Marcia Morgan, a speech pathologist from Elmont who teaches in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, was walking to work last fall with a friend when something caught her eye: a Little Free Library, along the sidewalk in front of a house.
At the time, Morgan didn't know what the tiny structure was. It was too big to be a birdhouse or a mailbox, and too small to be a shed. She and her friend were intrigued.
"We thought it was a great idea," Morgan said. "She and I both decided to create our own."
Morgan went online to find out more about the libraries. She discovered that in 2009, a man named Todd Bol, of Hudson, Wis., had built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, who was a teacher and loved to read. He filled it with books and installed it on a post in his front yard. When his neighbors and friends saw it, they loved it, so he built more and gave them away.
Rick Brooks, an outreach program manager in continuing studies and an economist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, met Bol in 2009 at a workshop Brooks taught on the local economy. When he saw Bol's project, Brooks wanted to work with him. They discussed potential social enterprises and agreed that they admired take-a-book, leave-a-book collections in coffee shops and other public spaces, seeing them as opportunities to encourage reading and the development of literacy skills in both children and adults. The Little Free Library program is now a nonprofit organization with over 50,000 registered libraries in all 50 states and more than 70 countries.
Morgan and her husband, Leonard, created the pint-sized library, white with blue trim, that sits outside their Dutch Broadway home. "I looked on Pinterest, eBay and Amazon to see how I could create one," she said. "I looked at how much ones already made cost, and thought, 'Oh, those are pricey, but I bet we could make our own and spend less on materials.'" So they got to work.
Once they built it, they debated where to install it on their property so people would see it. "I thought about the bit of green space between the sidewalk and the curb in front of the house," Morgan said. "But when I consulted with the Town of Hempstead, they advised me it would be better elsewhere, as that spot is considered common space." It now sits on a post on the lawn, where their driveway meets the sidewalk.
Morgan had a collection of books all ready to add to it, but had to decide which ones would fit. "Because of the neighborhood demographics, I wanted to consider a variety of books," she said. "I had a lot of Christian literature, but I didn't want people thinking it was just a library of that type of book. I wanted children to have picture books, too. They're good, wholesome books. "
She said the shelving was another consideration. "They're unevenly placed," she said of the books. "It's that way because children's books are all different sizes, and I wanted to make sure to have space for them."
So far, the book that gets pulled from the library most often is Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life." "I had two copies of that one, and both copies went immediately," she said.
She said she puts new reading material in the library every day, and while the concept is that people leave a book to replace one they take, that's not a requirement. "My goal is to provide phonemic instruction and help increase phonemic awareness," she said, referring to the study of the sounds of language. "Many of my books are at a third- or fourth-grade reading level."
The library is the first of its kind in Elmont. A resident of the neighborhood, Louvenia Banks, said she loved the idea. "I walk this way three, four times a week," she said. "The first day I saw this, I was across the street, so I crossed over to see what it was. Now I walk on this side of the street to see what's in the library each time."
A small sign notes that the library is dedicated to Morgan's mother. "She loved to read, too," she said.
State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages saw the library in passing recently, and thought it should have an official "opening," so she presented Morgan with a citation for her literacy efforts.
"This neighborhood needed a more local library," Solages said. "Since it's the first of its kind not just in this neighborhood, but also in Elmont, I thought it deserved recognition."
Morgan has lived in Elmont for 19 years, the last two with her husband, and has enjoyed sharing the library with the neighborhood as much as she enjoyed creating it. "I'm excited about it," she said. "It's my baby."