Free books are popping up in Scranton this spring, thanks to a partnership between Scranton Tomorrow and Little Free Library.
Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building community, inspiring readers, and expanding book access for all through a global network of volunteer-led Little Free Library book-exchange boxes. The program provides free access to books 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to anyone interested in reading.
Members of Scranton Tomorrow’s Safe, Clean, Green & Design team are developing six Little Free Libraries that will be placed throughout the city. NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania and United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania (UNC) will each receive two Free Little Libraries stocked with books reflective of the communities they serve. Initially, all of the little libraries will be stocked with donations, and then each nonprofit will continue to stock them to ensure everyone has free access to books.
How it all began
Scranton Tomorrow first introduced Little Free Library book-exchange boxes to the local community in 2022 as part of Scranton City Pride, an annual beautification and community development project held in the spring. Two free libraries were placed at Outreach Center for Community Resources, and the Catherine McAuley Center. Sandi Graham, 4-H educator, was part of a group that built the little library for Outreach. She said the libraries are great, and the books are frequently restocked because of their popularity among the community. “The more [free libraries] you have, the more they’re going to be used. It’s a real way for 4-H to have done some community service because they’re very beneficial and appreciated,” Graham said.
Adults and children appear to enjoy this addition to their neighborhood. Lori Chaffers, Executive Director at Outreach, said the libraries make it more accessible for people of all ages to find something they’re interested in reading. “The anonymity of the little free library makes it easier for individuals who are learning to read later in life, working on literacy, and pursuing their GED to choose books on their level to increase their practice and learning without judgment for what books they may be choosing,” Chaffers said.
The libraries are a simple way to get rid of any unwanted or unused books by donating them for residents to eventually read and grow to love. Carlene Gula, Program Manager at Outreach, stated the focus on early literacy is essential for a child’s growth and development, so she loves that they can’t keep it stocked fast enough. “Most of the books we distribute come from donations collected by high school students, businesses, or from parents who are looking for a place to donate books their children have outgrown. Other books are purchased with grants we are awarded that focus on literacy development,” Gula said.
Little libraries. Big impact!
The libraries are more impactful than people may think, and it is a way for people from each neighborhood to come together and share a piece of themselves with others. Mary-Pat Ward, Development Director at the McAuley Center, shared an anecdote about her most memorable Little Free Library experience.
“One of my favorite stories regarding our little library is that someone in our local area had been going through a program to get their GED certificate. When they were done with each section, they would donate it to our library. We were able to watch them go through their program, and once we saw the last book come through… they completed their GED program,” Ward said.
Installing these libraries around the city also allows for more residents to access them. It’s more cost-effective and helpful for those in the community unable to obtain books near them. Amy Gruzesky, Director of Strategic Communications at Penn State Scranton, said the Free Little Libraries are a fantastic idea, and she’s so happy that Scranton Tomorrow is helping to establish them in different locations around the city. “These neighborhood free libraries make books available to anyone for no cost. And it allows all users the opportunity to give back when they can, since the idea behind them is to ‘take a book, leave a book.’ I’ve seen them in several locations both in Scranton and in other towns in our area, and they always seem to be appreciated, well-used, and well-taken care of,” Gruzesky said.
Community support makes it possible
NET Credit Union sponsored six new little libraries to be placed around Scranton this year, all of which were built by the carpentry students at the Career Technology Center. Lauren Pabst, Marketing Manager at NET Credit Union, provided her thoughts on NET sponsoring the libraries and its benefits for the city. “NET Credit Union is excited to partner with Scranton Tomorrow on the Scranton Neighborhood Library Project. These free libraries will be an added benefit to our local neighborhoods. NET Credit Union is proud to be able to give back to our community,” Pabst said.
Shane Malicky, Carpentry Instructor at CTC, stated that while building the libraries isn’t the largest scale project the students completed, it’s definitely been a huge accomplishment to see the finished project within the community. “Although this is a small-scale project compared to building a residential house, the students used many of the skills they learned in the carpentry program to construct these smaller projects from measuring precisely, cutting using various power tools, assembling, and shingling, to name a few. The students take pride in working on community service projects because they see a finished product in their home communities being used by their families and friends,” Malicky said.
Maiya Rizner, CTC Student Ambassador and Forest City Senior, said she loved the experience of building them. “The free libraries are put into the community for other people to see. I loved seeing everything from the beginning to the finished product during the construction process, and this project felt easy because there’s always people who take leadership roles to make it a smoother process,” Rizner said.
These libraries will be a staple piece in any neighborhood because they are inclusive and encourage everyone to share books with others and gain knowledge from people’s favorite reads. It’s a timeless way for people within the community to come together and connect through books that impacted them.
Students from the Career Technology Center (CTC) build Little Free Libraries in Scranton. Standing, from left; Daniel Pimentel, Alexis Wheeler, Brian Kizer, Kevin Whelan, Vernon Billings, Jason Oakey, Maiya Rizner, Randi Ewain, Edward Peguero, Thomas Hazelton, Paul MacDonald, Matthew Reed, Ryan Spies, and Instructor Shane Malicky. Seated, Darrell Smith.