How I Met My Neighbours - One Book at a Time

I’ve been amazed over the past month at the response to our new street library. I’ve received more comments, likes and shares than anything else I’ve ever posted on Facebook, so I began thinking – what is it about the street library that captures people’s imaginations? Surely it’s not just the fabulous job my kids did decorating our wooden box with sparkly mirrors and jewels…so why is the idea of sharing books with neighbours and community exciting to so many people?

Building Friendships

A Street Library named "Dumbledore"!

When I began researching street libraries in preparation for starting our own, I found a fabulous slide show online, about a lady who launched her street library with a party, at which the street band played, and neighbours gathered over tables of food and books. It demonstrated the power of books to bring people together, the way we often chat to people on trains or trams if they’re reading something we’ve read before. The type of books we read says a great deal about who we are, and discussing favourites we have in common can easily become the basis of a new friendship.

Then I found an article about the street library movement in the Sydney Morning Herald, which made me even more excited than I already was to get ours up and running! The theme of connection and relationships ran through the article: “These grassroots initiatives can be much more than a box of books and a way of raising literary standards. In many places, they become community hubs – places where unexpected friendships bloom.” The article talks about the founder of the movement in the U.S., who feels that people are craving conversation as much as books. Street “librarians” often comment about the discussions they hear over their front fence, and the relationships they themselves have developed with their neighbours as a result of the books being shared outside their homes.

Discovering Community

I felt these effects within days of installing our own street library, which we have fondly named Dumbledore. We received several beautiful cards from neighbours we’ve never met before, sharing their excitement about the initiative. I’ve since had many conversations with people I’ve been passing on the street throughout the six years I’ve lived here, but have never stopped to talk to before. I’ve chatted with mums about their struggles to get their kids reading, and suggested books they might like to try. I’ve met teachers walking by, and shared anecdotes about reading with our classes. And I’ve only had the street library for one month – I can’t wait to see what happens as the community discovers Dumbledore and begins to share increasingly in the experience.

Human Connection

In the past year I’ve been concentrating more on working towards my dream of writing for children, and I’ve made great connections with people I’ve met at workshops and events, around the types of books we love. As you can imagine, there aren’t many adults who read junior and middle grade fiction in their spare time, or spend their days perusing the children’s sections of their local libraries and bookshops! But in recent months I’ve bonded with some lovely like-minded people, with whom I can share not only my writing journey, but also recommendations for which kids’ book I should read next (always such a difficult decision!).

All this thinking and research has led me to consider that as much as reading is ultimately a solitary pastime, it is also a way to bring people together and foster not just friendships, but a real sense of community spirit. So just when I thought I couldn’t love books any more than I already did, I discovered they have a whole new value that I’d never considered before. I feel like books will play a big role in many of my future adventures, and I can’t wait to connect, share and converse with readers I meet along the way. 

Have books ever helped you develop an unexpected relationship? Do you think a street library could help create community spirit in your neighbourhood? If so, try building your own...and if your carpentry skills aren't up to it, Street Library Australia will make it easy for you!

Are you concerned about how much screentime your kids are getting? Me too - read this next.