Greenfield’s Little Free Libraries spread literacy, connect neighbors

  • Ben Hunsicker of Boy Scout Troop 5 checks out a book at the Little Free Library he created on Main Street in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • This Little Free Library was created by Ben Hunsicker of Boy Scout Troop 5 as his Eagle Scout Service Project. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ben Hunsicker of Boy Scout Troop 5 checks out a book at the Little Free Library he created on Main Street in Greenfield. Hunsicker says he was inspired to create a library for his project after seeing one outside the Black Cow Burger Bar in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ben Hunsicker of Boy Scout Troop 5 checks out a book at the Little Free Library he created on Main Street in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Ben Hunsicker of Boy Scout Troop 5 explains his Eagle Scout Service Project of a Little Free Library to a passerby on Main Street in Greenfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Little Free Library on Main Street in Greenfield features a quote by Jorge Luis Borges. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Ben Hunsicker created a Little Free Library out of an abandoned telephone kiosk in Energy Park, and had the library installed on Main Street with help from the Greenfield Department of Public Works. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • HUNSICKER Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Aaron Stone bought a Little Free Library for his birthday, installing it in front of his home on Davis Street. A small yellow notebook inside, which Stone is holding, serves as a guest log, where people can also request novels they’d like to read. For the Recorder/Matthew Shamey

For the Recorder
Published: 12/28/2018 12:39:47 PM

On a recent drive through Greenfield, I noticed a small colorfully painted box filled with books perched in a front yard on Madison Circle.

Once I noticed this first one, I began noticing them elsewhere in town. You know, that phenomenon when you learn a new word and suddenly it’s in the book you’re reading, the movie you just watched, and the conversation you overheard in the grocery store. Some are set in front yards. Others, in parks. One pays homage to Poet’s Seat Tower. Another is a repurposed newspaper vending machine in a local park.

I’ve overlooked books recently, opting instead for the convenience of my Kindle or the ease of my laptop. These little book boxes piqued my curiosity and I reached out to my friend and longtime Greenfield resident, Aaron Stone. I couldn’t call up a mental image of him with a book in hand, and yet, I discovered there was a little book box in his own front yard.

“It’s good for the community and it’s cool when I see people using it,” Stone said. “It’s inspired me to start reading.”

The small book boxes are actually Little Free Libraries, neighborhood book exchanges where people are invited to take a book or leave a book.

According to the Little Free Library website, the first book exchange box was constructed by Todd Bol of Wisconsin in 2009. He built a model of a one-room schoolhouse in tribute to his mother, who was a teacher and avid reader. His friends and neighbors embraced the idea and he received numerous requests to make more, which motivated him to create a nonprofit organization with an aim to inspire a love of reading, foster community development and spur collective creativity worldwide.

Currently, there are more than 75,000 Little Free Libraries in all 50 states and 88 countries, according to the website, which also offers advice for creating your own, examples of community driven initiatives and a global map depicting all the registered libraries. The website shows five Free Little Libraries in Greenfield, omitting two other libraries on Madison Circle and Silver Crest Lane.

An informal survey of more than 3,000 Little Free Library stewards and fans suggests that having the book exchanges increases neighborhood connections while introducing people to unfamiliar books. Based on the results of the survey, conducted in October 2017, “three out of four people report they’ve read a book they would not have read because of a Little Free Library, 73 percent of people say they’ve met more neighbors because of a Little Free Library (and) 92 percent of people say their neighborhood feels like a friendlier place because of a Little Free Library.”

Exploring Greenfield’s libraries

Wondering how deeply this concept had taken root in Greenfield, I went to Stone’s house on Davis Street on a cold, gray Thursday afternoon. The plan: run a route that connected all the Little Free Libraries in Greenfield.

The approximately 5-mile tour started in his front yard. Pointing to the small yellow structure with a red roof and glass door, Stone explained, “I bought mine for my birthday.”

He opened the glass door that was affixed with a pamphlet explaining how the Little Free Library program works. A small yellow notebook inside serves as a guest log, where people can also request novels they’d like to read, though the decision to have a guest log is up to the library’s steward.

One of our first stops on the tour was Hillside Park, where there’s a library built from a retired newspaper vending machine that has been painted yellow and adorned with hand prints.

“I bring the big books that don’t fit in mine here,” Stone said. “This one is perfect for the big books.”

The types of books shared are at the discretion of the community, though children’s books are encouraged as promoting literacy is one of the program’s goals, according to the Little Free Library website.

We continued among the afternoon dog-walkers and made our way to Energy Park.

“There’s an old metal box here that would be great for a LFL,” Stone noted as we made our way into the park. However, the box was conspicuously absent. The question of the missing telephone kiosk was resolved as we ran down Main Street and Stone came to a stop in front of Baker Office Supply.

“This is awesome! Someone converted that box I was thinking of into a LFL,” Stone said. A gold-colored placard adhered to the regal black library attributed its creation to Ben Hunsicker of Boy Scout Troop 5 as his Eagle Scout Service Project.

We ran onward to Madison Circle in the waning light, coming across a library “given in loving memory of Marcia Harris by her neighbors.” The construction materials are rough hewn wood and a stone bench sits adjacent.

Nearing the end of the tour, we stopped to see a replica of Poet’s Seat Tower in the form of another Little Free Library posted along the sidewalk on Wildwood Avenue.

Meeting the masterminds

We headed onward in the descending darkness. Our final stop on the tour was on Pierce Street. While we were scrolling through the books, Stone pointed out a custom Little Free Library stamp — which can be purchased by library stewards — adorning the title page of some books and noted, “This is a fun way to track how books move through town.”

When asked about her inspiration for creating the library on Pierce Street, Johanna Rizardini smiled at Stone and replied, “His library actually. I’d see it on my walks and it would make me really happy — this box of books just getting love. Then I looked into what it was all about and Terry (Stigers) built it for me for my birthday.”

“I hope more people are inspired to do it,” Rizardini continued. “Everyone has books to donate or people want books. This is a great way to keep it going. My mom brought by books for Christmas the other day, “The Polar Express,” “The Night Before Christmas.” … I put them out and they were gone within an hour and that just made me super happy. The kids’ books go quick.”

Greenfield High School senior Ben Hunsicker’s inspiration to create his own Free Little Library came from a similar experience as Rizardini’s. He was eating at the Black Cow Burger Bar in Turners Falls and eyed one of the libraries from the window.

“It just came to me that I should do one of these for Greenfield,” he remarked.

“As I was walking around looking for a good location,” Hunsicker continued, “I saw (the telephone box) and thought, ‘If I repainted that and put a door on it, it would be perfect.’”

Little did Hunsicker know at the time how many members of the community he would need to meet to get the old telephone box installed as a Little Free Library on Main Street.

“It was kind of an ordeal trying to figure out who owned it, so I could request to use it. I talked to the DPW and they said, ‘No,’” he said. “Verizon said it wasn’t theirs. The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association said it was abandoned as long as they could remember, and they gave me a letter saying it’s abandoned.”

Once Hunsicker received the go-ahead, he said Mayor William Martin’s office was supportive and the Department of Public Works assisted him in relocating the telephone box and establishing it in its new location. Pointing to the ground around the Little Free Library, Hunsicker said “This area used to be just dirt and wood chips, and the DPW poured concrete for the foundation.”

“We love to support Eagle Scout projects,” said DPW Office Manager Janine Greaves.

Ben Hunsicker’s father, Mike Hunsicker, said one of the adults in the troop, John Passiglia, helped Ben bend the telephone box’s metal and weld it into the Free Little Library it is today. Once the renovations were complete, the task turned to stocking the library.

“I supplied some books,” Ben Hunsicker began, “and I asked all the Scouts in my troop to bring a book or two that they would like to donate — a book that had meaning.”

Mike Hunsicker participated as well, donating his copy of “Lord of the Rings.”

As we talked by Ben Hunsicker’s Little Free Library, a man walked up and said, “Wonderful, great project. Thanks for doing it.” He introduced himself as Steve Goldsher, proprietor of Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center across the street.

“I was just walking by the other day and said to my son, ‘What is this?’ Goldsher said. “And I noticed the placard. It was done by an Eagle Scout and I thought, ‘Wow, we need more of these.’”

Exploring the Little Free Libraries of Greenfield revealed a communal desire to share, educate and contribute to a collective good through simple and meaningful media, while strengthening the community’s bonds.

“We’ve seen since we opened our library that it does add to the sense of togetherness we feel in our neighborhood,” said Laura Luker, who stewards the Poet’s Seat Tower library with Nicole Moore. “Folks come to contribute or take a book, and we often have a conversation over our front fence with someone that we may never have met otherwise.”




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