By Lydia Smith
The sense of community in Westchester has always been one of the key reasons that people and families love to live here and take pride in their neighborhood. It’s no surprise then, that over the last few years many residents have built or constructed Little Free Libraries in their front yards to share a book, encourage reading and connect with their neighbors. For many, having these local book exchanges on their block has been a small beacon of light during Safer at Home, while libraries have been closed and people increasingly rely on their community to get through this challenging time.
Westchester currently has 17 registered Little Free Libraries, a public bookshelf of sorts, where owners, termed “stewards,” can create a curated collection of reading materials in their front yard for anyone to browse. Visitors are invited to “take a book or share a book.” Stewards can build their own libraries or purchase a kit directly from the nonprofit Little Free Library. The organization was started in 2009 to foster neighborhood book exchanges, as well as serve as an official site to register and map these libraries around the world. Once a library is registered with their organization, it becomes official and a charter number is issued, along with an engraved plaque. Right now, there are more than 100,000 registered libraries in all 50 states and 108 countries!
While there has been some debate over whether the libraries should be open for sharing during the pandemic, many stewards say they have seen an increase in traffic. With public libraries and schools being closed, and with people looking for a literary escape, they see the benefit of being able to provide reading material to kids and adults. Some stewards are even adding items like DVDs, magazines and food to help neighbors in need and spread a little cheer. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t being cautious–one local steward who just recently re-opened their library makes sure to clean and disinfect the handles and doors each day. It’s also advised, and neighborly, to wash your hands or to use hand sanitizer before and after visiting a library and following all Safer at Home protocols. Whether a library is open or temporarily closed, has a theme or includes all types of books, is decorated or standard issue, it’s clear that the Little Library owners are proud to provide this valuable service in Westchester.
Check out this month’s spotlight on stewards who love stocking their shelves with books to share with their neighbors:
• Sylvia Wilson is a new Little Library steward and opened her book exchange in April. She sees a definite need for her community to have access to books during quarantine since public libraries are closed. An avid reader, Sylvia recalls that her love of books started at the age of three. When she learned about the Little Library movement from a friend, she was excited to have one of her own and is now proud to have the charter number 98,421! Collecting books has always been a hobby of hers, so she finds joy in curating the books for her library with thoughtful titles, her favorite paperbacks and kids’ books with powerful messages. Constantly updating her selection, she has a rolling cart by her door so that she can easily rotate between books from her collection, ones that she has recently bought or ones that have been donated to share with her neighbors.
“People often leave DVDs to entertain others and food items since many of my neighbors know I volunteer with our local food bank, Grass Roots Neighbors,” said Sylvia. “It is all around a way for people to give back during this time of need.”
• Ten-year-old Riley Faill asked for a little library for her front yard for Christmas when she was only 5. She had visited others in her neighborhood but was disappointed that many of them only had books for adult readers. Her goal was to create a library that focused only on children’s literature.
“I feel good about it because the neighborhood needed one for kids and I did that. It’s a nice place for kids to walk to come get books,” she said.
Riley was fortunate to have a handy grandfather who helped build the library and a grandmother who gave her a “Riley’s Little Library” stamp so that she could stamp all her books. Riley has been a faithful steward of her library for five years and still enjoys selecting books to share with local kids. Over the years, she has added a bench so visitors can sit while making their selection, and she has even befriended a fellow book-loving neighbor who also has a Little Library. Living by the motto, “take a book, share a book,” whenever someone drops off a title that doesn’t work with her kid-friendly focus, she walks it to her neighbor’s library for someone else to enjoy.
• Westchester Girl Scout Troop #16575 recently celebrated the opening of the community’s newest Little Free Library. The library, which opened on August 21, is located at Troop Leader Tiffany Small-McKelvin’s home and has a diversity theme focusing on titles that promote the value of being different. The library was opened as part of the troop’s Silver Award service project. More than 200 books were donated from community members to help stock the location, and each member of the troop donated two selections as well.
“When I spoke with the other Girl Scouts, we all agreed that having more diverse books would make it more normal and acceptable to be unique and different and make people who are unique feel more included,” said 13-year-old troop member Breanna.
As part of their service hours that are required for the Silver Award, the Scouts also took time to educate themselves on how books can help teach empathy.
• The Younger family are veterans of the book-sharing scene. They had a Little Library 12 years ago at their first house in Westchester, so when they moved a few blocks away, it was one of the first things that they put up in the yard. As a writer and English professor at LMU, books have always been very important to Kelly Younger and his family. The Youngers were always exchanging books with friends, so they decided that exchanging books with neighbors was a natural next step and a way to make friends in the community. Their library covers all genres of books, from children’s literature to the classics, old and new titles and everything in between. They like to keep their library well-stocked, and Kelly enjoys discovering what books people have left in his library. He also loves to look for handwritten notes and inscriptions in the pages of the novels that line the shelf, which give an insight into previous readers’ thoughts on the text.
“Every book tells a story,” he says. “In my opinion, there are two kinds of books: ones that are mirrors–helping us see ourselves more clearly, more deeply; or ones that are windows–helping us see the world through someone else’s eyes, someone else’s life which may be very different from our own. And if our Little Library provides a chance at either one of those experiences, then our community will be all the better for it.”
Learn more about how you can start your own Little Library or the locations of these neighborhood book exchanges, including the ones featured here, at littlefreelibrary.org. Stayed tuned for Part 2 of this series in an upcoming edition.
Posted September 2020.