The beauty of small gestures: an urban design context

On bustling streets and next to pocket parks, little free libraries are popping up all over Grey Lynn. These joyfully decorated and weatherproofed bookshelves facilitate book swaps, building literacy and community goodwill.

Pop up libraries - Richmond Road 1

Swing-by Community Library – Richmond Road, Grey Lynn


The pop up libraries are the efforts of local couple John and Yvonne Pakenham, who were inspired by a Little Free Library they saw in Melbourne. They built their first one on the fence outside their home on Richmond Road, where it was decorated by their grandchildren. Originally designed just for children’s books, it has organically expanded to also hold a wide collection of novels, recipe books, and even a bible.

Pop up libraries - Hokonoa Reserve 1

Hokonoa Community Library – Hokonoa Reserve, Grey Lynn

Pop up libraries - Hokonoa Reserve 2

Hokonoa Community Library, the back of the library box lovingly decorated by children


Since then, others have popped up by the Hokonoa, Vermont and Tole Reserves. They are obviously highly valued by the community as they are well-maintained, with remarkably little vandalism or theft. The “take a book, return a book” ethos recycles those books that would otherwise just be gathering dust, spreading knowledge and delight to new readers. These pre-loved books wait patiently for their new owner, like at a bus stop for books. In fact, pop up libraries have also appeared within bus shelters. Not to mention phone booths tree trunks and abandoned refrigerators.

This spontaneous initiative can be seen as part of a wider movement to reclaim impersonal public spaces using low-cost, DIY measures. Also known as tactical urbanism, other examples include guerrilla gardening, yarnbombing and Park(ing) Day. These grassroots interventions are making the city more interesting, playful and lively, one small chunk at a time.

So tonight, after dinner, I’m going to take a walk in my neighbourhood with an old book. I’ll stop at the pop up library, exchange books and leave a nice note for the next person there. Maybe it will be you?

Article by Szening Ooi

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One Response to “The beauty of small gestures: an urban design context”

  1. Yvonne Weeber Says:

    After the 2011 earthquake Gap Filler in Christchurch instigated a similar book exchange with a fridge with a glass door providing a 24 hour 7 day a week public book exchange. Check it out on I am not sure if its still there or if it has been moved but its a great idea.


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