“Marginalia: Little Libraries in the Urban Margins
A few years ago libraries were flying high. I wrote a book about the so-called “third wave” library-building boom of the ’90s and early aughts, a boom made possible in part by the dot.com bubble. Today, nearly a decade later, our cities and their libraries find themselves in a very different situation. While libraries are welcoming record numbers of visitors and breaking circulation records, library budgets are facing drastic cuts, some of those flashy new buildings are often shuttered, and cities are resorting to the privatization or outsourcing of library services. Meanwhile, many services that patrons once relied on libraries to provide — specifically the provision and preservation of information in multiple formats — are now accessible elsewhere, including in our living rooms, and even in the palms of our hands.
Libraries are about much more, of course; they exist not simply to store and provide access to information. Advocates argue that libraries continue to serve crucial civic and social functions, and their tenacious faith is reinforced by a flurry of recent street-level library activity. The last few years have seen the emergence of myriad mini, pop-up, guerilla and ad-hoc libraries, which are part of the phenomenon that Mimi Zeiger, in her Interventionist’s Toolkit series for this journal, calls “provisional, opportunistic, ubiquitous, and odd tactics in guerilla and DIY practice and urbanism” — to which I might add, librarianship. Nowadays we have libraries in phone booths and mailboxes, in public parks and train stations, in vacant storefronts and parking lots. 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. As DePauw University librarian Mandy Henk puts it, “They … show the power of self-organization and what people can build working together, outside of traditional institutions. Building and using them is a form community empowerment.” 
These new library projects might seem to emerge from a common culture and uphold a common mission — a flurry of press coverage in late 2011 represented them as a coherent “little library” movement. But in fact they don’t. They have varied aims and politics and assumptions about what a library is and who its publics are; their collections and services differ significantly; and their forms and functions vary from one locality to another. I want to attempt here 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.”
Via: Design Observer
Photos via Design Observer