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These women are keeping classic books in circulation

GIRL IN LIBRARY

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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 08/18/23

Private lending libraries seek to preserve and share good, true, and beautiful books for children and their families.

Public libraries have limited shelf space, and often librarians remove older books to make way for newer works. 

While many newly released books are enjoyable to read, a lot of parents and educators don’t want their children to miss out on the classics from years past. 

The quest to help families access older literary classics has led to a quiet but fast-growing movement: private lending libraries.

Run primarily by women and often out of their own homes, private lending libraries exist in almost every U.S. state, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. You can find a directory of them at Biblioguides. You can also find a card catalog of suggested books for these libraries at PlumfieldandPaideia.com.

The history of private lending libraries

At this time, there are 70 libraries in the directory, but new libraries are being added every week. 

“Just as the movement is growing, so too is the number of women who are willing to put their names out there,” said Sara Masarik, one of several women who volunteers her time curating the card catalog and private lending library directory. 

Masarik shared some of the history behind the movement.

“Private lending libraries have always existed, but about thirty years ago, God seemed to call a new kind of private lending library into prominence,” Masarik said. “Starting with women like Michelle Howard of the Children’s Preservation Library in Michigan, there was a growing body of homeschoolers who were watching excellent books being banished from the public and school libraries in their areas.”

Books on shelf illustrated

What began as an effort to save these books and share them with family and friends grew into a movement of small private lending libraries cropping up in communities all over the world. But for decades, there wasn’t a central place to organize these grassroots efforts. 

New technology made it possible to create a more comprehensive directory to make it as easy as possible for families to find a library near them. 

A women-led movement

Virtually all of the private lending libraries are run by women, often homeschool veterans like Masarik herself.

“As our children have feasted on these precious resources over the years, it becomes obvious to us that we need to share them with as many families as possible,” Masarik said. “As the children are old enough to be helpful, or have graduated, it is a natural next step to open up our libraries.”

Each library is very different; Masarik emphasized that there is no one way to steward one. They are run at a significant loss, she said, although most charge some kind of fee to help offset the cost and communicate the library’s value to patrons. 

The various libraries’ practices include the following:

  • Some of them are open by appointment only
  • Certain libraries have regular open hours
  • A few are so remote that they drive the books to their patrons
  • Many libraries are cataloged online for ease of patrons’ use
  • Some offer events including book clubs and fellowship opportunities

“We are compiling Librarian Stories on The Card Catalog so that those who are curious can get a snapshot view of many different kinds of libraries in operation,” she said. 

Ultimately, the great diversity of the libraries is one of the movement’s strengths. “I think that G.K. Chesterton would love these libraries!” she said. “Small is very beautiful.”

Books on shelf illustrated

A labor of love

“Private lending libraries are a labor of love,” Masarik said, “A love of story; a love of true, good, and beautiful books; a love of our neighbor; and a love of community. Most of us consider this holy work.” 

The women who steward private lending libraries seek to rescue, preserve, and share good, true, and beautiful books so that they can live in the minds and hearts of children and their families. 

“As Dostovesky says, beauty will save the world,” she said. “It is our effort to help save and share the beauty of stories.”

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BooksChildrenMinistries
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