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18 Apr 2007
US, San Francisco
by Corinne Matesich

Browsing the contents of a new acquaintance's bookshelves is a common impulse. I do it all the time, sizing people up, looking for common interests, potential conversation starters, and, I guess, ideas for something to read next. It can take some time to meet all of your acquaintances' bookcases, but on Sunday, April 15th, 2007 an event for public book sharing was held at the Garden for the Environment. The garden is a seventeen-year-old space headed by Blair Randall, and offers the local community resources for growing things. Amy Franceschini, the demonstration garden's first Artist in Residence, initiated the One-Day Library, a social gathering to further interest in urban gardening and related ideas.

A simple bookcase (milk crates and boards) was set up in the garden-- its bare shelves awaiting the arrival of books. Library attendees were invited to bring selections from their personal libraries about urban gardening, food history, art and nature, and related ideas. Together, more than fifty attendees created a new library. It could be assumed that attendees were veritable green thumbs, but hardly a word was traded about how to grow a specific bean. Instead, the majority of talk amongst the artists, educators, and students was about how to encourage gardening, the local politics to support urban gardening, and the wealth of things published in recent history about the matter—topics of conversation that surprisingly don't rule out the participation of those who kill most of what they plant.

The collective library was one of both old gems and current discourse. Some books had been found in garage sales from decades past. University course readers, small press, underground and local publications sat alongside how-to guides, non-fiction paperbacks, essays about biology, mushrooms, and the urban environment. I found my own favorites in a dictionary-style book of pretend locations, and a book of illustrations explaining the world of utilities underneath the street.

The One-Day Library readers paid dues to some other offbeat subjects. Contributors to the library were welcomed to read passages aloud from their books. Those who read shared relevant ideas. A few provocative thoughts go nicely with donated bread, baked goods, tea and a little wine especially on a bright day surrounded by flourishing vegetation. Amy Balkin read a selection from a 1974 children's cookbook shedding light on a long-forgotten dietary supplement promised by the UN to end protein deficiencies worldwide. Seemingly, the supplement called "CSM" never lived up to the language used to triumph its saving powers, and one has to wonder whether writing to the address in the book for a free sample would yield anything at all.

Megan Shaw Prelinger shared her connection to the land via mushroom hunting by reading from David Wolfe's Tales from the Underground. Rick Prelinger also of the Prelinger Archives and Library introduced an educational film from the 50's titled, Our Foster Mother the Cow, allowing younger imaginations to conjure exactly what kind of teaching went along with rural agricultural lesson plans.

Henrik Lebuhn read a worthwhile selection about sleeping in public from A Pattern of Language by Christopher Alexander. And, Ian Boal arrived in time to take his shoes off and read from The Country in the City, a just published book exploring the environmental disputes behind the green spaces that now make up the Bay Area.

The One-Day Library found success in its temporary nature as a public event, for me, because the image of a collective bookcase resonates even though it has already been taken down, and all the books have gone home with their rightful owners. The act of creating a dream library out of both book owners and the books beats the traditional lending library at usefulness and approachability — the indispensable part being people who can talk about the books they brought. Building such a library ultimately works to recognize one's own community as the most necessary resource we have.


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