SPENCERTOWN—Have you ever wondered about the little free libraries mounted on trees and posts around the county? Most especially, have you wondered why there is a little library in the parking lot of the Claverack Free Library?
Littlefreelibrary.org was founded in Hudson (Wisconsin) in 2009, by a teacher’s son inspired to bring reading to his community 24/7. The non-profit claims 150,000 little free libraries (LFLs) in more than 100 countries that can be found using a map on its website.
Some of Columbia County’s little libraries are registered with the organization, but most have their origins in other stories. The Claverack Free Library, the town’s main library (so named to signify freedom to access information) sponsors four LFLs. In 2017 the local Hover Foundation granted Claverack the funds for middle school children to design and construct four LFLs with the help of engineering students. The students decided where the LFLs would be installed. Why is one in the Claverack Library’s parking lot? The kids said, “What if someone comes to the library and it’s closed? They’ll be so sad,” according to Thea Schoep, the library director. With similar logic, LFLs were placed at the Town Halls in Ghent and Taghkanic because those towns do not have libraries. Users enjoy the informality of the LFLs and the “donate a book, take a book” ease of use.
Around the same time Susan Simon, co-founder of the Hudson Literacy Fund, and Peter Frank, of Friends of Hudson Youth, started the Hudson Little Free Libraries project. Hudson High School students built the libraries. Some books are donated by users, some by the Hudson Area Library, and some are bought for special purposes, such as to support Pride Month. The group’s newest library is located at Kitty’s Restaurant in Hudson across from the Amtrak Station, where it does such a brisk business with travelers that it is a challenge to keep it stocked.
The “official” libraries—those chartered by the state—view LFLs as supportive of their mission. According to Hudson Area Library Director Emily Chameides, “We love little free libraries: more books in more places that are free and accessible for readers of all ages is something we certainly support! Having books in the home and sharing a love of reading with children from an early age helps set them on a path for success in school, career and life.” Kinderhook Memorial Library Director Matthew Pavloff, who is partnering with the village to erect LFLs in town parks, agrees: “Having a little free library installed in our parks will help merge early literacy with play and exploration, and give parents the resources to help their children grow.”
‘We love little free libraries: more books in more places that are free and accessible for readers of all ages is something we certainly support!’
Emily Chameides, director
Hudson Area Library
Kinderhook Village Trustee Dorene Weir is shepherding the town’s project to erect LFLs in Mills Park and the playground area of Rothermel Park. The collections will be oriented to children’s tastes. The goal is to make books available where kids are and even when formal libraries are closed. The project has drawn support from many corners. A donor is even providing books specially formatted for children with dyslexia. Kinderhook is hoping for a fall ribbon-cutting.
Not all LFLs have such formal beginnings. In Kinderhook and Valatie spiffy two-shelf libraries are affixed to trees outside private homes. In Spencertown, the largest of the county’s little libraries is housed in what had been a bus shelter, built by a local resident for his children in the 1980s when the school bus did not drive up the road. Over time, people began leaving books on the seat of the shelter and others began borrowing. A neighbor built and installed shelves. A roadside library emerged. No one has charge of the library but area resident Teri Monas, formerly a dancer with the New York City Ballet, decided some years ago to take on the role of librarian, because the library was looking unkempt. She stops by periodically to tidy the shelves, and carts away trash that some leave on the floor as well as books that have lingered too long. (Lately, an unknown “angel” has joined the team.) When Monas drops the garbage at the Transfer Station one of the workers asks about the stock of children’s books—as it is his go-to source for books when his grandchildren are visiting. Indeed, the library does a brisk trade, attracting multiple drive-ins daily, including cars with out of state plates.
Mary Power Logan is a repeat user. While she loves the Chatham Library, she calls the Spencertown LFL a “treasure.” It is always open. Its “holdings” on the day we spoke ranged from “The Joy of Cooking” to “Artemis Fowl,” “Basic English to Calculus,” “Chicken Soup for the Soul” to “The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy,” a bevy of mysteries and romance novels, and “The Great Rivers of Europe.” Ms. Logan was brandishing a Spanish dictionary, having already acquired a French dictionary and still hunting for one in Italian. Why choose the LFL? “Oh, the romance of it,” she said, “you just never know what you’ll find.”