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Unhoused Books for Unhoused Readers

Gathering community with the Whiteaker Street Library
Hannah Schandelmeier-Lynch (left) and Celia Easton Koehler discuss the Whiteaker Street Library with Ron Pike in front of The Kiva. Photo: Matthew Denis.
Hannah Schandelmeier-Lynch (left) and Celia Easton Koehler discuss the Whiteaker Street Library with Ron Pike in front of The Kiva. Photo: Matthew Denis.

Celia Easton Koehler and Hannah Schandelmeier-Lynch sit perched on milk crates on the corner of Willamette Street and 11th Avenue outside of The Kiva Grocery on a Tuesday evening. Just another couple of do-goodniks encouraging positive vibes in downtown Eugene. 

The duo sticks out even in a metro center where feathers in your hair are more the norm than the exception. It’s not their clothes, though, or didgeridoos, that are conspicuous, but the upturned bookshelf on wheels sitting next to them. The three shelves of books make up the Whiteaker Street Library, an all-volunteer effort that lends out books to displaced and marginalized people in Eugene. The wheels free up the library, allowing Koehler to transport its contents and set up in various locations. The purpose of the library is to carve more communal surroundings into the city’s landscape. 

The idea originated from Koehler’s time spent studying in Granada and Madrid, Spain. “I loved how people gathered and met together in so many public places there. The idea of the library is to meld more third spaces here.”

“Third spaces” represent social surroundings outside of work and home. These can include bars, coffee shops, libraries, restaurants and other public or commercial locations. Outside of public parks and libraries, however, there are few places to gather without spending money. 

“We want to make it easier for people to find common ground,” Koehler says. “A great way to do that is to bring people up from the periphery and to encourage accessible settings.”

Indeed, a crowd gathers outside of the street library, some curious, some chatting and some seriously browsing. Koehler records checkouts in a lined notebook, writing down contact details to track down late returns. All of the street library’s books are donated, and the operation makes no money.

“This creates some bafflement. People ask how we make money,” Schandlemeier-Lynch says. “We’re not here for that, though. We want to build community through getting people to give — whether it’s books or just good conversation.”

The Whiteaker Street Library operates from 10 am to noon Tuesdays outside The Kiva Grocery, 125 W. 11th Avenue; and 3 to 6 pm Thursdays and noon to 3 pm Sundays outside the Glass House Coffee Bar, 520 Blair Boulevard.

 

Update:  Library days are now just on Tuesdays 10 am - noon in front of Kiva, and Mondays 3 pm - 6 pm at 551 West 11th Avenue for indoor open house library time.