Libraries, guys. I love ’em. They provide a community gathering space and, of course, the best-ever entertainment — all for free. In some cities, though, public libraries are crumbling from financial woes, overcrowding, and architectural damage. So a few New Yorkers are starting libraries their own.

Here’s a little background on NYC’s public library system: More people visit New York City’s libraries than all of the city’s major sports games, zoos, museums, and performing arts combined, according to the New York Times. Despite their popularity, they are underfunded, and as a result, structures are crumbling, demand is high, space is tight, and they don’t have the budget to cater to all of their visitors’ needs, according to a statement from a group of NYC libraries. Here’s Vice with more:

In Brownsville, Brooklyn, one branch is “routinely forced to close on hot days” due to problems with air conditioning. Others are plagued with water-damaged books and facilities that are too small to accommodate everyone in their community. … their focus is increasingly shifting away from books and toward things like English classes, job training workshops, community meeting spaces, or just places to read the news online for those without internet access.

Libraries are changing, but the public is still demanding the same old-school services (i.e. books). Thus enters community-led “boutique libraries,” or alternative library spaces that provide books and a place to read them — without the pub-lib mayhem.

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There are loads of way to start a community-run book-lending operation. One boutique library in NYC was founded by community organizers who now rent an industrial space in Brooklyn. Here’s Vice with more:

They pay their rent with a monthly membership fee, and each of their 35-odd members receives a key to the space that guarantees 24-hour access to their reading room, a wi-fi password, and hopefully a couple fresh rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom down the hall. Their library, which is pooled from founders’ personal bookshelves and from collections gifted by other high-profile bibliophiles, is non-circulating, meaning the books can’t leave the space.

Boutique libraries shouldn’t replace our current public book-lending system. Public libraries are still a necessity for people of all backgrounds to go for education, entertainment, and, simply, a place to go for some peace and quiet. But DIY libraries provide a way for community members to share existing resources and a place to read 24 hours a day!! The idea makes me just about as giddy as the time I visited this place.

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