By John Evans
One of the things that has kept me and my wife sane during the pandemic and its many lockdowns has been our local street libraries. This has been particularly true when accessing our wonderful local public library has become difficult, if not impossible.
Within a comfortable walking distance from our home there would be 10 of these little collections of books from which you can borrow for free (and of course return the ones you have read). Typically, there would be about 20 books on two or three shelves in a glass or perspex-fronted little house-shaped structure. Some libraries are ornate, others are repurposed household items. We even have a bright yellow bar fridge sitting on a pole down at the local train station.
Usually, one can find a book to read. I like a good murder mystery and it’s obvious many others do too because there is invariably one to borrow.
It must be said, however, that some of these street library collections are eclectic, random even. One can get the distinct feeling that users are just getting rid of their no-longer-wanted “inside the house” books. Volume 13 of the World Book Encyclopedia comes to mind.
Some libraries can, however, really surprise. We have one little library around the corner which amazingly always seems to have books which are not ancient, but even published this year. Then one can come across books which leave you dumbfounded. Indeed, not long ago we came across one such book. It was a small, neatly-bound volume with a pleasant enough cover called: Cystitis. That’s right Cystitis! Yes, a whole book about urinary tract infections.
We thought, perhaps this was just the book to take your mind off COVID-19: read about another unpleasant ailment. Perhaps, we thought, it was not about cystitis at all – but a bold metaphor to describe all that is false and untrue – with good Aussie nudge, nudge, wink wink. No, it was about cystitis. Needless to say, we left it for someone else to borrow.
However, this caused me to ponder, what sort of books would I want to have in my street library in pandemic times?
I recalled as a child, how my Bible was presented, not as a single book, but as a library – complete with a drawing that looked like one of our standard street libraries – though divided into sections. There were history, law, prophecy, poetry, gospel, letter sections. Indeed, the Hebrew scriptures are always presented in such a way; and in a slightly different order to our “Old Testament”. Even my digital Bible on my phone, is organised in this “library layout” way. The Bible indeed is a library with different genres of writing, which can be roughly categorised into several broad sections.
Now, I don’t think there is a ready category in Holy Scripture for my book of the moment: Cystitis. There may, however, be a classification which may be helpful, as we struggle with lockdowns and this pandemic.
Is it poetry and imagination we need; or is it some blunt home truths and the insights of the prophets we require? Or perhaps, it is a letter of encouragement and explanation of the faith we should look to in these difficult times. Or again, or perhaps it is again and again, we need to be reminded as to who Jesus is for us, even in a pandemic lockdown.
Whatever: but the resources are there in our one-volume street library. And the good news is, you don’t have to return it when you have finished.
Rev Dr John Evans is a retired Uniting Church Minister.