The street libraries of the Northern Beaches

You may have noticed them popping up around your local streets — cute little boxes full of books ready to be borrowed.

While the hallowed library dates back to ancient times, the street library is a new and charming initiative that’s perfect for bringing neighbourhoods together, promoting local authors, passing on old books and generally just fostering a love of reading.

So when did the street library appear, where can you find one, and how do you get in on the action?

The beginning

The concept of the street library, originally called public bookcases, goes back to the 1990s when German performance artist duo Clegg and Guttmann placed bookcases full of books in public places as an artistic act.

By the 2010s, the idea had spread, and public bookcases were popping up worldwide.

Soon, the idea morphed and provisions were taken for the weather, leading to the cute little covered boxes so familiar today.

Street Library Australia founder Nic Lowe brought the idea to Australia after seeing a street library at a community garden in Portland, Oregon.

How do street libraries work?

The concept of the street library is very simple.

Borrow a book and leave a book.

It is a trust-based system. If you don’t return a book, there won’t be any penalties like in an official library. In fact, you can keep the book if you want, but if you do, you are expected to replace it with another book. This way, the level of books in the street library remains adequate, and the available titles cycle, thus ensuring a changing array of choices for those who frequent the street library.

Most street libraries have adult, young adult, and children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction. The selection depends on what people are willing to donate.

What are the benefits of street libraries?

Street libraries are an excellent source of reading material for children and young people. They are free, can be easier to access than public libraries and come without the hassle of needing a library card or suffering late fees.

Street libraries are also a perfect way to promote authors. If you have written a book and want people to read it, why not pop a copy in a few street libraries? Even if you have an author you love and want to share, perhaps someone local, street libraries are an easy way to do this.

They also foster a sense of community. Knowing that the people in your area are sharing books makes you feel part of something. They don’t have to be in the street either; many apartment blocks are now adding street libraries to their foyers.

How to find your nearest street library

Street Library Australia has a webpage dedicated to finding street libraries nationwide. Street libraries have become very popular on the Northern Beaches; check the map; you will find five in Allambie Heights alone.

One of them, Wormie’s Book Library at 41 Churchill Crescent, was kindly donated by bestselling Australian crime writer Candice Fox and is always well-stocked with children’s books.

Create your own street library

If you still feel there isn’t a street library close enough to you, why not start your own? That way you can enjoy some bibliotherapy… which is a novel prescription.

To create your own street library, you just need to build a weatherproof box and attach it to your fence. However, if you want to put it on the verge, you will need council approval.

The best street libraries are colourful and easy to spot. Any whimsical touches you can add, like making it look like a little house or having your children paint pictures on it, will add to its appeal.

You also want to ensure your library is easily accessible from the street and keep it well stocked. Books are easy to source, whether you nab some from your own shelves or head to a local op shop. You’ll notice other locals are quite quick to contribute.

Contact Street Library Australia so that your library can be added to their map. They also have a very useful and extensive page on their website to help you start your own library.

Let us know if you have seen a street library near you, or contact us for a property-related enquiry.

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