Tiny Libraries

You may have read one of my very first blog posts about a surprising find of mine while out on a walk with my BF: a book exchange in a disused phone box.

Kenwyn, Cornwall book exchange

Since discovering that, I have been attuned to this idea of books being shared in interesting places. A couple of months ago I heard a lovely documentary radio programme in the middle of the night, on the BBC World Service, about Tiny Libraries of New Zealand (listen again: The Search For Tiny Libraries).

More often than not, they are run by women volunteers; they are found the length and breadth of the country, but away from larger conurbations where ‘proper’ libraries are funded by local councils. The one thing they all have in common is they are small ~ sometimes open for just for an hour a week, or one afternoon, many have existed for decades. It is a charming and fascinating insight into the importance of books to people in communities. Have a listen. That link (above) definitely works at the moment (Sept 2015) if you are in the UK, and hopefully beyond too.

In the UK, volunteers manning Council-run libraries is becoming an increasingly familiar occurrence. It is thought there are about 350 libraries being run like this currently ~ the so-called Big Society at work. In many cases it is only this approach that is keeping the libraries open at all, with such deep cuts to our local council finances. Perhaps one of the benefits is that the library is taken firmly into the hands of the community, and locals have more of a say about how it can best serve the neighbourhood.

The Community Knowledge Hub website is a useful tool for anyone interested in exploring this further. Many of these libraries are now multi-purpose spaces, with art classes, workshops, a cafe, or even a cinema, thus increasing usage and income. Innovation and collaboration are the name of the game.

But back to the Tiny Libraries. I do so love the idea of a few books being available in rural areas, whether as a book exchange scheme in a phone box, or with a proper library card and lending system, run from someone’s shed or garage or the village hall.

Tiny library New Zealand

tiny library New Zealand

And for those of us who rather take accessing books for granted, how about this: For the past fifteen or so years, Luis Soriano, a teacher from La Gloria, in the state of Magdalena in Colombia has been loading up his donkeys, Alfa and Beto, with piles of books and heading off into the hills to spread the joy of reading to children who have never had access to them before. A tiny library on hooves. Love it.

Donkey library Colombia

Long live the library! Let me know if you have a book exchange scheme or tiny library near you.

Annie Bee x

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Why Doing Unpaid Voluntary Work Pays

charity pic

I was interested to research how many people like me, of 50+, do voluntary work. I am very lucky indeed to be able to devote a large proportion of my time to charity work, thanks to a GHWLSM (Generous Husband Who Largely Supports Me). I do work part-time but I can’t claim to be making much of a financial contribution to the household. For the record, I did hold down a Proper Job for many years – I even referred to it as a career, but it is so long ago now I can barely remember what I used to do. I realise just how lucky I am to be in this position, but it does mean that while I could in theory be at home buffing my nails or wandering around my garden with a trug, a glass of wine and a pair of secateurs, in fact I spend a massive amount of time giving to the Third Sector.

The definition of this sector (the first and second sectors being Private and Public) is ‘voluntary, not-for-profit and non-governmental’. While many are employed within it, there are huge numbers of people who get no financial reward at all for their involvement. In the UK, during the period 1998 until 2003, the voluntary and community sector employed around 550,000 workers. That number rose steadily between 2004 and 2010 reaching its highest point of just over 800,000 in 2010. What I can’t seem to find is a figure for the numbers of people who do the unpaid work in the Third Sector. When David Cameron launched The Big Society in 2009, the Third Sector became rather fashionable, but sadly that now looks to me to have been a fairly empty political slogan rather than a lasting legacy. I bandied it about at funding meetings for a couple of years but, certainly at the unglamorous end of the charity market I find myself in, it didn’t hold much water even back then.

The verb, volunteer, was first recorded in 1755. It was derived from the Middle English voluntaire and referred to ‘one who offers himself for military service’. According to the Volunteering Compact and Code of Good Practice, (Home Office, London, 2005), volunteering ‘is an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives’. So who is this army of charity workers? Well, the age group which volunteers the most here in the UK are the 65 to 74 years olds. The figures below show the proportion of people volunteering by age group, 2012/13 (% of respondents), taken from the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations) website.

graph for 3rd sector blog

And what are the benefits of volunteering if you are lucky enough to have some spare time?

In an attempt to measure this positive effect on volunteers, Volunteering England commissioned the University of Wales to undertake a review of research on the subject. http://www.ivr.org.uk/ivr-news/133-volunteering-adn-health-what-impact-does-it-really-have . Dr Rachel Casiday, lecturer at the Department of Voluntary Sector Studies at the University of Wales, Lampeter, led the review. The findings showed that volunteering can lead to improved self-esteem and sense of purpose (I would agree with that) and also that being a volunteer extends your life expectancy, when compared to non-volunteers (hallelujah!  although I must say that some of my fellow volunteers in the charity I help at might find that surprising – laughable even – as our work often seems incredibly stressful, time-consuming and, frankly, a bit of a killer).

There is a charity for just about everything from bumblebee conservation to perianal support. In the UK there are just over 164,000 charities and people do some pretty crazy things to raise money for charity. Hello Stuart Kettell, who pushed a sprout up Mount Snowden last summer with his nose, to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.


Then there’s the Australian Nick Le Souef who incarcerated himself and 300 deadly spiders in a shop window in Melbourne for three weeks, all to raise money for charity. He’s also done three-week stints in a snake pit, a shark tank and a cage with redback spiders. Children – don’t try this at home.

So whether you raise money for charities or are employed by one or work entirely unpaid, good on you. Here’s to a long and purposeful life.

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Annie Bee x

Surprising Finds #1 ~ Books In A Phone Box

I went for a long walk in the countryside with my BF a few weeks ago and came across this marvellous surprise in a tiny Cornish hamlet – an out-of-use phone box now being used as a book exchange. It was fully stocked and seemed to have a very diverse choice of reading material. Apparently they are popping up all over the place, but I had never seen one before. It made me wonder what other uses you could put old phone boxes to.

kenwyn book exchange cropped

phone box sofa

Libraries are also popping up in pubs in the UK at quite a rate. In Cornwall alone there seem to be at least a dozen of them, partly a result of the County Council’s cuts to its mobile library service. One pub, The Grenville Arms in Nanpean, incorporates a library, sub post office and shop which sells local produce.  What are the benefits? They offer a well needed service for the local community whilst cutting down on food miles; they create full and part-time employment for local people; they sell local produce which in turn helps local suppliers and they promote health and well-being in the area through the venue becoming a community meeting point.

There is a not-for-profit organisation for the UK called Pub Is The Hub http://www.pubisthehub.org.uk/  which works to promote this idea. I love it. What do you think?

post box 1

post box sheep

post boxes abandoned

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Annie Bee x

More pictures you might like: https://uk.pinterest.com/buzzanniebee/phone-boxes/