Whether because of budget cuts or natural disasters, many of our nation’s libraries are struggling. But DIY efforts are filling the cracks in a few especially hard-hit communities.

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Urban Librarians Unite

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Urban Librarians Unite in New York has set up sidewalk mini libraries outside less-mini libraries that have closed due to storm damage.

These tiny, all weather libraries house about a hundred books at a time and there is no expectation whatsoever that the books will come back. … The Mini Libraries are a resource for our communities, a chance to experiment in library science, and a reminder to the public that even if the library itself is in ruins the librarians are still thinking of them.

ULU is quick to point out that its orange boxes, while super-awesome, aren’t a replacement for real library infrastructure.

Advocates of little libraries are often rabid supporters of big libraries as well and it is their respect for the institution that makes them want to emulate it. It is impossible to mistake a citizen’s reading exchange for a well run reference desk. Our Mini Libraries will suffer from the same limitations as any little library. They could never be mistaken as an alternative to the branch libraries they substitute and intended to support. They do offer some comfort and succor, especially to kids and families, and they remind people that libraries — and their librarians — are nimble, caring and quick to respond to the needs of their communities.

We hope that our Mini Libraries will evolve.

“I smell the spirit of Occupy,” writes a Seattle Post-Intelligencer blogger.

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Jaime Omar Yassin
The Biblioteca before the city booted it off library grounds.

For an even more grassroots effort on the opposite coast, there’s the six-month-old Biblioteca Popular in Oakland. On Aug. 13, 2012, activists occupied an abandoned library in East Oakland only to be booted by the city within the day. Undeterred, they set up on the grounds and sidewalk outside, providing garden space, kids’ activities, and books in both English and Spanish. At first the city left Biblioteca alone, but then three weeks ago it locked down the grounds and gardens, pushing the library onto the sidewalk outside, where it remains now.

All power to the book people.