Don’t ask me to imagine a world without books. I’m not sure what, in my imagining, would be left.
I actually tried this terrifying thought experiment just the other day, because books take up an astonishing amount of space in our house. Sometimes, usually when I’m trying to find someplace to put some non-book item (and failing), I think that maybe it would be okay if we got rid of a few.
We cleaned off a lot of shelves after our first daughter was born because we realized that anything on the bottom few shelves was fodder for tearing and chewing. But then we bought (and were given) a lot more children’s books. And we bought (and were given) more books for our own enjoyment. So I’m not sure that, in sum, we’re any lighter on books today than we were ten years ago. Which, all the clutter aside, is a pretty reassuring thing.
Like my daughters, I grew up in a home—and a world—full of books. My mother was an elementary school teacher. There were shelves and shelves of children’s books in our home, and further shelves in her room at school, and every few weeks we’d go to the public library where, if none of those other books would do, we could pick out something else to read.
My parents lived in an unincorporated part of the county, so they paid a fee directly to the town library every year for this privilege, not that I ever thought about that part. I just assumed the books would keep coming, and they did: The Hardy Boys, The Three Investigators, The Westing Game, The Hobbit, Isaac Asimov’s Robot books, The Catcher in the Rye, Geek Love. Even today, if I were dropped into a fog bank on the Barrow Downs, I believe I could find my way to the Lonely Mountain and back to the Shire again, provided the goblins didn’t catch me. And I never look into a coat closet, or at a painting on a wall, without imagining that they might take me to Narnia if I’m not careful.
Books, like art of all kinds (painting, sculpture, music, film) have that magical, transportive quality. They’re amazingly powerful. If you can get them.
The trouble is that my nightmare world—one without books—does exist, and not only in the pages of Fahrenheit 451.
Studies show that access to books varies widely across the United States, and books can be especially hard to come by in certain rural and inner city areas. In today’s increasingly information-driven world, the success of future generations depends greatly on their attainment of basic literacy. Research shows that parents who simply have books in their homes increase the level of education their children will attain, and thus greatly improve their children’s future prospects.
This is where our client, The Public Collection, comes in. It’s the brainchild of Rachel M. Simon, an Indianapolis artist and book lover, who happened to read an article on the Little Free Library movement and had an idea for something larger in scope: a collection of free libraries, in Indianapolis, that would be housed inside true works of art. (The same people who have limited access to books often lack the time or resources to get to art museums or galleries, though a burgeoning public art movement in Indianapolis—which includes The Public Collection—is doing a lot to change this.)
Although the Indianapolis Public Library is a project partner and will be supplying and stocking all the books, no card is necessary to use The Public Collection. You do not have to download an app, or give your email, or write your name anywhere.
All you have to do is walk up, pick out a book, and borrow it. You can return it whenever you want, or—if you like it so much you just have to share it—you’re welcome to pass it on. It’s a book lover’s paradise. Which is probably one of the reasons it has garnered national attention, and did so before even one of the book share stations opened to the public.
The launch event—on Monument Circle at the Monument, 2015 book share station—was well attended. Mayor Ballard was there, the local newspapers, and most of the local news stations, along with about 200 other people. It feels good, of course, to have played a part in garnering so much attention for this project, but it feels even better—as a book-lover who has staked his family’s future in this community—to think that it will result in all sorts of people coming out to enjoy easy, unrestricted access to books. It’s not just a nightmare prevented; it’s a dream come true. And I get to write about it.
Meanwhile, out on the streets of Indianapolis—and in a neighborhood center, a hospital, an art museum, a day center for the homeless—there are books for every taste and every age. They’re just sitting there, inside nine amazing, handcrafted works of art, waiting to be selected by your hands.
The only danger, really, is that you’ll get carried away before you begin.
Header image: Topiary by Eric Nordgulen, Southeast Corridor of The Cultural Trail.