Afterthoughts: The Little Library of Mariners Cove in Hawai‘i Kai
This small community project makes me love my neighborhood even more.
I walk a similar route in Hawai‘i Kai at least once a week, venturing up and down hills as I attempt to reach my step goal. But on a recent cool night out, I wasn’t feeling my typical 3-mile journey. Rather than stay home for a third night in a row of resistance-band YouTube workouts in my bedroom, I opted for a quick mile around Mariners Cove.
My usual path along Niumalu Loop takes me past two mini parks that border Kuapā Pond, a house with Christmas lights year-round and my childhood crush’s old home. Still, something told me to take a different route, and that’s when I saw it: In front of what seemed to be a house under construction stood a 5-foot-tall structure. On the glass doors read the words Little Lending Library.
I spotted my first tiny community library 10 years ago in Berlin and found it quirky yet delightful. Last year editor at large Robbie Dingeman wrote about one in Enchanted Lake when it expanded into a free pantry, but I hadn’t seen any in Hawai‘i myself. Until now. As I unlatched the glass doors, the nostalgic smell of old books washed over me. I tilted my head sideways to skim the rows of books stacked upon each other and settled on a copy of Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Blu’s Hanging, labeled FARRINGTON HIGH SCHOOL COPY #30. The instructions on the cabinet: “Take a favorite book. Return a favorite book. Close doors carefully.”
It’s not the first time neighbors have left something to share outside their home. A few weeks earlier, I grabbed a Meyer lemon from a plastic bin heaped with them on a concrete wall. Farther into the valley, someone had painted small smooth rocks as various critters and set them out for the taking. I slipped a ladybug with googly eyes into my pocket, then nestled it into a potted plant in my yard.
It’s interesting what these gifts, shared among people who coexist in the same neighborhood yet may never meet, tell you about a community.
It’s interesting what these gifts, shared among people who coexist in the same neighborhood yet may never meet, tell you about a community. Mine seems to be full of kindhearted folk, especially children, who write motivational sayings in chalk on the sidewalks and just want others to be happy.
I don’t know who installed this particular library (a sign below says it’s been here since Christmas 2018), but Little Free Diverse Libraries—courtesy of the grassroots organization Hawai‘i Feast—started popping up in 2020 outside Ars Café, Da Shop and Mud Hen Water, filled with books meant to promote discussions on race and equity. You’ll find some nationally known ones—The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—next to books of local interest like David E. Stannard’s Honor Killing: Race, Rape, and Clarence Darrow’s Spectacular Last Case and Tiffany Lani Ing’s Reclaiming Kalākaua: Nineteenth-Century Perspectives on a Hawaiian Sovereign. Eating in Public, another group that aims to improve communities through free exchanges and which started the HI-5 “Take, Leave, Whatevas” mesh bins in 2004, has also set up free stores around the island, along with seed-sharing stations to give and get non-GMO seeds to plant.
I finished Blu’s Hanging weeks ago, but I haven’t returned it yet. I’m still looking through my shelves, wondering which book of my own to add to the library. It’s not a big deal and maybe no one will read it. But the joy I felt coming across this treasure trove—and the lemons, and the ladybug rock—is something I want to share with others. It’s my tiny means of giving to the neighborhood in a way that is hopefully as touching to others as it is to me.