Robbinsville Girl Scout Troop 71439 constructed and installed a Little Free Library at the Town Center gazebo July 20, 2020. Front: Lucie Canuso (left), Lily Feigenbaum, Aryanna Fernandez, Emmy Holt and Gwen Holt. Center: Marisa DeMeila (left), Josie Basora and Emily Moorcroft. Back: Karen Shenghit (left), Jillian Shenghit, Lucy Daly and Aimée Daly.

Robbinsville Girl Scout Troop 71439 was ready to build and install one of the township’s first Little Free Library locations earlier this spring. And then the pandemic hit.

They adapted, though, and got back on track. The library was installed at the Town Center gazebo July 20, and it’s now fully stocked and open for residents to borrow and donate books for the community to share.

“Coronavirus postponed everything, but I think we did a good job putting stuff together on Zoom calls,” said member Lucia Canuso.

A Little Free Library is the physical home of a neighborhood book exchange. They’re ordered, constructed and registered by groups and individuals through the Little Free Library nonprofit. Community members can take books from the structure and are encouraged to return the book and maybe even add one of their own to the collection.

The girls worked on the installation as part of their Bronze Award group project. They knew the project had to be centered on the community, and they tossed around a few other ideas, like a collaborative garden, before deciding on the library. And the more they researched it, the more they liked the idea.

“We thought it could have a good impact on the community and start more interactions between people,” Canuso said.

They opted for the Town Center gazebo based on the amount of foot traffic and number of events held at the space. Member Gwen Holt said it’s a great place where lots of Robbinsville residents gather. Member Lucy Daly agreed, adding that some of the troop’s families live near the location, which would make restocking the library more convenient.

The pandemic may have even helped make it more successful.

“When remote learning started, I noticed more and more people were going for walks and biking around the gazebo,” said member Josie Basora.

Building the Little Free Library was a true team effort. The girls held several fundraisers over the last year to raise money to purchase the structure, including nut sales, magazine sales and lemonade stands.

Once they had the funds, the troop had to decide on a model—the Little Free Library organization offers a few different kits. They voted on their design of choice at a meeting and got started with the planning.

The library arrived pre-built, and one member’s father constructed a post to keep it sturdy and in the ground.

Next came decorating. The library traveled from girl to girl every two weeks to give each member enough time to add their own design to the structure. They ultimately decided on a barn theme, and troop mom Aimee Daly added some illustrations once the girls were finished. The troop also signed their names on the post to add an even more personal touch.

They were on track to install the tiny building in April, but COVID-19 derailed their plans just before they were set to finish the library as a group. After some virtual coordination and Zoom meetings, the troop settled on how to finish.

“We spent so long on this, and now it’s finally up and here,” said member Lily Feigenbaum. “I think people are going to use it because at the town library, you have to call and wait to pick up a book, but here, you can walk right up to it.”

The Little Free Library at the Town Center gazebo was decorated with a barn theme.

The Little Free Library is currently stocked with books for all ages. There are novels, chapter books and favorites like the Harry Potter series, as well as picture books and items for those who are learning to read. The girls also installed a side pocket inside the library’s door to hold bookmarks—handmade by the troop and ready for residents to use.

Much of the stock came from member Aryanna Fernandez, who hosted a book drive at her church.

“I made a bin, and I put it at my church because that’s where the most people who donate the books would be,” she said. “I asked people to give books that they don’t really use anymore, or new books so we could put some in the library.”

She was successful—currently, troop mom Karen Shenghit has hundreds of books stocked in her basement for the library in case it starts running low on material.

For Shenghit, it was satisfying to see the girls’ vision finally come to fruition.

“We were driving [just before the library was installed], and the township was getting ready to put the post in,” she said. “Jillian saw it and pointed it out, and we were so excited. They worked really hard. As much as Aimee and I helped, the did so much. It was exciting to cut the ribbon.”

Daly agreed.

“I had the library at my house most of the time, just adding details to pull it all together,” she said. “I would see it every day, but seeing it in real life outdoor setting with the books in it was exciting.”

The Little Free Library was officially opened at a ceremony on July 20. The troop—Josie Basora, Lucie Canuso, Lucy Daly, Marisa DeMeila, Lily Feigenbaum, Aryanna Fernandez, Emmy Holt, Gwen Holt, Emily Moorcroft and Jillian Shenghit—attended.

“It felt really good to unveil,” said Lucy Daly. “We worked hard to build it, raise money and paint. It felt good just to get it done.”