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The Little Free Library in Albany

April 12, 2015

by Hanna Teal

With the nice weather here, major book retailers have compiled their summer reading lists to help the average book-lover accumulate their own, personal lists. A less expensive way a book connoisseur can build on to their list is by checking out Robert Alper’s local Little Free Library on Manning Boulevard.

Robert Alper stands next to his Manning Boulevard Little Free Library/Hanna Teal

Robert Alper stands next to his Manning Boulevard Little Free Library/Hanna Teal

The mailbox-esque library is just one of nearly 25,000 Little Free Libraries all around the world, and 12 of those are here in the Capital Region. Three are located in and near the Pine Hills neighborhood with two other libraries on Ferndale  and Mercer streets. All of the libraries promote literacy and the love of reading. Alper’s library follows the Wisconsin organization’s “take a book, return a book” philosophy stating his library is open to anyone to read or to donate books.

“I get real joy out of being responsible for people discovering something to read,” said Alper, proprietor of one of the Little Free Libraries in the neighborhood. He migrated to the Albany area after retiring as a property manager in New York City.

Alper, a collector of rare books, is a relatively new Free Little Library owner and discovered the organization through word-of-mouth while traveling around to annual book fairs in Albany, New York, Boston and San Francisco. He decided to check out the website and bought the typical barn-shaped Little Free Library from the organization.

Owners buy partially built library units for an average of $250 from the Little Free Library organization’s website where they can also register their library. When registering, the library landlords receive an official plaque with the Little Free Library name and that library’s charter number. Operators can also have the location of placing the library on the organization’s website so citizens can find it, an option Alper opted out of.

“I like the fact that it is like a treasure hunt. Something people can discover along their journey,” said Alper, whose library is on the western side of Manning Boulevard near Western Avenue.

The books in Robert Alper’s Little Free Library/Hanna Teal

The books in Robert Alper’s Little Free Library/Hanna Teal

Another Little Free Library operator, Alissa Maynard, a librarian at the Bethlehem Public Library, has her collection set up on Ferndale Street and likes to change it up with her library by keeping themed books through the seasons.

“I’ll be doing a poetry library for the end of National Poetry Month with pocket sized printouts of poems for Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 30th,” said Maynard.

As for Alper, he tries to keep the library stocked with as many genres as possible. From political genres to ethnic and racial genres, he even has a set of the worldly popular “Fifty Shades” series. But he really tries to keep up-to-date children’s books in the library because he enjoys watching the joy on a child’s face after finding a book they want to read.

Alper said that the multifaceted library brings a tighter sense of community and creates interactions between the locals by giving them a sense of belonging and sharing of a local treasure.

“People are constantly telling me that they keep an eye on the library,” said Alper. “But there isn’t anything to worry about, people have generally been very respectful.”

Front view of the Little Free Library/Hanna Teal

Front view of the Little Free Library/Hanna Teal

Something interesting that Alper notices is that most of the people visiting the library are actually returners, some returning and adding books, others coming back for more. If visitors really like a book and want to keep it, they are more than welcome to. Alper  has plans to add a park bench near the library to make it easier for people to peruse the assortment.

Though, both Alper and Maynard have registered libraries through the Little Free Library organization, Alper strongly asserts that people can build a library and follow the movement without purchasing or registering a library.

“Start it with a cardboard box,” said Alper. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, just as long as it holds the books.” -30-

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