COLONIE AND DELMAR – Dozens of small structures resembling mailboxes have popped up like spring daffodils along roads in Capital District villages, towns and cities. They are called Little Free Libraries (LFL’s). Their purpose is to build community and to promote literacy and love of reading in convenient locations 24 hours a day.
Filled with mostly donated books, Little Free Library’s motto is “Take a book. Share a book.” Books are always free. Patrons of any age may take home any books they wish and keep the ones they want to own. They are urged, but never required, to bring back favorite books to share with others. Studies indicate that impoverished children often have no books at all in their homes, which negatively impacts scholastic achievement. Little Free Libraries gives them the chance to start building their own home libraries, a key component of literacy development.
One Delmar resident remarked, “It gives me great pleasure to share my books with others, free space on my bookshelves, and discover new ones to take their place.”
No two Little Free Libraries are exactly alike. For example, a library on Mosher Road in Delmar has a particular theme: diversity. The library was built in 2021 by Greg Hopper and his then 9-year-old son, Evan. Hopper’s wife, Laura DiBetta, has stocked and maintained the library ever since.She is passionate about combating racism and prejudice by means of the diversity of the books in the LFL on the edge of her lawn.
All the books were either written by authors or feature characters from a wide variety of cultures, countries and backgrounds. Recently, she put out books for both children and adults celebrating Native American Heritage Month. Books by well known Native American authors such as Louise Erdrich and Leslie Marmon Silko were plentiful. Also displayed were books for young people featuring children from various Indian tribes explaining their various customs and history in both word and colorful pictures. Throughout the year, books about holidays such as Diwali, Juneteenth, Passover, Holi, Chanukah, Russian Easter and more crowd the shelves and are soon plucked by eager readers.
The content of these books often complement units studied in schools.
“We want everyone who comes to our Little Free Library to feel at home here and to know they belong,” DiBetta said, smiling. “We want to make sure our readers go into the world and interact comfortably with all kinds of people.”
Her goal: developing understanding through diverse books.
Reading enthusiasts typically obtain desired books from town or city libraries or bookstores, but this is not necessarily the case in Colonie.
Book lovers in this town can take out and donate books at the Little Free Library (LFL), located at the Crossings, a park off Albany Shaker Road.
Located near the Ciccotti Center, the Little Free Library is continually stocked and maintained by a teen advisory group that meets at the nearby William K. Sanford Library.
The group is run by librarian Elissa Valente, head of programming and outreach.
She raved about the dedication, talent and enthusiasm of the teens working on this project. When the old Little Free Library fell into disrepair, teenager Luke Bomba decided to build a beautiful new replacement as his Eagle Scout project.
Overstock at the Sanford Library, as well as donations from town residents, fill the shelves to bursting. Avid readers can find a wide variety of both fiction and nonfiction books appealing to both children and adults.
Books deemed not useful are recycled. Teenagers are heavily involved with most aspects of the library’s upkeep.
“It’s such rewarding work for teens, who yearn to work on a meaningful project like this that benefits the entire community,” Valente said.
Many segments of Colonie’s population patronize the Little Free Library when they visit the Crossings, including adults, families with young children, teenagers, and elderly residents, many of whom live at the Beltrone, a nearby senior residence. Young children particularly appreciate the LFL, in part because they can choose the books they like and take them home to keep if they wish.
On a recent visit, a spunky 7-year-old raced to the LFL ahead of her mother. She flung open the door, carefully perused the contents, and grabbed a Pinkalicious book, popular with first and second graders and preschoolers. Jumping up and down, she waved the book in the air, shouting, “PINKALICIOUS! I can read it all by myself! I can read it to my little sister! My daddy will be so proud!”
St. Thomas Church in Delmar is probably the only one in the Capital District with two beautiful small wooden structures on the grounds that are meticulously shaped like the church itself. Both are Little Free Libraries maintained by the church, one on the Delaware Avenue side of the church and the other on Adams Street on the opposite side. Pastor Rick Lesser mentioned that the idea for the Little Free Library came from members of the parish who saw an opportunity to provide the greater Bethlehem community an enriching gift.
“We are delighted that books come and go. There are so many good folks here who want to do good with and for others,” he said.
The libraries were built by congregant Rick Barnes, a talented teen skilled in woodworking who now attends college.
“This replica of our church lets us know we are all one family, and we need to be kind to one
another,” said Mary Ann Hospidor, youth minister of the church who is now in charge of the library. “Our Little Free Library reinforces the idea that we are good people.”
Books for all ages, many with religious or ethical themes, fill the library, including such books as
“Chicken Soup for the Soul,” “The Story of Christmas,” and “My First Book of Prayers.” Hospidor changes the selection as often as necessary. All are available to any passerby who wants to read them.
Parishioners entering the church mentioned that they were delighted with their Little Free Library and that they often donate books that inspired them or brought them peace and joy. One woman, who declined to be identified, said she was fiercely proud of the library.
“Not only does it help children practice their reading, but they gain some understanding of God’s presence in their lives,” she said.