Little Free Libraries: Some of the Best Gifts Are Free

December 25, 2015
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Kate Triggiano, holding her son, Otto, and her husband, David, have started a Little Free Library in front of their Red Bank home, making books available for neighborhood children. Photo: John Burton

Kate Triggiano, holding her son, Otto, and her husband, David, have started a Little Free Library in front of their Red Bank home, making books available for neighborhood children. Photo: John Burton

Little Free Libraries Promote Love of Reading

By John Burton

RED BANK – Sharing a love of reading and connecting with your community is the plan behind the Little Free Libraries popping up around the borough.

In recent months, three locations of the grassroots, international program making books easily accessible have materialize. You can find them in front of homes on Hudson Avenue, which was the first, established a couple of years ago, and on Leighton Avenue; and there are other locations, situated in front of Lunch Break food pantry and soup kitchen, 121 Drs. James Parker Blvd. at the Shrewsbury Avenue/Bank Street intersection, in front of a small collection of stores at that corner.

“The impetus was to spread the love of reading and building stronger neighborhoods and getting neighbors to talk to each other more,” explained Margret Aldrich, the author of “The Little Free Library Book,” which details the efforts of the now international organization and movement to get books into people’s hands, especially children.

Connecting with the neighborhood kids was a big part of what was on Kate Triggiano’s mind when she installed her own Little Free Library in front of her Leighton Avenue home, on the borough’s west side.

“When we first moved to the neighborhood a few years ago the first people to reach out and accept us were the kids,” she said.

The Red Bank Public Library is located across town, on the east side, possibly making it difficult for many of the children to get there. “I just thought it’s the best thing, because they can go to it on their own. They don’t have to rely on anyone,” referring to her little library.

If you haven’t seen the Little Free Libraries here or elsewhere, they can take many different shapes and sizes – though they tend to be relatively small and modest, holding a limited number of books. Many are built to resemble houses, almost looking like large birdfeeders or cabinets and constructed with little windows and sealed tight to protect the books from the elements.

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Triggiano’s can fit upward of 65 books, which is stocked with mostly children books and those aimed at the tween market. So far the “Harry Potter,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Hunger Games” and the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series seem to be the most popular.

Usually the little libraries are run on an honor, take a book, leave a book-type system. But Triggiano does it a little different: she’s labeled the books and it works like a real lending library, hoping readers will eventually return the books – and hopefully preventing it from simply becoming a place to unload unwanted books.

“I’ve been getting a fair amount of them back,” in the couple of months she’s been doing it, Triggiano said. But there are some who have been reluctant to return them.

“Sometimes they’ll ask you flat out if they can keep it,” she said, noting, “It’s cool to see them excited over certain things.”

The little library by Lunch Break on Drs. James Parker Boulevard is larger than Triggiano’s. Gwendolyn Love, Lunch Break’s executive director, said it can hold about 100 volumes. There are children’s, young adult and adult books, with one side for English language reads and the other for books in Spanish for the Hispanic community.

This one, too, seems to get a lot of activity, as Love sees children and their parents regularly using it, even as she’s leaving in the evening. “It’s really heartwarming to see that interest,” she said.

The location’s little library was the product of 13-year-old Holmdel resident Andrew Guaragno, who took on the project to earn his Eagle Scout rank for the Boy Scouts of America. And for Love, “He did a bang-up job. He deserves a lot of accolades.”

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Andrew also conducted a book drive to make sure there was a supply for the location, he said, and concluded, “I feel I’ve done something good for the community.”

The Shrewsbury Avenue location was established by the Red Bank Rotary Club. The Rotary Club is a community service organization, explained Denise Benbrook, a club member who oversaw this project. “And all we want to do is help people in whatever way we can.”

Club members keep an eye on the library, making sure there are books – “You’ll never see an empty box there,” she said – and that it doesn’t get overfilled, either.

There has been a fair amount of activity in the few months it’s been up, with people stopping in those store asking about the books. “I’ve gotten generous donations from everybody,” Benbrook said, making sure there is a steady supply of reading for the community.

The Little Free Library established by the Rotary Club of Red Bank, the corner of Shrewsbury Avenue and Bank Street. Photo: John Burton

The Little Free Library established by the Rotary Club of Red Bank, the corner of Shrewsbury Avenue and Bank Street. Photo: John BurtonRe

“These little pop-up libraries are providing a service to their neighbors,” said Elizabeth McDermott, the Red Bank Public Library’s executive director. “I think it’s fantastic…We’re all about reading.”

The Little Public Library was started in Wisconsin in 2009 by Todd Bol. Bol saw it as a way to honor the memory of his mother, a teacher and lifelong reader, Aldrich said.

Since then there are more than 34,000 locations, with libraries in all 50 U.S. states and in 70 countries, from Pakistan, to Australia to Iceland and was “intended for places that needed them the most,” with limited access to libraries and books, according to Aldrich.

The organization’s goal is to have 100,000 around the world by 2017.

“When you put up this Little Free Library it’s really like this natural ice breaker; it becomes a neighborhood water cooler,” Aldrich said. “You really do talk to people more than you ever have.

“It’s an amazing phenomenon,” she stressed.

“It’s definitely cool,” Triggiano has found the experience. “I’m connecting with the young kids, finding out what they’re into.”

 

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