Open Books

Open Books

Looking for your next good read? Some New Haven residents want you to find that book so badly that they’ve taken matters—and tools and wood and hardware—into their own hands. Part of the Little Free Library movement, their tiny take-one-leave-one libraries can be spotted on front lawns and sidewalks throughout New Haven.

We recently hunted down nine of them to see what’s on offer.

In Westville, a Little Free Library is mounted at Lakeview Terrace and Hemlock Road in memory of “master woodworker Louis F. Cofrancesco” (pictured first). Up for grabs last week were adult favorites from Clive Cussler, David Baldacci and Nora Roberts as well as an impressive set of the Baby-Sitters Club books. Not far away, on the sidewalk along Yale Avenue just off West Rock Avenue, four stepping stones led to books by T.C. Boyle and Maeve Binchy, as well as one of the perennial What to Expect books and the children’s classic Johnny Tremain.

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T.C. Boyle and Nora Roberts reappeared in City Point. On Greenwich Avenue near Sea Street, in a little library mounted in a garden behind a rocky wall, they were found in the company of Robert Ludlum, M.J. Clark, Garrison Keillor and the Judy Blume classic Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, among others.

Two Little Free Libraries are mounted outside police stations. One at 332 Whalley Avenue (pictured fifth) stocked a tidy and wide-ranging selection of kids’ books, including Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, American Tall Tales and Bridge to Terabithia. Another at 596 Winchester Avenue held the kids’ classics A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein and Holes by Louis Sachar, as well as the timely Arrow Book of Spooky Stories. Selections for adults included Nicholas Sparks’s The Last Song and the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous.

East Rock has more than its fair share of Little Free Libraries. A box on Foster Street between Linden and Willow offered up a biography of Harry S. Truman and a book on ethnobotany, though some Sidney Sheldon was also on hand, as well as a Sesame Street DVD. On Everit at Cold Spring, in “Lolo’s Free Library” (second and third), someone had shelved Albert Camus’s The Rebel—how else?—upside down. The Little Free Library on St. Ronan Street between Canner and Highland appeared to be kid-focused, with whimsical cars named “Henry” and “Henrietta” painted on the sides (sixth).

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The most consistently literary selection was spotted on Clinton Avenue (fourth), just off Grand in Fair Haven, where adults could borrow Michael Dorris’s The Broken Cord, John Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River or Yale professor Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana. Bonus: this Little Free Library is also an official Monarch Waystation.

The newest Little Free Library in New Haven will be going up soon just a block away on Perkins Street between Grand and Pine, where two neighbors have set aside a shared space between their houses for their library. “I think that our street is really going to take to it,” says neighbor Beth Pellegrino, whose five- and three-year-old boys are eager to help. “We live on a nice little quiet street, but with a lot of kids and also a lot of invested neighbors who are going be excited about it. I think it’s going to be great for the neighborhood, for the Perkins Street community.”

The Little Free Library movement began in Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009, when Todd Bol built a miniature one-room schoolhouse, complete with a school bell in a little red belfry, and stocked it with books. A sign on it read “Esther Bol Memorial Library,” a tribute to his mother, a teacher. Bol installed the little library in front of his house, where it became popular with the neighbors—so popular that he built some more and gave them away. Rick Brooks, who met Bol at a workshop he was giving, was inspired by Bol’s idea, and together they created Little Free Library. The project became a nonprofit in 2012 that, according to its website, “inspires a love of reading, builds community and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.”

Today, the group says, there are more than 60,000 registered Little Free Libraries globally. Would-be “stewards” can visit the Little Free Library website to learn how to build and maintain their own little library, register it on a world map and participate in numerous programs. While not all of New Haven’s “little libraries” are official Little Free Libraries, all offer the pleasant surprise of opening a little door to words and worlds just waiting to be shared.

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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