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Little Free Libraries bring books to pedestrians' hands

Lucy Fiddler, 3, takes a book from a

Lucy Fiddler, 3, takes a book from a Little Free Library, owned by her grandmother Susan Bernard-Handler of Amityville. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

Looking for something to read? Borrow a book from your neighbors.

In fact, the books may be in a sweetly decorated little enclosed box on their front lawn, part of a burgeoning movement sweeping across the country. Little Free Libraries are spots where books are put out for anyone who wants to read them with no costs, no sign-outs and no strings attached.

You can find a handful of them in front of homes and public libraries around Long Island -- another four are along the Long Beach boardwalk.

Those who have installed these colorful boxes say that the "libraries" allow their love of reading to be shared, giving old books new life, and in many ways, bringing neighbors together.

"It has been called the water cooler of literacy," says Todd Bol, of Hudson, Wisconsin, who created the national Little Free Library organization in 2009 in memory of his mother. With more than 25,000 across the country, and even the world, the program promotes reading and generosity between neighbors.

"It's a better side of us," he says.


Two colorful libraries stand alongside the road in front of a historic home on Ocean Avenue in Amityville. One for adults (painted in vivid purple and lime green with a shingled roof) and a matching one for children that is perched on a smaller post for short-arm reach.

Their keeper, Susan Benard-Handler, 66, says kids often ride up on their bikes to check them out. Adults stop their cars to take a look -- and sometimes a book. It's satisfying, indeed, for this retired librarian.

"If I have some audiobooks, I may stick them in there," she says. "I put bookmarks in there."

Still, while she sometimes feeds the library to keep it current, it is pretty self-sustaining, she says. On a recent day, there were Judy Blume books in the children's box, and Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" in the adult one.


If you see a little red-topped house in front of the Robert W. Carbonaro Elementary School on Hungry Hill Road in Valley Stream, that's a free library, too. In fact, Bol says, schools are a big part of the organization's success.

The school's librarian and Little Free Library steward, Kate Lallier, sees kids drop by the box all day long from the window in her office, including high school kids who make pickups for younger siblings, she says.

Vanessa Herrera, 6, makes her mom go the long way around the school property each day, just to check what's in the little library box each morning. "You have to put these things out there in order to regain their interest in reading books," says her mother, Melissa Herrera. "People think it's all about the iPad and computers, but that's what they have the most access to these days. ... It's these little things that spark their interest."

Douglas Attridge, 52, of Mattituck, believes he was the first on Long Island to register his Little Free Library, a structure he built about three years ago from leftover wood.

"I love to read," he says, "I like sci-fi, but there's all kinds of stuff in there."

Meanwhile, children visiting the pediatric unit at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow can pick up a book at its Little Free Library.

"There's an excitement when you tell kids they can take a book," says pediatric registered nurse Carla Vultaggio, who runs the program. "Sometimes, they walk around the whole visit with the book under their arms. They feel excited and important."


1. CHECK REGULATIONS Consult village or town ordinances to make sure you can install one on your property. If placement outside your own home is not feasible, consider talking to local libraries, senior centers or similar locations, and being the official steward.

2. BUILD YOUR BOX Do it yourself (Little Free Libraries' website has some blueprints; or buy one from the organization, priced from $199.

3. CONSIDER REGISTRATION A $35 fee gets your library listed on the organization's official map, a sign to mount on your box and other benefits.

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