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Melbourne Central Little Library : A Review

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In the midst of the horrific rioting which spread across England in 2011, a lovely, telling incident occurred. As shops across the country closed their doors against the violence and city centres became ghost towns, one store remained resolutely open: the Waterstones bookstore in Manchester. When asked why they chose not to barricade their doors despite the chaos around them, one bookseller responded, ‘We’ll stay open. If they steal some books they might actually learn something’.

To some extent, it is this same optimism and generosity of spirit which underlies the Melbourne Central Little Library.

This free initiative opened quietly in early 2013. The concept is simple, and ties in with similar open exchange concepts like BookCrossing and Poems in the Wild. The Little Library is a space for sharing and swapping books. Patrons are welcome to come, browse, read and take a book away with them if they like. In return, they are invited to donate a book of their own. That’s it. It’s a free, undemanding honour system which creates infinite possibilities for the exchange and discovery of literature.

The charm of the Little Library derives from the element of serendipity and unpredictability in precisely who will encounter it and what book they will pick up or leave behind when they do so. As might be expected, the books in the Little Library are a motley mixture, varying from day to day. Generally, its contents are comparable to what you might find on the shelves of your local op shop – well-loved novels, trashy romances, iconic Australian kids’ picture books, old beaten up classics, and back issues of old magazines, with a few hidden gems nestled in amongst them all. There’s certainly something to suit the tastes of every reader. I found a copy of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, and a beautiful old Virago edition of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.

It’s especially heartening that the Little Library has opened in Melbourne Central, a well-known shopping hub firmly devoted to coveting and fetishizing conspicuous consumption and material possessions. Here is proof, if it was needed, that you can’t put a price on knowledge.

The number of books contained in the Little Library fluctuates from week to week. At times the shelves are laden down with books; when there have been many curious browsers and borrowers they may ebb to half full. But more books are always trickling in to replace those which have been borrowed. The Little Library reinforces that literature should be shared, and accessible to all.

Melbourne Central Little Library

Lvl 2, The Corner
Cnr La Trobe & Swanston St, Melbourne

Open daily

Veronica Sullivan is a writer, bookseller and masters student from Melbourne. She blogs here and tweets here

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