Spatial Politics and Literacy: An Analysis of Little Free Libraries and Neighborhood Distribution of Book-Sharing Depositories in Portland, Oregon and Detroit, Michigan
Portland State University. Department of English
Small libraries, Libraries and community, Book-sharing, Income distribution -- Oregon -- Portland, Income distribution -- Michigan -- Detroit
The purpose of this research is to interrogate whether Free Little Libraries (LFL), the largest branded book-sharing movement in the world, continues to uphold its currently stated mission to provide book access to communities where book accessibility is low (determined by how many estimated books are in each household). Though the Little Free Library nonprofit has flourished in the decade since it was founded, indicating a fondness and appreciation for the Little Library as an idea and neighborhood ornament alike, critics of the organization have raised multiple concerns about whether the library boxes provide service to those who need them. There is a not uncommon perception that LFL boxes are congregated around affluent neighborhoods, often white, where book scarcity isn’t a problem at all, potentially leaving behind the communities that could most benefit from their presence.
In response, this paper seeks to explore and compare the presence of LFLs in two cities: Portland Oregon, a city well-known for its strong literary community, and Detroit, Michigan, a well-documented book desert. In Detroit, where there is only a total of 48 LFL boxes, nearly 20% were located in the waterfront municipalities that represent the southern Grosse Pointes; in Portland, where the population is 77% white and mostly affluent, there are nearly four times as many library boxes as there are in Detroit, despite both cities having a difference in land area of less than 100 square feet, and total population differences of ~30,000 people. Education played a slightly less significant role in the presence of LFLs, with a greater number of libraries appearing proportionately in neighborhoods with higher educations.
The findings of this research reaffirm that though most LFL locations align with majority demographics overall, LFL boxes are disproportionately concentrated in white, affluent neighborhoods, even when near book deserts.
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Wilson, Desiree, "Spatial Politics and Literacy: An Analysis of Little Free Libraries and Neighborhood Distribution of Book-Sharing Depositories in Portland, Oregon and Detroit, Michigan" (2020). Book Publishing Final Research Paper. 48.
Paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Writing: Book Publishing.