Little Free Diverse Libraries at Bishop Museum
“The two LFDLs on the Museum campus vibrantly reflect the Museum’s mission to celebrate and perpetuate Hawaiian and Pacific stories and voices and are a natural fit with Bishop Museum Press’ history as Hawai‘i’s oldest book publisher.”
– Tia Reber, Managing Editor, Bishop Museum Press
Most people may be familiar with “little free libraries”—tiny libraries typically installed in residential areas that are intended to make books accessible and free to all with the added value of allowing used books to be circulated and recycled within communities. The rules are simple: any passerby can take a book, leave a book, return a book or exchange a new or used book.
In 2020 Sarah Kamya, a New York City school counselor, took this community library concept and started the “Little Free Diverse Libraries” (LFDL) project and began collecting book donations that amplify and empower Black voices. Kamya then started distributing those books to little free libraries throughout the country.
Inspired by Kamya’s work and vision, Hawaiʻi FEAST partnered with The Greener Reader to collaborate and expand on the LFDL concept here in Honolulu. The team, with like-minded businesses and organizations, decided to build and place new LFDLs in high-traffic public areas and seed them with books by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) authors. Local artists were commissioned to paint the libraries with the theme of diversity and equity in mind.
Through crowdfunding and a grant from the League of Women Voters of Honolulu Education Fund (LWVHEF), the project team built and installed nine LFDLs on Oʻahu, including two on the Bishop Museum campus. One library is located in the Native Garden, while the second library is located in the front parking lot of the Museum—accessible to all regardless of membership status or purchase of admission.
“Bishop Museum strives to be a resource to our local neighborhood. Offering a space where the community can exchange and circulate books with a preference for BIPOC voices is in alignment with our mission to celebrate and perpetuate the extraordinary history and culture of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. We invite the community to visit and take advantage of this resource to both find and repurpose books on this theme.”
– Brandon Bunag, Vice President of Public Programs & Interim Director of Education at Bishop Museum.
“Designing the graphics for the Little Free Diverse Library—whose purpose is to facilitate the free exchange of books by and/or about Black, Indigenous, Hawaiian, Oceanic, Asian, and other People of Color—provided me a platform where I could show that everyone is invited to contribute, discover, and accept without bias the importance of appreciating diversity and equity.”
I believe art has the potential to create a sense of belonging by bringing people together and shaping what is seen as precious.
The first challenge was how to illustrate diversity and equity while respecting our differences. I chose to highlight age, gender, ability, and vocation by depicting nondescript figures, each standing on a stack of books of varying heights so that all are at the same elevation. This graphically illustrates the idea of equity: that everyone is provided with what they need to succeed according to their individual needs.
Image: The library in the front parking lot was painted by beloved Bishop Museum Press artist Harinani Orme.
Image: Artist Harinani Orme and José Gonzalez of UpRock Wood Works, who built the libraries.
Each figure is a different color, symbolizing how color is linked closely with emotion and memory. The red outline of each figure represents the ancestors or bloodline of a person.
Red Child with Physical Disability: fire, strength, love, vitality, and power.
Orange Child: excitement, fun, happiness, enthusiasm, and warmth.
Yellow Spiritual Woman and Man: clarity, energy, optimism, enlightenment, remembrance, and intellect.
Green Mother: growth, fertility, tranquility, and healing.
Blue Woman and Man: competence, uniformity.
Purple Elders: wisdom, honor, and royalty.
Multicolored Baby “Rainbow Bridge:” In many cultures, rainbows are a sign of pathways or messengers.
The second challenge was how to illustrate gender equity and diversity. This is illustrated in the two corners where figures are split as female and male. It is also illustrated on the front panel above the door, where multiple figures transform from one gender into another.
I would like to mahalo Bishop Museum’s Membership Director Justine Espiritu, and Abbey Seitz at Hawaiʻi Feast who fundraised for the project. My mahalo also goes out to the League of Women Voters of Honolulu Education Fund and carpenter extraordinaire José Gonzalez. Finally, I would like to acknowledge our remembrance of Princess Pauahi’s original tamarind tree, grown from a cutting or seedling and planted at Bishop Museum in the vicinity of where the dormitories for the Kamehameha School for Boys once stood.
“We believe in the power of storytelling to empathize and connect with all people. Through reading, we can foster deep connections, thoughtful conversations, and impactful learning. The diverse books will allow you to see yourself there and validate that your voice matters.”
We’re all about play and adventure, and aren’t books the gateways to exploration and experiences? We were excited to paint this Free Little Diverse Library with different items that you would find in stories and give visitors fun things to look for. A character on a journey might require a compass, map, or rope. The subject of a story might use a beaker, an adze, a paintbrush, or a surfboard.
In reference to the sequence of events that make up a story, we included a chicken with arrows to an egg, which leads to a sunny-side-up egg in a frying pan. We painted foods from different cultures, including a taco, a slice of pizza, a bowl of noodles, and a cookie for dessert. Scattered throughout are letters, which are the building blocks of books. The “A” has the kahakō or macron (–) diacritic above it, which is used in the Hawaiian language, and the “n” has a tilde diacritic over it (~) to reference Spanish pronunciation. We wanted to recognize the beauty of stories being shared in multiple languages and perspectives.
We hope you enjoy the library and take or leave a book the next time you visit the Bishop Museum! Little Free and Diverse Libraries exist to inspire, educate, and celebrate diverse voices. Here you might find multicultural books about BIPOC and LGBTQ+ experiences. We believe in the power of storytelling to empathize and connect with all people. Through reading, we can foster deep connections, thoughtful conversations, and impactful learning. The diverse books will allow you to see yourself there and validate that your voice matters. Happy reading!
Image: Museum guests can exchange books in the Native Garden at the LFDL painted by Wooden Wave.
Image: Tia Reber, Managing Editor of Bishop Museum Press, and Justine Espiritu, Director of Membership and Annual Giving after officially registering the LFDL on the world map at littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/.
Mahalo to José Gonzalez of UpRock Wood Works for building the structure, Justine Espiritu of the Greener Reader and Abbey Seitz of Hawai‘i FEAST for coordinating, and Sarah Kamya for being the inspiration for this initiative!
– Matt and Roxy Ortiz of Wooden Wave
For more information on the LFDL initiative by Hawai‘i FEAST and The Greener Reader visit ioby.org/project/little-free-diverse-libraries-murals.