Indianapolis’s first mobile microlibrary, which held its grand opening August 18, is already growing. The 8’x10’ wood hutch and trailer, dubbed “The Cottage” for its location in the eastside neighborhood of the same name, houses hundreds of lendable titles, and is ready to fill more shelves.
Because it’s mobile, The Cottage does not require a city permit. The library’s trailer lends versatility in extending the library’s resources beyond its home in The Cottage neighborhood community space.
“We wanted to represent the symbolic relationship between the Cottage Home neighborhood in downtown Indianapolis and University High School in suburban Carmel,” explains Kirstin Northenscold, a teacher at University High School who helped carry out the vision of a student, 2012 graduate Amalia Wiatr-Lewis, with the help of a grant from United Way. Found objects and donated materials such as a reading chair, floor rug, and decorative lights strung above the bookshelves make the small interior space feel welcoming.
Lewis’ vision was brought to fruition through a team of dedicated workers, student volunteers, and community support. Lewis, off to a busy beginning at Bennington College, plans to follow her interest in sustainable community development.
The Cottage is open all the time, run by written record and the honor system. According to Northenscold, who helps maintain the upkeep, it’s okay if some books don’t get returned. “Lost is the wrong word,” she said. “Some books will be with new owners, and more books in people’s hands is never a bad thing.”
The microlibrary’s mid-August grand opening was a collaborative “DIY event.” Students, families, locals, and visitors enjoyed homemade refreshments, live music by a neighborhood mandolin player, and readings by University High School English teachers. “The night ended illuminated by tea lights in jars. It was lovely,” Northenscold said. “It seemed almost impossible, and yet there it was, our library.”
Those who attended the grand opening were asked to bring a favorite book to add to the collection. All of The Cottage’s books have been donated by IndyReads, a local adult literacy organization; University High School students, staff, friends, family, and neighbors. The collection includes contemporary titles as well as classics, with a growing interest in children’s books for families within the neighborhood.
The Cottage plans to stay open indefinitely. Northenscold adds, “We would love to coordinate in the future with literacy programs at schools.”
The Cottage joins the ranks of a burgeoning movement of microlibraries, ranging from Little Free Libraries and other streetcorner installations to the Story Sailboat. While some, like Cleveland’s Book Box, are outgrowths of the local official library system, most are spontaneous citizen-led projects. Some, such as Detroit’s Outdoor Libraries and recent developments in Oakland and Seattle, are even intended as commentary on the lack of public support for enough libraries to serve the population. What they all have in common is a belief that free access to books matters, and that the public can be trusted to honor efforts to provide them.
Leigh Thomas is Activity Guide for The Learning Curve at Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library’s Central Library.