Pull into the Maple Hill High School parking lot in Rensselaer County just outside Albany, and you’ll see a bright blue box at the edge of the sidewalk. Standing about five feet high on a rough-hewn base of two by fours, the glass front box brings to mind a bird house or a telephone booth.
It’s one of the district’s two “Little Free Libraries,” standalone library boxes that allow readers to freely take, add or borrow books. A second box is located in front of the district’s elementary school. Christine Fowler, co-president of the Schodack Faculty Association with Karen Sweet, spearheaded the high school initiative in 2019 after attending a National Council of Teachers of English conference where she learned about the program.
Thinking it would be a positive link between the school and the community, she approached administrators about placing a LFL at the high school. “One of my greatest joys is giving people books,” said Fowler who erected a LFL outside her home in 2020.
After getting district approval and funding, Fowler ordered a LFL kit and Schodack FA member Bill Murray worked with his technology students to assemble and post it outside the high school in 2021.
Unbeknownst to Fowler, sixth grade English teacher Allison Streeter, Schodack FA, had the same idea for the elementary school. “I read an article about them with my class and the kids loved the idea and wanted one at school,” said Streeter who also has a LFL outside her home. “We were studying persuasive writing, so I had the kids write a letter to the principal asking for one.”
Castleton Elementary School’s LFL arrived the summer of 2022 and the building’s sixth graders became its official stewards. “I’m out there once a week with them putting in new titles and moving things around,” said Streeter noting that after she sent a letter home asking for donations, last year’s sixth graders collected and donated enough books to keep the library stocked, a tradition she plans to continue with future classes. “They gave the books as their sixth-grade gift and I like that, it was their way of giving back.”
To keep the high school box stocked, Fowler relies on the student-power of seventh graders — many of whom are Streeter’s former students — donations and simple ingenuity. “I order lots of books through First Book, our librarians donate advanced reader copies they receive, retiring members donate their classroom libraries, and when Scholastic sends out previews of soon-to-be released books to teachers and librarians, lots of those go in too,” said Fowler noting that she also got a donation from the nonprofit, We Need Diverse Books which promotes diversity in literature and publishing.
The library boxes are a hit with community members. “I’ve seen students from visiting sports teams browse through the box as they wait for their bus to pick them up, people stop to look through it as they walk their dogs,” said Fowler. “Both boxes are a nice link between the school and the community.”
The American Federation of Teachers, NYSUT’s national affiliate, has partnered with First Book since 2011 to distribute millions of free and low-cost books, school supplies and educational resources to organizations nationwide. For information, visit nysut.org/firstbook.
Founded in 2012, Little Free Libraries is a Minnesota-based nonprofit that aims to expand book access globally through a network of registered, volunteer-led LFLs. There are 150,000 registered LFLs worldwide in over 100 nations, distributing 70 million books annually. For information, or to order a LFL box or kit, visit littlefreelibrary.org.