June 11, 2013
Little Free Libraries around Lower Manhattan
by Kirsten Reach
Have you picked up your summer reading yet? Ten Little Free Libraries opened in Lower Manhattan in May and will remain open until September 1. Holding no more than about 20 books, these tiny spaces offer the “take a book, return a book” model. A full map of library locations is available here.
A joint project of the PEN World Voices Festival and the Architectural League of New York, the libraries were designed and built by the winners of an architectural competition. They are stocked with donations from publishers and looked after by community partners such as the Cooper Union, Henry Street Settlement and La MaMa Experiential Theater.
Little Free Libraries, as we’ve mentioned before, are tiny lending libraries with no membership requirements or late fees. Established less than three years ago as a part of Wisconsin Partners for SustainAbility, Little Free Libraries now sponsors over 5,000 libraries worldwide. (Though they are strangely absent from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.) Before this installation, there was one registered New York location in Prospect Heights.
If you want to build or buy one for your community, the organization asks that you register the location on the Little Free Libraries website.
Designer: Cevan Castle
Community Partner: The Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center
Statement: Libraries are shelters for people, as well as books. Children, especially, rely on libraries as a safe destination outside of home or school. Books are not the only attraction. The activities that congregate in and around the library collection—such as storytelling, tutoring, clubs—allow children to connect with each other and share in a safe place. New York City is not particularly friendly to children. The presence of a neighborhood library gives our smaller residents a destination and means of connection. I propose that Little Free Libraries could help children find an anchor in an otherwise adult-sized landscape.
Design Team: The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture’s Design III studio with Maja Hjertén Knutson and Christopher Taleff, design leaders; Michael Young, David Allin and Lydia Kallipoliti, faculty team
Community Partner: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Architecture
Excerpt from their statement: It is through the inspiration of this first historic reading room at Cooper that the students wish to approach the project, re-emphasizing the book itself, the act of reading, and the potential for a free exchange unconstrained by curatorial oversight. The Little Free Library offers the potential for respite and a moment’s escape from the city, but chance encounter as well. The project echoes Cooper’s own ethos of the exchange of thought, ideas, and knowledge, “as free as air and water.”
Design Team: Davies Tang + Toews
Community Partner: La MaMa
Statement: Books are a point of contact, whether recognized or not, between two people and the infinite unseen world, a share across time and space. We feel this when we see someone reading on the train, an exchange now diminished by the introduction of technology.
Our interest in the Little Free Libraries lies in a love of the abandoned beauty and importance of books. We find its counterpart in the desire to reclaim lost locations of human exchange: phone booths, postage windows, ticket kiosks that are never open anymore. This project is a chance to re-purpose this infrastructure and remind us of what has been lost, to show two missing things complementing each other, falling in love again.
Design Team: Stereotank
Community Partner: St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School and The They Co.
Statement: It’s been often said that books are threatened by digital books, whereas physical books keep in their materiality the advantage of being power free (other than the embedded energy from their production).
We like thinking of the presence of the book in the urban scenario and dynamics as a place-maker, a spot to stop and take the time to browse.
Envisioning the book ‘container’ as a micro inhabitable bookshelf. Built with repurposed materials and objects.
Design Team: Shannon Harvey, Adam Michaels, and Levi Murphy
Community Partner: Hester Street Collaborative
Statement: Comprised of an urban designer, a book designer, and a furniture designer, each member of our team focuses on the accessibility of ideas for broad publics and the positive role that designers can have on society. We see physical books as a crucial means of communicating ideas amongst individuals, importantly circumventing the “digital divide” of electronic media. We’re enthusiastic about the prospect of designing a unique distribution point for readers to encounter information that they might not otherwise have access to. Further, with this project we seek to participate in current discourse surrounding distribution models and gift economies.
Design Team: Forrest Jessee and Brigette Borders, studio point 0
Community Partner: Abrons Art Center/Henry Street Settlement
Statement: Little Free Libraries not only promotes literacy, but offers the possibility of curated social interaction around learning. Mobile and web-based resources have streamlined the experience of gathering and reading news and literature, yet single platform consumption neuters the content. The sensory experience of reading a printed book can be observed, cherished, envied, and inspire knowledge sharing. A Little Free Library in New York City should emphasize what has been lost in digital platforms by offering a media space to connect readers, harness a microcosm of reading lists and interests, and inspire the immediacy of sharing.
Design Team: stpmj
Community Partner: Fourth Arts Block
Statement: The Little Free Library is an opportunity to engage diverse demographic groups and ages while creating a small place to share books, interests and ideas instantly throughout the city. We are interested in investigating an extremely light intervention for the Little Free Library that focuses on its ability to move and change location. Imagining a volume that could be split and be transported easily, maximum accessibility and adaptability to engage with residual urban infrastructure, light poles, street signages, metro or bus stations, benches and trees, will be explored. From Wall Street to Harlem, the proposal will seek to provide equal access to all while adding new diverse micro communities to the metropolitan city.
Design Team: Matter Practice
Community Partner: New York University
Statement: The public lending library is a repository of knowledge made available to anyone; arguably the concept cannot be separated from the ideals of democratic society. It allows all of us to travel light, keeping what we’ve learned in our heads, yet leaving the tools to be shared with others. The city fosters the chance encounter, unexpected intimacy between strangers, the moment of finding slowness within a place of great speed, an anonymous inheritance, a gift for one unknown.
Our little library for New York would aspire to package these possibilities.
Designer: Chat Travieso
Community Partner: Two Bridges Neighborhood Council
Statement: My work seeks to restore social bonds that are lacking in our public spaces through critical and poetic urban interventions. That is why The Little Free Libraries movement is especially inspiring for its dedication to the ideals of sharing and trust. In line with the movement’s commitment to sustainability, I am interested in repurposing overlooked objects and spaces in our existing built environment for this project. I believe Little Free Libraries are important because they are a catalyst to get people to think, both through reading and by participating in a system that challenges a culture of over-consumption and privatization.
Design Team: Mark Rakatansky Studio with Aaron White
Community Partner: University Settlement
Statement: The library today is the new civic center: to bring that civic mode out into the city — right there on the sidewalk with you — engages new interactions between fellow readers. In 1905, the University Settlement’s collection of 6,500 books inaugurated the collection of the Carnegie “Free to All” Library next door at 61 Rivington Street. In 2013, our Little Free Library returns and redistributes the favor, using what is usually the barrier of the urban fence to keep others out as a way now to be able to reach into and out from, in a civic redistribution of the borders of what is public.
Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.