After a long day at College, Erika hops on to her bicycle. Feeling the soft, summer breeze on her face, she swifts through people, faces and stories that she is familiar and unfamiliar with, until at the end of her path, she can see where the road was leading to: a metal cabinet, with its glass doors reflecting the late afternoon sunshine. Installed at the side of the main street in Erlangen, a pretty little town in South Germany, is this open library standing tall at the size of a phone booth, an initiative taken by the LIONS Club. Inside, books are stacked in an un-sequenced pattern, tall and short, thick and thin, some leaning in and some leaning out; the kind of wildness that belongs to undomesticated, second hand books.
Erika dives in to the wildness, as she has been doing for quite some time at this library. She picks up a book and the corner of the page is torn–maybe from the long days of sitting in the previous owner’s bookshelf, or maybe from carrying the book around everywhere with them. The pages are dog eared at some places, and don’t stick to each other, a sign of a book well-read at least once. Two people, who may have never met before, form a connection here, when they both choose the same book at different points in time. Erika settles down on a bench close by and begins to read the book, and it becomes a part of a different context, a different story and a different time. At this library, many such strangers thus connect, a bond formed over similarities, but more so over differences.
Like Erika, there is Gerhard Fluchmann, a nurse, who chooses to visit the library almost everyday. While Erika always finds something new here, for Gerhard, it is the unique selection of books that one does not find at other bookstores that attracts him. People from all walks of life pass by, picking out a book to read there, some take them home, while some others bring a few from home and place it in on a shelf. These books are sorted by inhabitants of Erlangen, who have bought to the library small slices of their lives. To some, one of these books may have meant a lot, and to someone else, the library is an easy discarding option. Birthday presents, an ex-lover’s possession, a once borrowed book, a stolen book, a book from across the world—they all find a place here, thereby creating a unique choice of stories to read.
In every sense, it is the people who have created this library; the writers, whose words survive on pages through the years and the readers, whose imaginations transform those words into entire worlds. With no librarian to check books in and out, no timings that can bound its functioning, and no lock to ever hinder the communication between the books and its people, this library is an organism in itself. A small tide of people always around it, it stays busy and thrives through its interactions with people of this town. After a long day at work, or something that one would just stumble upon, this library is an oasis existing in the middle of a busy street that is always on the move, and quick to experience transitions. It stands here oblivious to the changing seasons or the altering days, but reflects the novel and transitory lives of its people: the words in the books stay the same, but the books change as some find a permanent home and other homeless ones arrive here.
This is where the hustle bustle of the city, its people and their innumerable stories sometimes collide–when one person’s scribbled message on the first page is read by another borrower, two worlds come face to face. But once you open that glass door, it all becomes quiet here as the closed books hold on to their dear stories, anticipating the next reader. It’s a silence that lasts for just a moment, until it is interspersed with the innumerable stories that emerge out of the book the moment another Erika or Gerhard flips through the first page. The characters and conversations then walk away with their new borrower, colliding with yet another story.