A Novel Idea

We are a town blessed with a robust library system anchored by the stately Greenwich Library, with branches in Old Greenwich, Byram and Cos Cob. Diane’s Bookstore thrives in Greenwich, Dogwood Books blooms in Christ Church, and Athena Bookstore has just opened in Old Greenwich. So for a town that values books, it’s no surprise that during the pandemic neighborhood Little Free Libraries sprouted up.

When Covid exploded and local libraries and bookstores limited hours and shut down, several Greenwich residents devised ways to fill the need for literature through book swaps. And along the way they strengthened our sense of community during a time of isolation. The pandemic may be endemic now, but these little libraries are going strong and spreading a mission of reuse and recycle. Here are the stories of a few of these sweet spots—and tips on how you can bring one to your neighborhood.


A LITTLE EXPLORING

WIND IN THE WILLOWMERE
This free library began in one Riverside neighborhood during lockdown, when children quickly exhausted their at-home book supplies. Willowmere resident Stephanie Martin began researching how to create a local library to share books for all ages. With the craftsmanship of neighbor Brendan Hoffman and the artistry of Ann Goffin, the “Wind in the Willowmere Little Free Library” opened in May 2021.

Since then, managing the books has been a labor of love for Stephanie, who has a bird’s-eye view from her home to watch visitors young and old explore, select and deposit books in the library on Willowmere Pond.

As pandemic restrictions eased and local libraries reopened, she kept the easily accessible book hub going. And it continues to be a regular gathering spot.

Stephanie visits the library every few days, straightening and organizing books, adding new donations and removing titles that have sat on the shelf for too long. The library holds about thirty titles from children’s books and cookbooks to classics and bestsellers.

GARDEN OF WORDS
Old Greenwich resident Christine Negroni’s journey to create her free library began with a novel a friend shared from another free local library. Inspired by the book that she enjoyed but might have otherwise never discovered, Christine was intrigued by the idea of a book swap. A New York Times best-selling author herself, she knows the value of reading.

A proponent of sustainability, she built the library using a former kitchen cabinet and other recycled items. The “Garden of Words Little Free Library” on Highview in Old Greenwich opened on Halloween 2020 with the help of New York artist Danielle Dimston, who painted two original art panels on the unit.

Registered with the Little Free Library organization, this is one of a few registered Little Free Libraries in Greenwich. Christine curates titles as any small bookstore would. She features holiday books seasonally and holds excess books at home to rotate in, based on seasonality and topic.

Beyond a love of reading, Christine is enthusiastic about the community building and literary discovery that the library encourages. Readers explore books they might not otherwise select and that may lead them to a new favorite author, subject or genre.

Unique to the “Garden of Words” library is a section dedicated to non-perishable items such as toothpaste, beans, peanut butter and rice. Christine says it’s about creating a sense of sharing that inspires neighbors to be noticeably friendlier and positive about the neighborhood.

THE LITTLE RED LIBRARY IN COS COB
Another registered Greenwich Little Free Library is in Cos Cob, tucked next to the former Starbucks in Mill Pond Chess Park. It displays the organization’s simple motto—Take a Book, Share a Book. The “Little Red Library,” donated to the town by Kate Marlow and Daisy Florin, is at the corner of Strickland Road and Putnam Avenue. The spot provides a great place for readers to grab a book by the park and enjoy the view.

A Little Free library on Steamboat Road


HOW TO OPEN YOUR LIBRARY?

Stephanie Martin’s tip is simple—just get it done. She explains that once created, the libraries almost run on their own. It’s the building that can be the biggest challenge, especially if designing from scratch.

Christine Negroni points out that caulk is key in creating a waterproof space and advises keeping space for airflow by avoiding completely filling the library with books. She also uses the little silica gel dehumidifying packets that arrive in so many of our packages and stashes them in the library to absorb excess humidity in damp months.

The best resource is the Little Free Library organization. This national nonprofit has more than 90,000 registered Little Free Libraries. Its website has information on how to create a library and also offers ready-made units starting at $169.

Home-built libraries can be registered and added to a national map of Little Free Llibraries on the website for $39.95. Registering a library gives creators access to support and networking. Each library receives a recognition plaque. littlefreelibrary.org

HOLLY HILL BOOK SWAP
The most popular and well-established little free library in town is not so little. The Holly Hill Book Swap has been run by volunteers at the Holly Hill Recycling Center for over forty years. Founded by Doug Francefort and housed in the Book Shed, the Book Swap is open Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and averages 200 visitors a day.

The more than 4,000 books (and some CDs) in the shed are from every genre, including coffee table books. An estimated 40,000 books go through the site annually. Greenwich residents can take up to ten a day and can donate anytime the Holly Hill Recycling Center is open.

In response to getting more books than can be used, in 2015 the volunteers created the organization Books4Everyone to support literacy throughout Fairfield County. Up to twenty boxes a week are taken to homeless shelters, schools in need and community organizations.

Volunteers also sort books and manage smaller free libraries in a number of senior centers such as Hill House, Nathaniel Witherell and distribute children’s books to Greenwich CCI, Inspirica, Bridgeport Schools, Domus and many more.

Book Swap shelves can be found all over town including the Island Beach Ferry, Tod’s Point, Old Greenwich train station, Packages Plus in the Mill Pond Shopping Center and the Greenwich Benheim Cancer Center.

It’s nice to know a good read is never out of reach. books4everyone.org

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