by Mallory Moad
When e-readers became popular and affordable, nay-sayers predicted a ghastly death for public libraries and printed books. However, like the Y2K chaos and numerous forecasts of the end of the world, this has not come to pass. And while many libraries have upgraded their services to meet the needs of 21st century patrons, there is one grass-roots library system in Fresno that has done the opposite.
The Tower Free Library is a trio of lending libraries situated outside businesses in Fresno’s Tower District. Free-standing, fancifully decorated boxes filled with books sit near the sidewalk outside three Tower District businesses. Signs suggest you “take a book, leave a book” but the part about returns isn’t enforced. A library card is not required to borrow books, there are no forms to fill out and there are no late fees. That’s it. Pretty basic, isn’t it?
The project was the brainchild of Meghan Roberts, a Tower District resident and an administrator of the Facebook group, Good Morning Tower. Meghan was inspired by other free book exchanges that have sprung up around the world. “I saw a friend’s post on Facebook about a Little Free Library in Oregon,” she says. “I shared it to Good Morning Tower, received a lot of positive feedback and the idea took off from there.” Although the Tower Free Library isn’t registered with Little Free Library (a non-profit organization that began in Wisconsin in 2009), the goal is the same: to promote literacy and encourage reading for everyone. Each Tower Free Library location contains a variety of books, from mysteries and biographies to self-help and instructional publications. Children’s books are available, too.
The first Tower Free Library opened on March 19, 2014 in front of Chase Flower Shop. Two more soon followed at Free Bird Company, and Claudio & Khepri Enterprises (aka CAKE). Each box was painted by a local artist and reflects the nature of the business where it resides. Free Bird Company’s library is a colorful display of words and imagery reminiscent of the spirit of the 1960’s, while Chase Flower Shop features a steam punk motif with mechanical gears and octopus tentacles on a purple background (purple being business owner Michael Chase Tipton-Butler’s absolute favorite color).
Linda and Doug Whisenant, owners of Free Bird Company, feel honored to host a Tower Free Library. Truly believing that reading is an important component to understanding, they go the extra mile to keep books available for everyone. Linda says, “It’s heartening to see people of all ages and backgrounds going through the box to find a treasure.” In a show of community support for the project, neighbors stop by throughout the week to keep the library stocked with donated books.
So the next time you’re in the Tower District for lunch or a show, keep an eye out for one of the Tower Free Library’s outlets. You don’t have to live in the neighborhood to participate and you just might find something that will entertain you, amuse you, make your kids laugh, or improve your life. And if you like it so much you want to keep it or share it, that’s OK. The only thing required to use the Tower Free Library is a love of reading. Pretty basic? Yep!