Off the Shelves

Author(s): 
Department: 

Last year, our Library Committee worked diligently to create a wonderfully complete online library catalog of all the books held by Santa Monica Friends Meeting. Then, the pandemic hit. Our meetinghouse closed in March 2020, and virtually all our books have been sitting idle for a year. I have a deep love of physical books: the smell when you crack one open, the texture of a page in your hand, the way you can find a passage you’ve read by remembering where it was on the page. Physical books are absolutely delightful. I believe that everything we treasure, we should use often and reverently, not tuck it away into oblivion. In using the things that we value, we are able to understand what their value is.

If you’re familiar with antiques, you may know that table linens must be used regularly instead of being left folded in drawers. If not, over time, they will dry out and tear easily, and mysterious stains will appear. Pearl necklaces age better when worn, because the pearls need to touch skin to stay beautiful. The oils on skin keep the pearls from losing their luster.

I thought of all the books in our meetinghouse and the wisdom they held; I thought of them getting worn out faster from sitting on shelves than from being used. The idea that all those treasures of Quaker history and philosophy were lying untouched weighed on me. Also, I knew that quite a few members of our meeting community live alone, and I suspected they might be feeling the fatigue of neglect. I missed my Quaker community, too. Human connection and fellowship are core tenets of my faith. I yearned for a service opportunity to uplift me during this grueling pandemic.

It felt like a divine equation. A new idea for a new ministry equaled the sum of: a brand-new online resource, plus some lonely books, plus my need for human connection, plus a number of meeting members who also felt left on the shelf. The idea came to me naturally – I could deliver books monthly to members of our meeting.

The execution of this task involves the help of others in our meeting. Abby, our Library Clerk, sends out a monthly email to alert members and attenders that my delivery day is approaching; she reminds them how to access the library catalog and encourages them to browse the catalog to inspire their choices.

Meeting members send me texts if they are interested in a delivery or have books they’re ready to return. They tell me the titles of their selections, the categories in our library where those titles are located, and their own addresses.

Every month, I drive down to the meetinghouse, where I am let inside by the Friend in Residence, Laurie Lepik. I find the books requested, fill out library cards so that the books are properly “checked out,” and then I map out my delivery schedule. I alert each delivery recipient when I’m on my merry way. When I arrive, the recipient has the opportunity to meet me at their door, where we greet each other masked, or they might choose to remain inside, while I leave their books in a reused grocery bag on their doorstep. It’s important to me to respect each person’s COVID protocol and boundaries. My own are that we must both be masked, and I stay at any home for no more than fifteen minutes, outside only.

I find that I enjoy the delivery day very much. I’ve been helping two children through online schooling for many months now, and I savor the quiet drive to the meetinghouse, the opportunity to peruse the library and make my own selections, and a chance to bring some light and love through books and fellowship to my Quaker community.  ~~~

Mandy Richardville is a writer and lover of books. She is a member of Santa Monica Friends Meeting (PacYM).

Please Subscribe

Subscribe or renew now to read all articles online.