PATERSON, NJ - Vision, leadership, perseverance, collaboration. These are just a few words that come to mind when thinking about the necessary ingredients to building a stronger community. Thanks to one Paterson native, these traits have also helped lead to cleaner parks throughout the city, and increased access to books for local residents.
Born in Paterson, Talena Lachelle Queen moved to Seattle to pursue graduate studies. After earning degrees in creative writing and teaching, Queen became a teacher, a poet and a literary advocate.
Recalling her admiration for the Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods throughout Seattle, the joy they brought and sense of community they engendered, Queen took action to bring the model home when her heart called her back to Paterson.
“Little Free Library” is a national movement that encourages individuals to share the love of reading, building and maintaining book lending boxes where residents are encouraged to donate and borrow.
Recognizing the vast difference between the educational opportunities enjoyed by the privileged students of suburban Seattle and the struggles of Paterson students to have easy access to books and reading, the model, Queen believed, could work locally.
Expecting to find hurdles, Queen approached the City of Paterson and soon had an ally and advocate in the city’s Clean Communities Coordinator, Dianne Polifronio.
With the additional help of Christopher Fabor Muhammad, a local graphic artist, the first library box was was installed in Tyrone Collins Memorial Park and stocked with books for all ages in June.
Noting the incredible response, Queen said that “people started to do things I didn’t expect.” She was approached about putting libraries in other local parks, and the second and third ones were soon installed. Residents were now "invested in their shared space because they valued the presence of the Little Library."
There are now eight libraries installed around Paterson. By the end of 2017 there will be 18 Little Free Libraries in parks across the city. The goal is to have at least one in each of the city’s 44 parks within three years.
Despite the success, the way, according to Queen, has not been completely smooth. Noting one instance, Queen recalled installing a box in a park that had been used for criminal and drug activity that was soon knocked over and damaged.
Because of the support of others, the library wan’t out of commission for long. “City workers had seen the destruction and taken it back to their shop,” Queen said . “They repaired the box, cleaned up the books, and reset the box in its place.”
It’s not just Queen that is happy with the results of this experiment, “people tell me about ‘their library’ – they feel ownership not only of the box and the books, but of the entire park,”she said. “We are transforming public spaces as well as building community around reading.”