WESTFIELD, NJ — Sara Liptack was skimming through a parenting magazine in 2015 when she came across what she saw as a novel idea—Little Free Libraries, which are leave-a-book take-a-book library exchanges, free for the community. Intrigued, she set up her own.
Four years later, the Little Free Libraries have become ubiquitous in both Westfield and the world, with five locations throughout town and 90,000 internationally. Liptack’s library was around the 36,000th to join the organization and has gained prominence in the Westfield community since.
“It’s like a landmark,” Liptack said referring to her library on 710 East Broad St. “I tell people ‘We’re the house on East Broad with a library’ and they're like ‘Oh, that's you?’”
Liptack, a teacher at Westfield High School, said the purpose of the libraries is to encourage reading among children, a goal she thinks has been achieved.
“The libraries bring a spark back to reading,” she said. “They keep it exciting in the digital age. The fact that there are no rules involved, there are no late fines and if you love a book you can keep it, it brings a gimmick to reading.”
The libraries' success has spread throughout town, with the Friends of the Westfield Memorial Library opening up four of their own locations for little free libraries at Tamaques Park, Mindowaskin Park, Walnut Street and the South Side Train Station. Costing approximately $500 to construct, they similarly have minimal rules and encourage the community to read.
Michael Miller, a board member of the Friends of the Westfield library who co-runs the four little free libraries, has noticed a disparity in how children and adult books are used, suggesting that kids are enjoying their books.
“Children's books in the libraries tend to be taken out and not returned, presumably because kids enjoy them,” Miller said. “It’s a good sign — children enjoy the book enough they want to keep it.”
The libraries are tailored to their location, with ones by playgrounds containing more children's books and one by the train station with more adult books.
Two new libraries are expected to open in the near future by the YMCA and community center. Miller said the Friends are also considering co-sponsoring a history-themed library with the Westfield chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a group dedicated to promoting education and historic preservation.
Beyond providing books, the Little Free Libraries also serve as philanthropic and community hubs. This past summer Liptacks’s library hosted a community book bingo, as well as their “summer of kindness” where they collected food, diapers and other donations for various causes. Volunteers from the Friends check up on and maintain libraries every two weeks. Donations from the community and book publishers keep the library stocked.
“I enjoy the outreach we have in the community and want to keep doing what we're doing,” Liptack said. “The support has been tremendous from everybody.”