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Following a move forward to go back to community

by John Pixley

I have a confession to make.

I’m a day behind. That is, most of the time I’m a day behind. At least during the week.

It’s an unusual thing for someone in journalism to admit, but it’s true: I usually don’t get to the Wednesday COURIER until Thursday. Make that Thursday afternoon.

By the time I get done with my writing, going out to the gym and wherever else I’m going, looking at my email and whatever else I have to look at online, reading the Los Angeles Times and a bit of the novel I’m currently reading and watching the news and another television program or 2 on Wednesday, I am normally ready to call it a day before I can look at more than the front page of the COURIER. In the morning, I don’t read more than the headlines in the Times; otherwise, I wouldn’t get any work done.

Occasionally, this being a day behind and not reading the Wednesday COURIER until Thursday afternoon means I miss out on something, like an event on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. But, every once in a while, it actually turns out to be a good thing. Take one Thursday about a month ago.

In the morning, as I was eating breakfast, I saw that there was an article right on the front page of the Los Angeles Times about something called the Little Free Library project. People are setting up small shelves with books, usually in front of their homes, and then encouraging others to take a book and replace it with another. As the sub-headline stated, it “can lead to conversation, friendship and community.”

Then, in the afternoon, when I was done with my work and my errands, I settled into reading the previous day’s COURIER and found there was an article about a Little Free Library being set up in Claremont. All of a sudden, with this order of reading, I saw once again that what makes Claremont so unique is in how it does its own thing, even as everyone else is doing it. This was another reminder of why we cherish Claremont. It is a quiet place apart while being a part of the large, busy world.

As the Los Angeles Times’ sub-headline also declared, the “tiny free libraries” are popping up “across the nation.”

Claremont’s Little Free Library popped up behind The Press restaurant in the Village. It was started by Anne Seltzer, a well-known local artist who owns A Brush With the Past nearby, with some help from Doug McGoon. Ms. Seltzer thought it would be a nice idea after reading about it online.

It was something everyone was doing, an idea from the world outside.

But Claremont’s Little Free Library is really Claremont’s. Unlike the ones I read about in the Times story, Claremont’s Little Free Library isn’t in front of someone’s house, started and overseen by the someone in the house. Although Ms. Seltzer started it and most likely keeps an eye on it, I suspect she sees Claremont’s Little Free Library, even more than with other ones, as not hers but as a community undertaking.

Everyone may be doing it, but Claremont is doing it its way, putting its own spin on it.

Whatever the spin, this is a wonderful undertaking. Anything that “can lead to conversation, friendship and community” is a good thing. And, while it may be happening in “the nation”—and, yes, there are other places that cry out for such “conversation, friendship and community”—this project is right up Claremont’s alley, so to speak.

I love the idea of people, strangers, sharing books and discovering that they like the same things; that they aren’t so different. I love the idea of people who don’t know each other finding out that they like the same author or topic and perhaps exchanging notes and deciding to get together.

There can never be enough conversation, friendship and community. Or it can’t hurt.

That’s another nice thing about the Little Free Library. In a world full of hurt and distrust, it relies on people taking a book or 2 and replacing them with another book or 2. Being out in the open, it assumes that people will give as well as take, that they will share, that the shelf and books will always be there. In a world where people may be nervous about or scared of getting on airplanes, being in large crowds or, most recently, going out to a movie, this is a powerful show of trust and respect.

Perhaps the best thing is that the Little Free Library is an in-person venture. It requires people to have face-to-face, or at least hand-to-hand, contact. It requires that people get out to interact.

To me, as a person who still prefers to read books and newspapers on the printed page rather than on a screen, the fact that the Little Free Library traffics in actual books on an actual shelf is a nice bonus. But there’s something more going on here.

Yes, going online is a fantastic resource, as well as tremendously convenient, and it can help in finding community. Yes, the Little Free Library was inspired by someone going online. But always going online, even to connect to each other, can also end up cutting us off from each other and lead to isolation.

Things like the Little Free Library ask us to stop staring at our screens and get out to actually participate, hand-to-hand if not face-to-face, in community. It is an opportunity to take time out and catch up and find each other before we get behind again. Even if that’s sometimes a good thing.

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