ROSELLE, NJ — Little Free Libraries have been around for a decade, and now the borough has one of its own, with plans to add more.
Roselle resident Juli-Anne Benjamin, director of curriculum at the Great Oaks Legacy Charter School in Newark, has brought the program to Roselle. The Little Free Library is an international network of stand-alone book-sharing posts that began when Todd Bol, of Wisconsin, mounted a homemade wooden box that looked liked a one-room schoolhouse, on a post on his lawn in 2009. He filled the “library,” with books to honor his mother, a schoolteacher who had recently died.
Each Little Free Library, which looks like an elaborate birdhouse, costs about $200. According to a Nov. 12 statement from the borough of Roselle, the Little Free Library kits include “step-by-step instructions, pre-cut pieces, all necessary hardware and instructions on how to register the library on the Little Free Library map.” More elaborate libraries also exist, such as those built from old phone booths in England or others that look like large vending machines or photo booths in the Tokyo Metro system.
Since Bol first built his homage to his mother, more than 90,000 Little Free Libraries have sprung up in 91 countries worldwide, according to the release. Benjamin brought one to Roselle, placing it outside the Board of Education Building on Locust Street. She believes residents of all ages should have immediate access to books within their neighborhoods, and dubbed her initiative “Roselle Reads.”
“A Little Free Library is described as a ‘take a book, leave a book’ free-book exchange,” the release said. “It isn’t limited to just books. Residents can donate magazines, newspapers, and even school supplies.”
Benjamin, who previously worked as an English teacher and literacy coach and administrator in the New York Public School system, said she aims to expand the program to other locations in the borough, including bus stops, in front of business storefronts, houses of worship and public parks.
A graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a degree in culturally responsive literacy instruction, she said, “Over my 20-year career in education, I’ve worked with so many students who don’t have proper access to books and I believe that the Little Free Library program can help to bring my love of literacy to my hometown. The program is all about providing easy access to a wide range of books.”
Roselle Councilman John Fortuna said Benjamin approached him to seek the borough’s support for the idea, which he felt had merit.
“Juli-Ann came to me and wanted to expand the program throughout the borough, one in each ward,” Fortuna said in a Nov. 15 interview. “But we’re not limiting ourselves to that.”
With some aid from the municipality, Benjamin is hoping to collect enough donations for the town to place Little Free Libraries in as many locations as possible.
Mayor Christine Dansereau praised the program, saying in the release, “This program will not only help to increase literacy in Roselle but also help to harbor neighborhood relationships. The organization reports that three out of four people have claimed that they’ve read a book they normally would not have read because of Little Free Library.”
While Fortuna admitted that the Roselle Public Library has more books than the Little Libraries, he said the new concept offers something different and he praised Benjamin for bringing the citizen-driven, nonprofit community initiative to the borough. He said he will pay for a Little Free Library himself.
“We have books available, but I think we need to make books and reading as accessible to people as we can,” he said. “This cuts through the barrier. It’s convenient to acquire. It makes it very easy to read. Juli-Ann is very passionate about reading, and it’s important to share that passion with others.”
Fortuna said the borough will make an appeal for funds and materials next month, and plans to launch its involvement in April in conjunction with National Children’s Book Week, and the new libraries will be installed starting in April. The borough has not received any donations so far as the program is still in its early phases.
Fortuna hopes that this program leads to other successful initiatives in Roselle. Little Free Libraries is in its first year as a permanent program.
“Any time we have citizens take the initiative on their own, I’m all for that,” Fortuna said. “When you have someone who is as established as Juli-Ann, you know it’s going to be a success and I’m all for that.”
“This program will be in perpetuity.” Fortuna said. “It will be sustainable.
“In a way, this program is literally putting Roselle on the map.”