When 2010 budget cutbacks forced the closing of all branch libraries in Trenton, the city gained the unpleasant reality of hosting just one library for more than 85,000 people rather than five for its population. Book-loving citizens have rallied by creating a variety of little free libraries across the municipality, libraries to give people access to books in a city with limited public transportation.
These new Trenton libraries all share three common goals: to ensure that citizens have easy access to reading material, that there are no due dates, and that all material is free.
Several Trentonians opted to sponsor a library through the Little Free Library organization. This Wisconsin-based nonprofit, backed by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress among others, is responsible for more than 75,000 libraries in 90 countries.
Library sponsors are known as stewards, and each is presented with a charter number and an official sign with the words “Take a book. Share a book.” The sign is affixed to a raised, rather quaint box, often resembling a tiny fairytale cottage, which holds books.
They also have a website and made statements regarding their involvement and box locations. That includes Anne Marquardt, who was one of the first in the city to become a steward, opening her box on Centre Street in May, 2013. Her box — an artistic creation in it own right — is painted robin’s egg blue.
The boxes can be bought through the Little Free Library organization or personally constructed and decorated.
When the branch libraries closed, Donna Zucchetti, who has a box in Chambersburg, says she “wanted to give something to my neighborhood children to do better in school. I wanted to give them the gift of reading books.”
It took her a long time to come up with a plan to execute and in searching the internet she came across the Little Free Library website, which provides all necessary information on sponsoring a public book exchange. “It took a while for my dream to happen,” she says, “but it’s up and running.”
Donna Garcia, another Little Free Library steward with a box in Hiltonia, feels it important to expand library locations. “Our city, Trenton, N.J.,” she has written, “has closed ALL of its libraries but one. This library is inaccessible to most of the residents of the city.” And then she proudly concludes with, “Our Little Free Library has books for all … children, young adults, and adults. Take a book. Read a book. Share a book. Leave a book.”
That last sentence is key to the Little Free Library concept. Readers are encouraged to supply as well as take books. Sometimes, however, help is needed on the supply side.
Enter Trenton 365 radio show host Jacques Howard and his Library Boxes of Trenton. Five years ago he decided the city’s abandoned newspaper boxes could serve a better purpose than serving as garbage dumps. With a grant from the I Am Trenton foundation and the support of the Trenton Downtown Association, he obtained the newspaper boxes and assembled a group of artists to paint them. These artistic creations have then been distributed throughout the city with the offer of free books within.
Classic Used Books and Championship Bar were and continue to be major supporters of the Library Boxes of Trenton. Artworks Trenton and local colleges such as The College of New Jersey are among the organizations that also supply books for this effort.
Judy Winkler originally participated in Howard’s program and now runs a Little Free Library site, a recycled and richly decorated newspaper box she calls the Mill Hill Little Free Library.
She praises Howard and Eric Maywar of Classic Used Books for their support. It was after she became acquainted with the Little Free Library organization that Winkler decided to have her effort registered with that group.
She loves being a Little Free Library steward. The variety of books and interests passing through and using her box amazes her. “Just this year,” she says, “German, Russian, Spanish, and French books have passed through my library.”
“I once found a Belorussian cookbook in the box and decided to try out some of the recipes, which were really good. After I returned it to my little free library, a neighbor took it and decided to keep it.”
“State employees walk by the library to and from work and during lunch hours, so there is a lot of activity. Maywar and the Ransomes of Championship Bar always make sure there are lots of books for me. Children, especially, appreciate the fact that they’ve been able to obtain donations from Scholastic Books.”
“It’s just wonderful,” she adds, “when every now and then I’ll be inside my house and I’ll hear a child outside squeak and giggle at getting a new book.”
Winkler checks her library box daily and whenever the supply is low, she relies on the Trenton Free Public Library as a source of a variety of books, from romance novels to classic fiction.
As Richard Jutkiewicz, community outreach librarian, explains, the public library has stacks of free books available to Trenton citizens. The stacks are located in six different locations in the library and are restocked as soon as they are emptied.
Trenton may have closed all its branch libraries, but its citizens have insured that there are still many year-round replacements throughout the city that are not only free but also provide a varied and continuing supply of books.
The Little Free Library website at littlefreelibrary.org provides information on becoming a steward as well as the locations for all its libraries in Trenton. The Library Boxes of Trenton have a Facebook site.