In much of America, particularly among military families such as my own, it’s coming up on “moving season.” In order to not disrupt most of the country’s public school schedules, families with school-aged children try to move in the summertime. In military communities, it’s tradition to see the “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs appearing throughout the local neighborhoods in the springtime, as families anticipate their June and July moves.
You can’t have too much of a good thing, unless you’re averse to bliss. One of life’s Very Good Things, in my book (pun!) is the library. There’s a movement afoot to augment our public libraries with other ways of spreading bookish goodwill. This doesn’t just get books into more hands, it actually builds positive networks between people and strengthens our communities.
One unique venture is BookCrossings. Started in 2001, it’s a read and release method of sharing books. Once you’ve read and enjoyed a book, simply go online to print out a label, then leave your book in a public place like a coffee shop, hair salon, playground, or doctor’s office. The label assures others the book is free to anyone interested. The label also contains a code so readers can track and follow books as they are read, discussed, and released again elsewhere in the world. Currently over 8 million books are traveling through 132 countries.
Handmade Book Libraries
In the art world, hand crafted books of all kinds have long traveled on round robin circuits allowing artists to collaborate in making and appreciating these unique creations.
Handmade books are also released in limited runs to appreciative readers who share the works through lending programs such as the Underground Library in Brooklyn. Here experimental literature is bound using labor intensive traditional methods, then distributed to members who pass the book along to a dozen other people before it’s returned to the library.
Banned Book Libraries
Surely people have been sharing what authorities don’t want them to know long before information was stored on papyrus scrolls . We recently told you about a parochial school student who stocked his/her locker with 50 banned books, using a check out system and due dates to keep track. This may be an urban myth but we know full well when reading material is banned it attracts even more dedicated readers.
This is true even when real danger is involved. As Azar Nafisi described in her memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, after Ayatollah Khomeini banned Western influences she gathered students in her home to read and discuss books, some photocopied page by page, despite the risk.
Tiny libraries are appearing in all sorts of places. For example in San Jose four new libraries don’t have funding to hire staff. Instead, volunteers run a Friends of the Library book lending program out of a small room in a community center.
In San Francisco, a few shelves in the Viracocha antique store have become a membership-only library called Ourshelves. The Ourshelves Facebook page description says it is, “curated by local authors and readers eager to share their favorite works with fellow book lovers.”
Free-standing libraries, called Corner Libraries are popping up in NYC. These tiny buildings evade zoning requirements by remaining on hand trucks, usually chained to a stationery object. One is a four foot tall clapboard structure offering books, maps, even a CD featuring baby photos of world dictators. Another Corner Library, named the East Harlem Seed & Recipe Library, looks like a planter but has a drawer with seed packets and recipe cards.
Stranger Exchange boxes are also appearing, asking people to take or leave items of interest. In Boston the first such library, a repurposed newspaper box, has featured such items as CD mixes, hand drawn maps, batteries, party invitations, and artwork.
When my husband and I moved back to our home town after living in California for eight years, we started looking for our first house. I will admit that after being married for 12 years I was more then ready to move out of apartments. Our little town that we had grown up in was not so little anymore, and there were many areas that I was unfamiliar with. I had a laundry list of things I wanted in the house, but just as important to me was the neighborhood. I wanted to know just what sort of environment we were moving into.
As part of my searching, I included looking at crime statistics. Our local police department had crime mapping as part of their website. One of the neighborhoods we were originally looking at had several sex offenders listed as living there so we decided not to look at houses listed there. Since 2004, our police department has upgraded their crime mapping software and are now using a site called CrimeReports. This site works with over 700 agencies across North America, and is the largest online resource for crime data. The network offers software tools for law enforcement and shares current neighborhood crime data with the public using Google Maps. Community members can access the integrated crime map and receive email crime alerts for free as the service is paid for by local law enforcement groups.
Keeping an eye on crime is as simple as entering your home address and telling it which crimes you want to track. You can look at crimes from the past three days or enter a date range to get a more complete picture of the neighborhood. In addition, they offer a free iphone app that allows you to access the information on the fly.
Another site that gives you detailed information on sex offenders is the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website that is under the Department of Justice. This site allows you to search by zip code and then provides the names, photos, physical description, convictin information, and the offender’s address. The only caveat for the offender database is that it is on the criminal to register when they move and change addresses so it is a tool but no guarantee that there isn’t an offender in your neighborhood.
While these sites are important tools when locating a new neighborhood or helping to keep your current one safe, they are no substitute for neighborhood watch group, neighbors that know each other, and citizens that are aware of their surroundings. Our neighborhood doesn’t show any registered offenders and little crime, but there was one man who recently moved away that just gave off a creepy vibe. Several of my neighbors had the same feeling. As my mother said, if you get a weird feeling about a person or a situation, listen to it.