Reading progress:

Is there an honesty library near you?

Oct 18, 2021

by Alana Bailey

Today I am supposed to work on 2022’s budget, but my thoughts keep drifting to a small miracle situated near our office building, of which I only became aware yesterday.

A small miracle? Yes, because I think it is something remarkable, but also because I used to wonder if and how something like this works!

Let me start from the beginning.

Yesterday I had a converstaion with our senior language practitioner, George, about some Afrikaans-speaking people’s poor use of the language. One magazine said, loosely translated, that embroidery would make you more “attentive” (aandagtig) while it in fact implies it will improve your ability to concentrate, and a radio presenter described a handsome, photogenic man as a “photographic man” (fotografiese man).

George commented, rightly so, that the wrong use of words is often the result of people not reading enough. While we were singing the praises of readers, George suddenly asked me if I’ve ever visited the honesty library close to where our office is located.

Honesty library?

I have heard of it before but I have never seen one myself, never mind expected to find one within walking distance of the office.

On my way home I pass by the little library. It is a neat wooden box anchored to a tree without harming the tree. Readers can take any book for free and also place their books there. This way reading material is shared instead of gathering dust somewhere.

According to George, it is obvious that people make use of the library because whenever he goes there, there are new books to be found. I will certainly follow suit. I have a few books in need of a new home … and who knows what I might discover on the shelves!

The concept of honesty libraries is not a new one. Many people have probably seen the bookshelves in hotels and guest houses where previous visitors left books behind that you can take and read if you like. I have also left a book that I had finished on an airport bench and likewise also picked one up.

It does however seem as if booklovers are increasingly making use of these special boxes to share their reading pleasure with others at no cost (or to get rid of the books they don’t want). There are posts on social media showing how old telephone booths have been utilised for this purpose for quite a while, in Germany and the United Kingdom amongst others. Some shops will even devote a shelf or two for this purpose and in the Castle Quarter Centre in Norwich, UK, there is even an entire retail space that has been assigned as an honesty library.

Some will only request the reader to replace a book for every one they take, others leave it to the visitor to decide, and there are even places where you can leave a cash donation. I doubt if that will work in South Africa, but maybe I am unreasonably negative.

Is there something similar in your area or have you discovered an honesty library somewhere interesting? Please send your photos to Worldwide and share your stories about the discoveries you have made there.

But wait, it is almost lunch time and guess where I am going? The budget will have to wait for another half hour.

About the author

Alana Bailey

Alana Bailey is Head of Cultural Affairs at AfriForum

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