By Hannah Wallace
Beach readers rejoice. Siesta Key’s latest sharing library is situated mere steps away from Siesta’s famous quartz sand.
The community bookshelf was installed by Dawn Henson, owner of Sunshine & Sand Hidden Treasures gift boutique in Crescent Plaza, just across Midnight Pass Road from the south end of Crescent Beach. It sits in a publicly accessible spot within the shopping plaza.
Henson, who often sells works by local artists as part of her “products with a purpose” initiative, hopes the library will “foster a sense of community, sharing and kindness, which I think we need more of,” she said.
At the very least, the bookshelf offers an easy solution for beachgoers in need of reading material. “I know a few people who have [sharing libraries] in their yards and the neighbors love them,” Henson said.
Call them “sharing libraries” or “community bookshelves” or even “Little Free Libraries,” the concept is simple: a weatherproof cubby housing donated books. If you see a book you like inside the box, you’re welcome to take it, and you’re encouraged to leave your own book donation in its place.
(Henson’s sharing library is not currently affiliated with the Little Free Library, a registered nonprofit founded in 2009 and now comprising nearly 100,000 community bookshelves around the world, including two already installed in Siesta neighborhoods.)
While most people abide by the “take a book, leave a book” practice, there are no official rules to the sharing libraries beyond the honor system. Technically, anyone can take a book even if they have no book to give.
But just as common, it seems, are generous, anonymous donors who stock the libraries full of reading options when no one’s looking. Henson reported one such “book fairy” within a week of her own library’s installation. One night she counted only three books in the cubby; the next morning it was full.
DVDs are also beginning to show up.
“For locals who read it’s a great way to donate and/or get new reading material while helping our neighbors and visitors alike,” she said. The “feel good” part of the donation matters as much as getting a free book — if not more.
Like all good grassroots projects, many sharing libraries flourish with the attention from immediate neighbors — people who live or work within a few blocks of them.
But at Crescent Plaza, which also houses popular spots like Toasted Mango Café, Big Water Fish Market, and Pizza N’ Brew, Henson hopes the beach-adjacent location will be especially convenient for visitors from anywhere and everywhere.
Henson specifically envisioned people who’ve finished their vacation reads and find themselves in need of additional reading material. “Many arrive with a fully packed suitcase, so adding more books isn’t always an option they want to take,” she said. The library lets them “pay” for a new book with the old one. And as an added bonus their suitcase won’t be any heavier on the trip home.