A Column by Mary Ellen Collins
I assumed that having a sidewalk library in Old Northeast would be a simple, no-maintenance undertaking. People would take books and leave books; and my husband, John, and I would have an easy way to share the books we’d finished and enjoy some new ones. Although all four of those things have happened, I’ve also had to deal with library users whose actions have surprised, annoyed, and completely freaked me out.
Take the closet cleaners – the people whose drop-offs have included a 1982 Guinness Book of World Records and a Diocesan Budget and Membership Directory. Not only do these de-clutterers find me a convenient drop-off spot, but they also stuff a dozen books into space for four. Granted, I did purchase a two-shelf model, but still … I want my library to be neat, and that means one straight row of paperbacks on the bottom and a straight pile of hardbacks on the top.
The morning I found that a new jumble of books had been jammed in sometime since the evening before, I was ready to post a sign. I wanted it to say, “This is a library, not the trash! Stop dumping your junk!” But my neighbor, Tori, suggested a friendlier approach and wrote a little poem to post: “Welcome Readers! Take what interests you. Donate when you’re through. To help us keep it organized, please only leave a few.” I still get detritus from closets and bookcases, but not as much, and the major dumps have stopped. Fingers crossed that the behavior change lasts.
And then there’s the content of the books people leave. On the day the drop-offs included Sarah Palin’s memoir and a recent tome by Ann Coulter, my reaction was visceral. I plucked them out and placed them in a box of random things we were taking to Goodwill. When a colleague asked whether relegating them to those shelves wasn’t just the same as having them in the library – since people could access them from both places – I said, “My library represents me and I never claimed to be nonpartisan.” It hadn’t occurred to me that something like this would happen. I get many books I would never read, like romance novels and military history, but they don’t prompt feelings like the ones triggered by those conservative ladies. Ann and Sarah have a right to their opinions, people have a right to read them, and I have a right not to be a party to that. If you’re interested, you might still find them on the shelves at the Goodwill store on Gandy.
And that brings me to the day I looked in the library and found a copy of Mein Kampf. I was speechless as I handed it to John, and our neighbors were just as stunned. “Who would own that?” we asked each other. “And who would think it would be a good idea to pass it on?” It was an unsettling find, and one that I didn’t think Goodwill needed, either. It’s completely against my nature to throw a book away, but that one had to go.
I didn’t realize I would feel the need to curate my collection. And even though others probably consider it censorship, I own that. Just like I own my library. My goal is to share free books with fellow bookworms, and I’m doing it in a way that works for me. Right this minute the offerings include novels, mysteries, a sci-fi trilogy, a sports biography, two cookbooks, some self-help and a well-worn copy of Brown Bear, Brown Bear. That’s my definition of something for everyone.