Book It

Crystal Chavanne (left) says she’s spent about $200 so far on constructing her dream Little Free Library inside an old grandfather clock. According to the Little Free Libraries organization, libraries can be constructed for as little as $5 using recycled materials.

A WELL-INTENTIONED NEIGHBOR ERECTED A LITTLE LIBRARY AROUND THE CORNER FROM ME A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, an unfinished wooden structure, with no door, sitting atop a post. Some ragtag books were stacked haphazardly inside and, thanks to fog and rain, they soon yellowed and curled. It stayed that way for a while until a door with a glass panel appeared. Today the library is stocked with books for all ages, along with a copy of Road & Track magazine.

This little library is ad hoc, not registered with Little Free Libraries, a nonprofit organization established in 2010 in Wisconsin with a goal of increasing literacy and access to books. Its tagline is “take a book, share a book.” Today the organization boasts more than 100,000 LFLs in more than 100 countries. More than 70 are registered throughout Monterey County, with Pacific Grove featuring the most, currently showing 20 on LFL’s interactive map.

The architecture and design of each library ranges from the simple to the sublime, depending on the materials used to construct them and the personality of the person building it. Perhaps the most creative LFL in the county was built by Salinas resident Crystal Chavanne, who lives on Iverson Street within a short distance of four schools, five if you count Hartnell College. A fan of the Harry Potter series, Chavanne painted her library red and black, fashioning it as the famous Platform 9¾ train stop featured in the books by J.K. Rowling.

“I know people who weren’t allowed to read Harry Potter. Not in my magical world,” Chavanne starts her description on the LFL map. Her books are for “all witches, wizards and muggles.” Chavanne erected the library about four years ago and created a Facebook page, Crystal’s Witchy Little Free Library.

She estimates she’s given away more than 500 books, including the books she gives away to trick-or-treaters each Halloween. Her library focuses on fantasy literature, science and history, with an emphasis on teaching children. She encourages people to take whatever they want and keep it as long as they want. She just wants people to read.

Earlier this year Chavanne was forced to retire Platform 9¾ due to a combination of the structure falling apart after a bad storm and frequent use, plus concerns over Covid-19, but recently she began working on her “dream library” using an old 7-foot-tall grandfather clock she gutted. She vows to have it ready by Halloween. “I painted it all black. It’s all witchy,” she says. She’s still trying to find a clock face and work out how to install the structure securely, “without crushing children.”

Unlike what happens with the ad hoc library in my neighborhood, Chavanne takes her responsibility as a LFL steward very seriously. She checks it daily and restocks it with more books. She takes out anything that’s been left inside that does not fit within her usual genres and any magazines with air-brushed models that promote an unhealthy body image for girls. She also removes any religious materials. One book left was about how to be a good, submissive wife. “I made a sign that said no religious materials, if you keep leaving it I’ll use it for kindling for my cauldron,” Chavanne says.

Chavanne estimates she was spending about $50 a month on books, mostly at the Goodwill Central Coast warehouse in Salinas, where books are sold by the pound. The Friends of the Marina Library let her take books free after their fundraising sales. One time, a teacher gave Chavanne all the books she owned upon retirement.

For those who want to start their own library, the LFL website offers loads of advice partnered with photos and videos. Libraries can be made inexpensively using recycled materials, although LFL warns against using a material like plywood that will disintegrate quickly. (The group also sells libraries, building kits and posts online.) The cost of registering as an official LFL, around $40, is included in the price and comes with an official LFL plaque and registration number. An unfinished wooden mini-library goes for $150, a larger unfinished model with two levels is $300, prices go up from there. A replica of the first LFL built by founder Todd Bol – a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his teacher mother – is $500. The website includes tips on finding books and has a link to a partnering discount bookseller that donates back to LFL.

The organization also has information for its stewards about Covid-19 to help them decide if they want to keep their library open or closed, with cleaning instructions for those who remain open. Some libraries have converted to “sharing boxes,” little free pantries stocked with food. LFL’s Covid-19 page includes a link to an interactive map for those boxes. It currently shows two in Corral de Tierra and one in Soledad.

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