Doing it by the book in Malden

The new Little Free Library at 67 Ashland St. in Malden.

Malden is headed in a great direction with the efforts by Malden Arts, Malden Reads, and Friends of Oak Grove to bring neighborhood libraries back to the city.

The three groups are starting small to achieve a big objective. They want to set up a Little Free Library basically a wooden cabinet mounted on a pole and stocked with books in every city ward. The little libraries will employ the honor system to allow readers to take a book and leave a book.

The library initiative seeks to reverse a decline in library resources that it is not unique to Malden. The days of a formidable-looking librarian checking out a stack of books to a library patron or acquainting young readers with the Dewey Decimal System has gone the way of the overhead projector and the neighborhood fire box.

Modern libraries lend out books, but they also circulate DVDs and music and provide computer and Wi-Fi access. Books aren’t about to go the way of the horse and buggy, but younger readers want to access literature via an app or download.

Malden’s Free Little Library concept flies in the face of high technology even as it acknowledges the transformation of the traditional library into an institution meeting a modern world’s demands.

Lynn’s three beloved branch libraries closed more than 10 years ago and the main library on North Common Street remains one of the city’s architectural gems. The library’s dedicated staff has embraced the online world and provided patrons access to online resources.

Believe it or not, Malden once had 11 neighborhood libraries with some located in local firehouses. The Little Free Library concept mirrors the neighborhood library tradition and provides Malden residents with an opportunity to start a conversation about the role libraries play in a community’s life.

Libraries are a place to enjoy relative solitude but they also serve as community gathering places. Lynn’s library hosts summertime activities that get kids out of the house and off the streets and allows parents and children to enjoy activities together.

Multiple libraries are expensive operating propositions for municipalities in an age of budget cuts. The buildings, the heating bills, and the staffing costs are bigger than most municipal budgets can absorb.

But the Free Little Library campaigners in Malden understand that libraries, even on a small scale, can become community focal points for people to meet and exchange ideas. They are replicating an idea started in 2009 that has spread across the country for the simple reason that it is fun and makes sense.

It will be great if the library-in-a-box concept taking root in Malden can spread to other local cities and towns and prompt community organizations, even businesses, to find more space for libraries.

Even a room with a book shelf and table and chairs is a place where people can relax for free and community concerns can give way to free-flowing exchanges.

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