Little libraries sidelined, but not all gloom

By John Gibb, Otago Daily Times | Posted: Friday March 27, 2020

In one of the quirkiest sidelights of the national coronavirus lockdown, the books in some popular community mini-libraries are being replaced by bears.

Lilliput Libraries Dunedin founder and poet Ruth Arnison says Dunedin is now home to 162 Lilliput libraries — up from 78 in 2017.

There are 240 nationwide.

Lilliput Libraries operate on a trust and exchange system. People can borrow and read the books and either keep or return them, but are also encouraged to donate books themselves.

A local "guardian'' volunteers to have the library on their fence line, keep an eye on it and ensure it is full.

The Lilliput Libraries Facebook page points out that more than 30 of the little libraries, in Dunedin and elsewhere in Otago, had recently "closed until further notice".

Mrs Arnison yesterday received advice from the Government's Covid-19 response team that the Lilliput Libraries were not considered "essential services".

Dr Nico Stahlmann, of the response team, said the library organisers might consider closing them down throughout the lockdown period "to prevent the possible spread of Covid-19 through multiple handling of reading material".

Mrs Arnison said she had accordingly written to the guardians yesterday urging them to "respect the advice and close your Lilliput libraries".

She was "looking forward to the joy of opening them again when the world is well".

"Books are a great source of joy and comfort but the reality is we want New Zealand to come out of this pandemic with as few lives lost as possible which means we all need to take precautions," she said.

She had earlier suggested that guardians who had decided to close their libraries could place a teddy bear "in your window for children and adults to see when they're going out for a walk".

The bears are part of nationwide movement, supported by a "We're Not Scared — NZ Bear Hunt" Facebook page.

Mrs Arnison said she had joined the page and added her own bear to an electronic map showing where the bears were located throughout the country.

The Facebook page explained that the New Zealand bears movement aimed to "bring some joy and fun to kids when so much around them is being cancelled" during the national lockdown.

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