It’s happening all over the Capital Region. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are more runners and walkers in our neighborhoods.
“Swaggertown Road can be busy, but we get more foot traffic now,” says Glenville resident Meg Libertucci.
And as people jog and stroll past her house, they wonder about the decorated wooden box posted on her front lawn.
“We get lots of questions,” Libertucci says. “What exactly is that in your yard?” they say.
While social distancing, of course, Libertucci tells them about her family’s Little Free Library, a mini book station where anyone can help themselves to a book or donate a book.
With the public libraries closed since mid-March, these cabinets, which hold about two dozen books, are filling the gap for readers of all ages.
There are about a dozen of them in front of homes in the Schenectady area. You’ll also find one at Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Church on Union Street and at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery, where the books are aimed at visitors who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Saratoga Springs has a half dozen Little Free Libraries. They pop up in Amsterdam and Cobleskill too.
Since its founding in 2009 by Todd Bol, a Wisconsin man who wanted to honor his schoolteacher mother, Little Free Library has grown into a non-profit organization with more than 90,000 registered book sharing locations and a website, littlefreelibrary.org, where one can search for books in 91 countries.
Libertucci, her husband Michael, and their children Guinevere, 8, and Holden, 7, are devoted bibliophiles. Meg and Michael are both high school English teachers, she at Schenectady High and he at Schalmont.
“My husband purchased the Little Library kit for our family for Christmas. When school closed due to COVID-19, we found ourselves in a different home-and-work routine that allowed us to ‘build’ our little library,” Libertucci says. It was “like a shock” when public libraries closed, she says, and “the Little Library seemed like a perfect way to cycle books back into our community, to get new books from friends and neighbors.”
The first books that checked into their mini-library came from her kids, who donated children’s books that they had outgrown.
“We have an assortment of books: picture books for younger children, early chapter books, middle school books, adults’ fiction, recipe books, even an ‘Everest’ DVD collection. The available titles are always changing,” she says.
Around the region
In Niskayuna, Liz Yanoff, professor and chair of Teacher Education at The College of Saint Rose, put up an LFL at her house a few years ago.
“We have books for all ages,” Yanoff says. “It’s been interesting to see what shows up. Recently there were some paper dolls and a pair of scissors. Right now you’ll find a package of kale seeds. I do think people are a bit hesitant to visit a LFL now, but we’ve had some visitors since the shutdown.”
For nearly three years, Norah Brennan has lovingly operated a LFL on Dean Street in Saratoga Springs that’s stocked with novels of nearly every genre and how-to guides.
“There aren’t quite as many books for kids, but there are always some,” Brennan says. “At one point in early March, I noticed that there were less books than usual, but after that, it’s been back to normal … it’s definitely steady.”
On the organization’s website, a COVID-19 notice directs keepers of LFLs to routinely clean and disinfect hard surfaces, like shelves and door handles. Hand sanitizer is provided at some sites. Touching the paper in books, a soft surface, is not considered a health risk.
When the pandemic struck, Mary Fredette of Niskayuna closed her book cupboard, which has stood at her Dean Street home for four years and is usually filled with a constant flow of novels and some self-help and engineering books. Fredette adds children’s books that come from her grandchildren or that she buys at library sales and used book stores.
“I’ve read conflicting information about how long the virus lives on surfaces and decided to err on the side of caution. Hopefully I can open it back up soon,” she says.
Fredette was inspired to start a Little Free Library after a trip to New Orleans.
“There are quite a few of them in the Garden District, many of them built to be replicas of the houses they front. I was enchanted by them.”
Little Free Libraries are fun too, because the sharing of books usually happens sight unseen by “secret” visitors.
“The books change all the time and I don’t see people,” says Brennan. “It’s mostly a mystery to me. It’s just there doing its job while I’m going about my life. It’s really amazingly self-sustaining. People have dropped off as many books as they’ve taken.”
Yanoff sometimes sees her neighbors, who walk and bike by her house, but some are strangers.
“One person told me their family had a map of LFLs and they made it a point to visit different ones on their travels.”
Fredette says her visitors “come and go undetected though I do see them once in a while.”
In Glenville, the Libertucci library has become a neighborhood trading post.
“We have a little book club going with our next door neighbor and we keep swapping books. We have had people reach out [my hairdresser and teachers] who want to share books with others,” Libertucci says.
Daughter Guinevere, who was curious about the people who were visiting, made a sign-in book and tucked it inside the cabinet.
“It’s been fun to see visitors that aren’t friends or family,” Meg says.