary’s Marie Nagle-Kennedy, owner of Nenagh café, Cinnamon Alley, when she was holidaying in France.
“In the complex we were staying in, people would leave behind books in the bar and, last year, when we were changing the café décor, I wanted a warm feeling and thought a library was a good idea,” she says.
“Parents love it — it teaches children about sharing. Kids love it, as do the regular morning mass ladies, who come in after mass to bring a book or take a book, and maybe have tea and do some knitting. I love it — it’s about community, it’s about being friendly.”