So yes, we have established that we like the little free libraries. They have a certain DIY ethic, they’re populist, they’re cute. Even if they do give people the excuse to use the word “wee,” which should never happen unless someone is Scottish—and probably not even then—I am in favor of them.
But I’m also happy for the opportunity to cheer on the gargantuan, sprawling, un-cute free library, and I’m don’t just mean your city’s main branch housed in its concrete ’70s civic palace. I’m thinking of Massimo Bartolini’s Bookyard, a massive outdoor library constructed as part of the city of Ghent’s Track arts festival. Bartoli’s shelves, stocked with books from the reserves of Ghent and Antwerp public libraries, occupy the vineyard of St. Peter’s Abbey. They spread out along a field scattered with the ancient remains of stone walls, then climb a gentle slope. As with the tiny libraries, visitors are invited to take a book or leave a book (or make a donation), but the scale of Bookyard alters the potential transaction in all sorts of subtle ways. The stacks echo the carefully staked vines they share space with, inviting any number of creative comparisons about order, nourishment and sustenance, contemplation, reciprocity.
I would gladly gambol in the fields of Bookyard, maybe even pitch a tent. There’s beauty in the concept of juxtaposing a library with a vineyard. And in case you’re not exactly sure which end of the equation sets the bar for the other, Bartolini helpfully points out on the Track website, “books too can broaden the mind, just like good wine.”