I set up a secret library so people can at least escape into books

Two years ago, I installed a wooden cupboard near my house. I filled it with books I had no room for and called it the ‘Secret Library’.

As an author I’m fortunate to be sent many books by publishers who hope I’ll say nice things about them (I often do), but it isn’t possible to keep them all.

Although I set up a Facebook page about the library, most people discovered it’s existence simply by walking past. As the contents of the cupboard grew in popularity, people began to put in books of their own, sometimes including a note, to explain why they recommended it.

The customer base was keen but small, until coronavirus hit. Just after real libraries closed, I popped to the Secret Library to find that almost every book had vanished overnight – no doubt a result of people stocking up with essential reading matter.

Over the last six weeks, the library has gone from strength to strength. My husband installed a second shelf, and a local teacher built a children’s section. I keep hand sanitiser in there, and remind people not to visit if they have Covid-19 symptoms.

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The library box has also proved useful as a drop-off point for everything from scrubs patterns and thread to PPE gloves and food parcels.

Like many of my friends, I’ve been working as a volunteer responder, meeting numerous people affected by the coronavirus crisis. Many are struggling to make ends meet, and as a community we have rallied together to provide hot meals and other essentials.

There is certainly nothing heroic or brave in putting books in a box on the street. But having spent 12 years working for the police, I miss the sense of making a difference to a community, and I suppose this is a small way of doing that.

My career also showed me first-hand the doors that are opened by literacy, and I have championed the need to make books accessible to everyone ever since.

For some people – perhaps those who did not grow up surrounded by books – libraries remain intimidating and inaccessible.

When you stop by a little box of books by the side of the road, you don’t need to give your address. You aren’t overwhelmed by the choice of titles, or worried you’ll be judged on what you pick up. There’s no need to stress about how long it’ll take you to read it, and if you fall in love with the book, you can keep it.

I’ll keep running the Secret Library for as long as people want books. Even if lockdown ends tomorrow, I don’t think it’ll be stopping any time soon.

Follow Clare on Twitter at @claremackint0sh

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