Despite problems with vandalism and theft, the number of street libraries in the Canberra area has doubled in the past year and organisers are hoping to see at least one in every suburb by the end of 2019.
Early last year, Canberrans Shah Bahpyu and Roz Martiniello made it their mission to spread the word about the many miniature libraries popping up all over Canberra and Queanbeyan and to interest more people in starting up their very own Lil Street Library (LSL) outside their homes.
That initiative, which includes a Facebook page showing the locations of each of the libraries, has proved to be a big success, even though there were some challenges along the way. Now the two women want to see the LSL network expand much further.
“When Roz and I first started in March last year there were 35 street libraries in Canberra and two in Queanbeyan. By 31st December last year it had grown to 74 – so it has doubled,” said Ms Bahpyu, without wanting to take too much credit.
“It’s wonderful! I think we’ve had a small part to play but the concept has just exploded. It’s something that people have really resonated towards.
“Now we’re challenging Canberra to have a street library in every suburb.
“At the moment there are 109 Canberra suburbs and 45 have a minimum of one street library – meaning there are 64 to go.”
Ms Bahpyu said they will be looking at ways to strategically assist some of the trickier suburbs to get a LSL – particularly where those suburbs are mainly made up of apartment blocks. However, they are urging Canberrans to consider if they should host a LSL or help to get the word out.
“If you know a friend who is in a suburb that doesn’t have a street library maybe you could encourage them to get one,” said Ms Bahpyu.
“We could be the first city in Australia or even the world to have a street library in every suburb.”
Ms Bahpyu acknowledges that the growth of LSLs in Canberra has had some setbacks in recent times, with a street library in O’Connor “vandalised, burnt and destroyed” in late July last year and one stolen from the suburb of Franklin on August 3 – the day after it was set up.
However, both incidents quickly turned around and seemed to galvanise community support for the street libraries.
In the case of the O’Connor LSL, the community banded together to provide two replacement LSLs stocked with books at the same location.
“The word got out and there was complete outrage by the community. Within four days it was all cleaned up,” recalls Ms Bahpyu. “The support was in words and in action.”
The stolen Franklin LSL was actually returned around two weeks later with all the books inside and an apology note.
Ms Bahpyu said the LSLs help to bring communities together and are “fantastic for children”.
“It’s like a little treasure hunt for children to find new books,” she said.
“The more people see them [the LSLs], the more they become popular.”
The suburbs of Curtin, O’Connor and Page currently have the most LSLs, with five each. However, Evatt, Kambah and Waramanga aren’t far behind with three LSLs each.
Street libraries are a fairly recent phenomenon in Australia with the first Canberra LSL believed to have been started in Curtin around five years ago.
In a nutshell, a street library is a home for books in a person’s yard which is accessible from the street and is stocked with books for neighbours or walkers-by to share or add to, without the need to be checked in or out.
Ms Bahpyu said it is easy to start a street library but the main thing is to make sure it is accessible 24/7.
If you are interested in starting a LSL in your suburb, please send a private message through to the Facebook page above so that they can record the location and follow your journey.