What is the best way to counter ignorance in an Age of Insanity? Decades ago, whoever thought that bastions of information would be largely ignored and neglected by the masses? We are all too accustomed to googling our curiosities into thin air without grounding our inquiries in something substantial. This is indicative of a dystopian world that was predicted by Aldous Huxley about a century ago. His was a reality in which libraries would be teeming with books but few exercise any desire to read them. A world where books are viewed as decorative artifacts and not as resources for enlightenment.
Shortly after moving into the Longfellow neighborhood of south Minneapolis, I started to notice miniature library stands, known as “Little Free Libraries,” displayed on the front lawns of various houses. As a direct result, a trend was created and local businesses combined with community centers to begin adopting them. They are now commonplace and seem to have caught on in the suburbs. Whenever I encounter a free library stand, I cannot help wondering what it contains. It’s hit-or-miss. A pessimist could be inclined to dismiss the effort altogether by brushing them off as a repository of dime novels, nothing more.
No matter what’s on the inside, it is the concept that must be cherished. A free library stand could sit idle on a front lawn for months on end accumulating nothing but cobwebs. Yet, it must be maintained just as anything else that may be found on a household lawn. The concept behind it has potential to trigger a vital cultural development that can serve as a direct challenge to the ignorance, insanity and ignominy of our time. It can encourage households in every community and neighborhood to recycle knowledge for purposes of intellectual renewal.
Those of us who cannot resist the urge to pick up books at a used bookstore, only to never get around to reading them, could take advantage of this opportunity. After all, there is always a use for books, no matter the genre. There are, of course, a number of ways to dispose of old books that we may no longer find useful. A trip to the local thrift store can clear up the boxed-up clutter, but is there a spirit of knowledge renewal when each box is dropped off? The Little Free Library has taken the concept of the coffee shop “take a book, leave a book” to a new level.
It has triggered a community of knowledge appreciation, which functions as a robust deterrent against ignorance and stupidity. Knowledge is something that should never be horded, but shared with the wider community. If future generations grow up in a world that neglects books as the keepers of knowledge, the magnitude of insanity will indeed go from bad to worse. Huxley’s future dystopia will be proven correct, as books are used as doorstops and table stabilizers. This analogy is best described as metaphorical through the digitization of knowledge. Fortunately, books are no longer confined to paper, but ease of accessibility alone guarantees nothing.
A time may arrive when physical books will be obsolete, but the concept supporting the Free Little Library will not be. Each is a flagship of knowledge. If the interest and motivation are there, appreciators of knowledge could create their own webpages consisting of books that have had impressionable effects on their intellectual outlooks. A culture of ignorance is preserved through the refutation of knowledge, just as a culture of knowledge is preserved through the refutation of ignorance. In more ways than we can imagine, history will prosecute us in our time by posing a question: Which side did we choose? A culture of knowledge must be shared, recycled and reciprocated throughout the community if we are to remain intellectually sane.
Omar Alansari-Kreger, of Richfield, is a writer at Engage Minnesota.