Free library for the people

By Chris Park
Reader Contributor

I’m a person who loves to lose myself within the pages of a good book. The outside world quickly fades away as well crafted words and soulful sentences transport me to another time and place. I love books, and books of all kinds: fiction feeds my imagination, history guides me in understanding current events more clearly, biographies and autobiographies convey the lives of fascinating people, and non-fiction provides an endless supply of new study subjects. There are infinite topics available in an endless number of books. 

An intellectual bird ponders the selection at the free library located on the boardwalk near Misty Mountain Furniture. Courtesy photo.

Well, I thought books were endless. 

When our public libraries closed down due to the nasty pestilence that invaded our lives and world late this past winter, strolling the aisles of the public library was no longer an option. Second-hand stores, shelves bursting with cheap novels, were closed. Bookstores closed down and my formerly spontaneous visits to a friend’s bookshelves were now off limits. Doors were fast closing to bibliophiles. Everyone by now had turned to downloading books online, but not me — no internet or cell service at my house. Going to town to download anything is a major inconvenience. Besides, I’m one who prefers the feel of a book: the heft of well-read, dog-eared pages that settle comfortably into my hands. Soon, I was facing a real shortage of reading material. 

Enter the free library — a global happening whereby ordinary folks provided the public with a bookshelf, which took on all variety of design and location, from simple to stunning, to be used as a local book exchange. 

This isn’t a new phenomenon, either. For generations, sailors and other travelers have been leaving books behind in various ports of call to share with those to come. Take a book, leave a book; it’s a wonderful example of recycling. 

Once while traveling, my wife and I were delighted to discover a treasure trove of books smartly shelved under a date palm in a remote desert oasis. We’ve also come across intentional book stashes in backcountry cabins, in alleys, at trailheads, at hostels and on random streets in random towns. Now, I keep several books specifically for exchange when we travel in case we stumble upon a free library. 

As it turns out, Sandpoint has a few of these little free libraries squirreled away on different streets and they were my savior during the shutdown. 

With the free time afforded us during the stay-at-home days this spring, my wife and I embarked on our own free library project and now are ready to strike the proverbial champagne bottle to the bow of our new readership. No, it’s not a free library resembling a boat like the one you can find on Fourth Avenue. Instead, it’s a bird themed, three-shelfer built using recycled materials that we recently installed on the boardwalk of the Misty Mountain Furniture building, located on the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Cedar Street. 

Although we’ve already got a good start, we’ll need your help to fully stock the shelves. I hope you’ll find (or leave behind) a great page-turner. Happy reading!

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