Strolling placidly down the sunny streets of my hometown, I am startled by the gleaming white box before me. A nearby sign declares: “Take a Book, Leave a Book.” How could I have forgotten! Having not been home for a few months, I am delighted to come upon a Little Free Library. In need of new reading material and desiring to clear space in my loaded bookshelf, I browse the selection. Among the children’s books and a huge volume of Poe, which I do not feel like tackling in my last week of winter break, glitter the words “ ‘My Life in France’ by Julia Child.” I’m hooked.
Eagerly, I skip down the street, grasping my new treasure, and contemplate which novel from my home library I will part with next. Over the next few days, I devour the book, marveling at Julia’s wit and ability to see every situation in a positive light. I figure that a close family friend, Maria, with whom I share a love of cooking, baking and reading, would love the autobiography.
Shortly after I finish the book, I stop by Maria’s house. I explain how I found the autobiography in the Little Free Library down the street and urge her to read it while I am away. “The Little Free Library down the street?” she says, “I put Julia’s autobiography there a few days ago!”
Call it serendipity or just a coincidence, but I marveled at the connection we had made over literature over the next few days. What Maria felt like passing on to the world, or at least to her neighbors, I had found. She got rid of a book she felt a need to part with and I happily scooped it up. It felt as if the universe had presented me with just what I needed in that moment in time. I hoped that the book I left at the library would find a lucky passerby in the same way.
Coming back to Vassar, I wondered why this school, seemingly dedicated to learning and community-building, did not have such a library. Burdened with classes, clubs, sports and other commitments, Vassar students rarely have time to read for fun. “Does our library even have fun, out-of-classroom literature?” I wondered. “If a Little Free Library were placed within the vicinity of Vassar’s campus, would passersby even stop by to browse the collection and, perhaps, pick up a book?”
I searched to answer these questions during the first few days back in class. Though still pondering these dilemmas, I have come to the following conclusion: a Little Free Library would be beneficial for Vassar students and those in the local area. For one, most students are here at Vassar because of an innate desire to learn. Whether it be biology, philosophy, music, drama, language or computer science, Vassar students love to learn. A Little Free Library would give students a chance to do this, but in an out-of-classroom fashion.
Secondly, Vassar students desire to share knowledge with others. Walking through campus, I hear students engaging in conversation about topics ranging from their crazy weekends to fascinating labs and mind-blowing lectures. Students relate to one another over movies, TV shows, music, academics and literature. A Little Free Library would give students a chance to get a feel for the interests of people around campus. With an ever-changing selection of books, stories and poems, Vassar students would be exposed to a great deal of material they may have never found on their own. Students would be able to connect over literature not present in any course syllabus.
Thirdly, I believe that Vassar needs more opportunities for community outreach. I don’t think that the majority of Vassar students know the town in which we live. I, and surely many others, would like to get familiar with the town, the culture and the community in which I will be spending most of my time for the foreseeable future. By installing a Little Free Library close to campus and in an area accessible to the citizens of Poughkeepsie, Vassar students would not only connect more to one another, but to those with whom we share a town.
Setting up a Little Free Library is relatively easy and cheap to make. Essentially, it’s just a box made of plywood, hinges and plexiglass, and the decorations are up to the maker. The Little Free Library website has many tips and tricks for making these libraries. The only cost comes from materials and a one-time registration fee of $40 to the Little Free Library website. The only complications would arise from zoning laws. Though some towns are strict about zoning, most towns follow this set of rules cited on the Little Free Library Website:
“Little Free Libraries are considered as an accessory use, and are permitted in any zoning district; provided that, all such libraries meet the following placement requirements: Shall not be located within or overhang the public street right-of-way or any public easement; Shall not obstruct vehicular, bicycle or pedestrian traffic, either physically…Shall not obstruct access aisles or paths utilized by persons in wheelchairs or for ADA accessibility.”
Currently, Poughkeepsie only has one Little Free Library, which is located on private property. There are three others in Hyde Park. All range from three to six miles away from Vassar. According to a local Little Free Library builder, two of the three libraries in Hyde Park are on public property—one is in a Rite Aid parking lot and the other is in a Stop and Shop parking lot. Both are managed by Hyde Park Free Library. If the library were installed on campus property, yet in close proximity to the town of Poughkeepsie, such as the North Gate, the library would be in compliance with zoning laws. However, if zoning laws can be avoided, a great spot for the library would be at the intersection of Fulton and Raymond, an area close to campus, yet accessible to those in the town.
Though this complication would need to be discussed with Vassar administration and Poughkeepsie town officials, the product would be worthwhile. With a little bit of elbow grease—and, of course, permission from Vassar, or the city—a Little Free Library could be installed near Vassar very soon.
The Little Free Library adventure is exciting. First comes finding the treasure hunt of finding the library itself, and then the journey of selecting a book. Then, the exchange: what type of book do you think the community will benefit from? Something lighthearted and fun? Something more current and thought-provoking? The choice is yours to make. There is a certain anonymity surrounding the connections forged through Little Free Libraries. Had I not told Maria about Julia’s autobiography, I would have never known that it was she who shared the book with me. This is one of the defining aspects of Little Free Library. You have no clue who a book belonged to before and who a book will belong to afterwards; it’s all up to chance. Through serendipity, luck, coincidence or universal occurrences, you just might connect with someone unexpectedly over literature. You may get a chance to make a new friend. But, even if you don’t, you still get the opportunity to read a wonderful, new book and to pass along a story or message you believe would benefit the community.