Kay Mercer and Ruth Arnison

Lilliput Libraries founder Ruth Arnison and library guardian Kay Mercer talk about the phenomenal interest in their scheme.
Found in: Stories

It seems that Lilliput Library users in Outram, Dunedin do not approve of the hit book, Fifty Shades of Grey.

Either that or the content was inhaled swiftly in one overnight sitting, as the book was returned within 24 hours, says library guardian, Kay Mercer.

Lilliput Libraries was founded by Ruth Arnison and based on similar schemes here and overseas. She originally planned to fund 10 Lilliput Libraries as an extension to her Poems in the Waiting Room charity.
Lilliput Library Outram
However, the interest in them has been so phenomenal, they have become an open-ended project. 

There are now 84 of these mini-libraries in Dunedin with 30 more being built and a long waiting list of people keen to become guardians. 
Participants can use the standard design that Ruth supplies, purchase the materials and make it, or they can choose unique receptacles, such as old fridges, instead.

Each library is personalised with creatively painted exteriors and other touches, ranging from stained glass doors, to night-lights and reading glasses.
Kay Mercer was delighted to become guardian of a Lilliput Library just before Christmas 2016. 

Her wee library was built courtesy of her nearby Taieri Blokes Shed, and a talented local artist painted it with planets and stars.

The finished structure has two shelves that can hold up to 25 books – a collection that Kay carefully curates to suit her 600-odd Outram neighbours.
“The top half is for children and teenagers, and the bottom shelf is for adults,” Kay explains. 

“I put in a broad selection of genre, both fiction and non-fiction, and then tweak it to suit what readers want. It’s been interesting to find out that our locals are quite cerebral in their tastes.“
A public librarian in her professional life, Kay loves that Lilliput Libraries are open to anyone, 24/7.

There are no registrations, no return dates and no fines. Because of the way they operate she sees them as complementing, rather than competing with, public libraries.

“These libraries cater for those who don’t have a local public library, or can’t reach one because they don’t have a car or access to public transport,” she says.
The little libraries also cater for people who can't get a library card because they don’t have a residential address.

A case in point is a local who lives off the grid in the bush. “I saw him come up, tip his hat to me and then take a few books. He looked chuffed and I was really pleased,” Kay says. 
Lilliput libraries a neighbourhood hit

Amazingly there has been no reported vandalism, as each one is proving to be a treasured part of their neighbourhood.

Lilliput libraries serve as more than just a place to get a good book. They run on community goodwill, as well as being a unique way to bring neighbours together.

In the short time Kay has been involved she’s had people drop off book donations; email and text her to have books put aside for them; seen boys rock up on their scooters and furtively take a book, and watched neighbours stop for books only to stay and chat to each other for half an hour or longer.
Kay hasn’t yet had any negative experiences being a guardian. “I just have to keep the library stocked, keep it tidy and keep the cobwebs off.”

She is starting to think about other ways her Lilliput Library can bring her neighbours together: possibly a book club, or sharing reviews inside the books as they go around.

“Books are comforting and supportive. You can be worried, miserable or anxious and then lose yourself in a good book and get that mental quietness you need. I think anything that gets people reading is a great idea!”