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Locust Valley Library volunteers keep LIRR commuters supplied with free books, magazines

Locust Valley Library volunteers Sue Klein, left, and

Locust Valley Library volunteers Sue Klein, left, and Joan McCauley, seen at the Long Island Rail Road station on July 8, 2014, bring free books and magazines to LIRR commuters nearly every day. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Sue Klein and Joan McCauley have come to the Locust Valley LIRR station almost every day for 21/2 years, but have never once taken the train.

They make pickups and drop-offs, but their "passengers" travel by bags and arms. Long Island Rail Road maintenance workers call the pair the "Book Ladies," and they are part of the reason commuters swear free books and magazines have mysteriously appeared at a stand inside the station's waiting area since 2009.

"I think there are little elves that come and stock the shelves overnight," said David Lorenzo, 27, a Locust Valley resident and commuter who said he has never seen the pair but has invited himself to enjoy the literary gifts McCauley and Klein leave behind.

If Klein and McCauley were elves, their workshop would be the library -- the two have been friends for more than 20 years and are board members of the Friends of the Locust Valley Library, a not-for-profit organization focused on library awareness for local residents.

"We leave free books and [publicize] library functions," McCauley said. "It gives them [commuters] a sense of community and makes their ride into the city more pleasant."

Commuters have about two dozen items to choose from. The magazine offerings include current and past issues of Forbes, Boating World, Bird Watching and others and are neatly stacked on a wooden shelf that reads "free books," along with hardbacks like "Devil in the White City," a nonfiction work by Erik Larson, which stands upright on its frame to showcase its glossy letters and cover art. More books are housed below in a two-tier bookcase.

McCauley and Klein arrive almost every day to maintain the selection, which gets rummaged during the 6 a.m. commuter rush. McCauley, a retired interior designer, said midmorning travelers who spot her and Klein carrying bulky bags of books half the size of their 5-foot frames often express their gratitude for the reading material, which is replaced if there are no takers.

"We give the book a run for about a month on the shelf," said Klein, a retired kindergarten teacher. If it doesn't disappear, "we take it down."


A year's supply

Every April, before the Locust Valley Library holds its annual book sale, McCauley collects about 50 or 60 books and rations them to the railway station throughout the year. The rest of the commuter offerings are donated by neighbors and friends.

"We don't advertise it too much because we don't want it to become unmanageable," Klein said of their effort. "There's only two of us."

Lorenzo, a researcher and avid fantasy reader who commutes to Manhattan for work, said he checks the stand religiously for new on-the-train reads.

"It really just helps the time go by faster," he said of the ride, which takes about 70 minutes. "I'll take pages over an iPad any day."

The unofficial book-reading program began in 2009 when Janis Schoen, former director of the Locust Valley Library, started bringing free books and DVDs to the station to get commuters to sign up for a library card.

"A library card is just as important as your American Express card," Schoen said.

She thought the smell of freshly brewed coffee and doughnuts would provide extra incentive, she said, so she brought those, too. She recruited fewer than 10 people but achieved another objective.

"We wanted to let people know that there is a library that goes outside of its walls," Schoen said.

Klein said she and McCauley took over in 2012, when Schoen left Locust Valley to become director of the Massapequa Public Library. Schoen said the library will begin a similar service at its train station this month or next. It will be called "Meet Us at the Railroad."

Klein originally wanted to supply laundromats with a shelf of children's books.

"We wanted to give kids something to do while their mothers did the laundry," she said. "But the business owners didn't have the space for it."

Instead, they received permission to operate at the LIRR, Schoen said.

The 100-year-old Locust Valley Library is scheduled to undergo renovations to its community room this month and next, but it won't affect the book supply for the Book Ladies, Kathy Smith, the library's director, said.

The Book Ladies have no plans to expand operations to other stations, they said, but they do want to preserve the value of books in an era of e-readers.

"I have a Kindle, but it doesn't have the personality a book does," Klein said. "People like it when their books find a home."



The Locust Valley Public Library will undergo renovations to its community room this month to next. Library director Kathy Smith said the changes coincide with the building's centennial anniversary this year and will include new floors, light fixtures and upgrades to the audiovisual projector. The library was last renovated in the late 1990s to add an adult computer center, according to its website.

"The 100-year-anniversary is kind of like the spark that is getting everything going," Smith said. "It needs a little sprucing up."

The community space, built when the library was constructed in 1914, serves as the meeting room for the Friends of the Locust Valley Library, a craft haven for children and a recreational area for yoga practitioners.

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