A few years ago, Dunedin woman Ruth Arnison came across an unusual idea for a library - little, brightly painted cupboards full of books free for anyone to take, borrow or donate.
She called them Lilliput Libraries, and placed 10 around the city - wondering whether they'd be used.
Fast-forward eight years and you can find Lilliput Libraries all over New Zealand, with number 303 newly established at Kaikorai Valley College.
Lilliput Libraries stems from a range of other community-minded projects Arnison is involved with that aim to spread joy.
The former librarian loves poetry and has tried out England’s version of Poems in the Waiting Room – distributing poetry cards in hospices, hospitals, prisons and rest homes – as well as painting poetry on public steps.
Her aim was to make poetry appear less daunting. more accessible.
“I think school might’ve put a lot of people off poetry because you had to sit and read poems full of thees, and thous, and whence and whatever, so I’m trying to say it’s not like that, it’s changed.
“I’ve got another wee one I do called Pocket Poetry, which is like a business size card, I put a picture on one side and on the other side I put an excerpt [from a] poem and I just pop them around cafes and shops in Dunedin and people can just pick one up, put it in their pocket and go home.
“I find poetry is very good if you’re feeling really strongly about something and you put it into poetry, no one needs to see it … it’s just an outlet for emotions, quite a safe place.
“I get a few comments from people like they’ve got it on their fridge or they use it as a bookmark or they keep it in their purse just to know it’s there in case they have a moment where they feel like [they want] something comforting.”
She got her idea for Lilliput Libraries after her son saw something similar, but on larger scale, in Melbourne.
“I tentatively asked a few people and they just put them on their fence lines, and I got an artist to paint them and they just took off.
“After we had 100 out in the community, I decided it was getting too much because I was funding them as well through my charity so I just said to people if you want one, you can paint it, here’s the plan, you get it built.
“From that then, what happened is might have people painted it themselves, they might’ve asked a neighbour to paint them, or they asked schools to paint them so it made it more of a community thing.”
The locals who set up the library end up being the ‘guardians’ who are responsible for its upkeep, she says.
“Every day, they [the books] change, because people are taking them out, people are putting them back in and the guardians who look after them, they keep swapping them around as well to keep them fresh.
“It’s so much more than the books too, Kathryn, it’s like we have this gentlemen who goes out for a walk with a dog and the purpose of the walk is to find a new Lilliput, or we get people walking up the street with a book and somebody else will say ‘oh you’ve been to the Lilliput?’ and it starts a conversation.”
There are 17 Lilliput Libraries in the North Island, two in Queensland, and 192 in Dunedin.
Arnison supports those who set one up in Dunedin all the way through and provides them with books if they’re low on stock, thanks to the friendly donations left outside her door every now and then.
“We also have a Resene colour shop in Dunedin, and they’ve got a bin there which I empty every week so people can just drop books in that they don’t want anymore.
“You have to stress really good quality books because it’s often a bit of a dumping ground for books that are yellow and torn and people want to get rid of… [Donate] ones you’d be happy to pick up and read, and not textbooks and not manuals on how to work your microwave.”
The most popular ones have been fiction stories and children’s books, she says.
“We cannot get enough children’s books. They go and don’t often come back, which is fine, if children are reading, I don’t care.”