Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What's Your Story?

Part of my job is to be an ambassador and promoter of the Little Free Libraries in our community.  Shasta Early Literacy Partnership gets volunteers to build the LFL's, we adopt them out to interested community members and provide used kids books to replenish the library if inventory runs low.

It's an interesting gig. 

I say that because I think the Little Free Library program is a fascinating study of human nature.  The vast majority of people love the idea, support the concept of getting books into the hands of kids, and are fired up about hosting a little box of books on their property.  Our LFL hosts come in all shapes and sizes....laundromat owners, country dwellers, public agencies, local parks, churches and banks.  They all lovingly tend their little box of literature.

And then there are the few skeptics in the crowd.  The naysayers.  The cynical.  These are the ones that don't believe a free library run on the honor system will ever work.  They worry about books being "stolen" or the Little Free Library being vandalized.  They see all the things going wrong in our world and assume the same will happen to anyone or anything that attempts to be a positive force in the community. 

I love trying to talk the cynics down from the cliff.  I convince them to give the public the benefit of the doubt.  Sure, there could be someone that would steal all the books.  But really, if our goal is to get books into every corner of the that such a bad thing?  Personally I would rather have the books be sitting in someone's home getting read than collecting dust in a Little Free Library.

Most days I'm proven right.  The honor system of "take a book, leave a book" is used honorably and Little Free Libraries recycle books at over 50 locations in Shasta County.

Today, it appeared that the cynics would have their day.  We had a Little Free Library that was wiped out completely.  One woman pulled up to the LFL with bags (The staff observed the incident through the window,  assumed she was dropping off some donated books and went about their business) and took every last one.  Adult books, children's board books, teen novels, everything.

Sometimes the system is abused.  But that doesn't mean the system is broken.

The host agency posted a simple message on their Facebook page, announcing their LFL was wiped out and asking friends to donate used books so they could keep their Little Free Library going.  The response was immediate and passionate.  After 8 hours, the simple post had been shared over 100 times.  20+ commenters promised to bring boxes and bags of donated books.  The local TV station picked up the thread and will be running a story on the evening news.

And then there were the cynics.  There was outrage, anger and plain old ugly comments directed at the perpetrator, and the community as a whole.  "Horrible idiot loser jerks." commented one.

"I'm embarrassed to call Redding home." posted another.  

Really?  Really?!

One person made a selfish choice.  One.

Over 20 others immediately responded with support and generosity in a tangible way by offering books, books and more books to replace those that were taken.  Book donors have come out of the woodwork and this Little Free Library will be stocked for MONTHS.  The overflow will be used to support another LFL in the neighborhood that gets heavy traffic. 

So, as far as I'm concerned there is no tragedy here.  There is no moral outrage to be had.  There is no reason for bashing the system, the government or the community.  Bad things happen.  Fair enough.  But is the story we tell about the ugliness or the beauty?  The bad or the good?  Do we focus on the loss or celebrate the generosity?

When I was interviewed by the news crew this afternoon, they asked me what I thought of the person that cleaned out all the books from this Little Free Library. 

"I'm just hoping she has ten kids at home that are enjoying all those books." I said. 

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

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