Belinda T: Chronicling little libraries across Adelaide
When Belinda T was diagnosed with a chronic illness, she was devastated but having to put her reading in the backseat pained her more. After all, books have been the enduring love of Belinda’s life, so much so that the 42-year-old started reading much before stepping into an elementary school. But the illness prevented the Adelaidean from taking solace in the familiar comfort books for a long time. Therefore, in a bid to make up for lost time, the bibliophile started Little Libraries of SA, an interesting project that helps Belinda chronicle street libraries in and around Adelaide. She aims to not only create awareness about these libraries but also stock up on titles she hadn't read before. The former nurse also donates books to various street libraries and encourages people to get in touch with her if they come across any little libraries on their own.
Falling tragically ill
“I have been a reader all my life, but I stopped paying attention to books when I was diagnosed with a rare chronicle disease. I got the flu in 2010 which triggered an illness called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a dysfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System that affects heart rate, blood pressure, temperature control, digestion, breathing and more. In practical terms, it means I can’t stand up or walk for long as my body doesn’t deal with gravity very well and all the blood pools in my legs, leaving not much left for my head. This freaks my body out, and it tries its best to keep me upright. It’s all a bit complex, and most doctors haven’t heard about it, so it’s not completely understood,” explains Belinda.
Therefore, Litte Libraries of SA was a fantastic way for Belinda to combine a task that didn’t require much energy with reading, a task she loves. “My extremely patient husband has been my biggest support system. He happily drives me around to these little libraries,” she says.
Little Libraries of SA, Belinda points out, is about making reading more accessible to everyone. “I don’t remember where I first saw a little library or street library. However, I highly suspect it was on another social media account. I loved the idea of having books available to community members that can be easily accessed no matter where or who you are. I did a little bit of research into how to find these libraries, and though sites like www.littlefreelibrary.org were a big help, they rely on people registering their libraries with them,” she says.
“The first little library I visited was the one at Glandore Community Centre, and I was like a kid in a candy store! It’s a wonderful way to find books you may not have considered reading or even heard of before, and it also gives you a warm fuzzy feeling being able to share some of your favourite reads with others. When I got home that night I was looking for an Instagram account that may have the libraries of SA listed with photos of what they look like (they can be tricky to find sometimes) but couldn’t see anything so decided to start an account myself,” she says.
In her quest to chronicle little libraries, Belinda has visited more than 30 street libraries in the city and the surrounding areas. “There are more locations as well that other people have shared after visiting or after having set one up themselves. I’m sure there’s a lot more than the ones I have found, and new ones are popping up all the time. I hope people recognise the work I am doing through my social media and get in touch with the location and a photo of similar libraries in areas around them,” she adds.
Belinda, wherever possible, also donates to these little libraries. “I donate books whenever I visit a library. I usually carry around a bag of books in the car, so I’m prepared if we’re going by one. If there’s a book there I’d like to read, I take it and then return it or pass it on to another library. If a library is looking a bit sad with not many books I’ll leave as many as I can,” she says.
She also encourages other Adelaideans to help smaller libraries by donating books. “Sometimes, as was the case with a little library at Jubilee Park at Glandore, I didn’t have enough books to help much. So, I put out a plea online for people to help the library out and within 24 hours it was full and looked amazing again. It’s such a generous and sharing community!” she adds.
Meeting other book lovers
Belinda points out that through her project she has had the opportunity to meet and interact with several generous book lovers. “The journey has been surprising and heart-warming. I’ve connected with so many wonderful and generous people through my social media accounts, and a community based on sharing is a remarkable thing to be a part of. I have started my own little library as well - couldn’t let everyone else have all the fun! And, it has been an amazing experience. I’ve met so many neighbours that I wouldn’t have otherwise, heard people’s stories, shared some fantastic books, and have received numerous heartfelt notes of thanks,” she says.
Belinda also celebrates the fact that Adelaide has numerous street libraries dedicated to children, helping inculcate the love reading in them. “Kids love these Little Libraries. Some of them like Flinders Park Little Library and Sienna’s Little Free Libraries are entirely dedicated to children. I’ve also had notes left in my library from kids asking for more children’s literature. They are always the first to be borrowed,” she notes.
Complementing community libraries
But what kind of space do little libraries fill in a city that is home to so many community libraries? “They provide novelty and accessibility. These libraries are often located in public areas or streets frequented by people and are perceived as a fun feature that enhances a community. Public Libraries are awesome, but they require a special trip to get the books and then there are limited borrowing times. Little Libraries don’t have any of those constraints so although you may not have as big a selection of books, the convenience and novelty of being able to read with no requirement for membership or timelines makes them popular. Having said that, I’ve had a huge amount of support from the Council run libraries. Just the other day the City of Marion Libraries came through with a generous donation after I put a call out for kids' books. If people love reading, then they are more than happy to share that love, no matter what form it comes in,” says Belinda.
Belinda has a piece of advice for anyone looking to start little libraries. “Don’t hesitate, do it! Setting up a library doesn’t have to be complicated, and it can be as budget friendly as you like. You can buy pre-made, or kit libraries from www.streetlibrary.org.au which you can decorate yourself. Or, you can use anything that will hold books – old cupboards, fridges, crates. Just make sure they are weatherproof! They work best where there’s lots of foot traffic or gatherings of people, so if you don’t have room for one at your house, or your house is in a quiet street, chat to the council about setting one up at your local community centre, park or playground. It’s always fun to give the library a name and to have an opening for it and to put flyers in people’s letterboxes. Once it’s set up, don’t forget to register it and send in a photo and location to Little Libraries of SA so more people can find it and, use it,” she says.