Perched atop a post outside a house on Victoria Park Road lies a small hut that, from a distance, could be an ornately decorated birdhouse or, less likely, a microwave. But while there’s no food inside, those with an appetite for reading won’t be disappointed, as it holds books, which members of the public can borrow and return without charge.
The Little Free Library project is a nationwide initiative though strongly concentrated in East London. Victoria Park Road and Clissold Park are the two Hackney outposts, then there’s Leyton, Leytonstone, Stratford and 12 in Walthamstow, the erstwhile home of the charity’s manager, Nick Cheshire.
“We’re looking to promote reading, literacy and art, and a sense of community engagement,” says Cheshire, who founded Little Free Libraries UK with his wife, Rebecca, last year.
The libraries are ‘hosted’ by volunteers, who promote them locally and keep an eye on stocks, and they are decorated by local artists wherever possible. One is emblazoned with a handsome red fox, others are inspired by William Morris and Jackson Pollock.
Children and families may be the primary focus of the libraries, though Cheshire insists anyone can make use of them.
“It’s a simple process of take a book, return a book, donate a book and if you want to take a book that’s absolutely fine. If you want to donate or return it that’s fine but you don’t have to. Some people will use them as a book exchange, other people might not be able to afford books and find that it’s nice to have free access to them.”
Little Free Libraries originate in the United States, where Cheshire discovered them and was inspired to bring the concept to the UK.
Given our increasing reliance on technology, the idea of a Little Free Library seems something more suited to a bygone time. But Cheshire says that the tangibility of books sets them apart from their digital counterparts.
“We’re not against the technology of Ipads or Kindles but I think the idea that it’s your copy of a book and you can inscribe something in the cover is really special. We’re trying to promote real books as much as reading in general as well.”