Societies have always benefitted from having libraries. More than just row upon row of novels, dictionaries, encyclopedias, biographies, textbooks and the like, libraries level our playing fields. Regardless of station, income or education, all have equal access to higher learning, entertainment and even escape inside their local library.
In recent years, the word library has found use in other ways that create accessibility in our communities. Beyond books and films, libraries now provide free access to tools, music, food and even people. Here are some of the more unconventional libraries you may find near you (and if not, maybe you’ll help start one!).
Little Free Library
Pretty cabinets of gently loved books are popping up in neighbourhoods everywhere. They might be a purchased kit from the Little Free Library organization, or something lovingly refinished and repurposed. These are created by true book lovers who place them in a public space, often their own curbside, where they’ll be seen and used, where anyone can borrow a book or leave one for someone else. There are more than 100,000 locations registered with Little Free Libraries in the world today.
Several European airports have dedicated space to a small library where travellers can check out a book to read while waiting for their flight; some require you to leave the book behind, others let you take it with you and return it when you return. And some accept drop-offs or trade-ins from passengers, similar to Little Free Libraries. In keeping with the times, some airports offer free e-book downloads to travellers’ iPads and e-readers.
In 2018, Halifax Stanfield International Airport partnered with Halifax Public Libraries, allowing Nova Scotia passengers to use their library card to check out books from a kiosk in the airport. Learn more at BooksNowBoarding.ca.
Being a handy person can save you lots of money as a homeowner, but building up the necessary toolkit can be expensive. That’s where knowing someone who can loan you a tool can be the perfect fix to your problem. The St. John’s Tool Library in St. John’s, NL, is a non-profit with an inventory of tools to loan out and volunteers with expertise in using them. They even offer DIY workshops where, for a modest fee, you can hone your handy skills.
Baby Clothes Library
Launched near the end of 2020, deep in pandemic times, the Baby Clothes Library non-profit group helps support families and lengthen the lifespan of baby products. Babies grow so fast that most of their clothes are hardly worn. It’s expensive to keep a baby in new clothes, materials that are too valuable to just toss out. So the Baby Clothes Library packages gently used baby clothes, including outerwear and shoes, according to size and gender (and also gender neutral). For a very small membership fee ($10 per year), folks can borrow a bundle of clothes and return them when their baby outgrows them. The Baby Clothes Library operates out of the St. John’s Tool Library space and on Facebook.
Musical Instrument Library
Armed with a Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries (NLPL) card, you can loan out a musical instrument. The Sun Life Financial Musical Instrument Lending Library operates out of the A.C. Hunter Library in St. John’s, which joins a growing list of Canadian libraries adding musical instruments to their offerings thanks to generous donations. There are more than a dozen instruments in the collection, from an accordion to bongo drums, a ukele, a violin and several guitars, including one donated by local musician Alan Doyle.
Users of the Human Library® can have a conversation with a real person who’s offered themselves as an “open book.” Founded in Denmark in 2000, the Human Library® means to give users a chance to learn about and from volunteers who represent sectors of society that may be underrepresented, commonly misunderstood or often stereotyped. These libraries have spread to six continents to become a global movement that celebrates diversity. In 2019, the now-defunct Refugee Immigration and Advisory Council hosted a Human Library® event in St. John’s, NL, with five volunteer “titles” to check out. They were all newcomers to the province willing to share their varying backgrounds and experiences, and included a Thai restauranteur and a Mexican filmmaker.
Community Seed Library
Created to preserve heirloom, rare and culturally significant plants, community seed libraries loan out seed packets to members. Those members have to agree to sow the seed and grow the plants to maturity, and then harvest a portion of those seeds to return to the library. It’s a way of keeping the library’s stock of significant seeds fresh and viable.