By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — When the homes on Myron Street were built in the early 20th century, their residents were friends and coworkers, mostly in middle management at GE. Today, the neighborhood has a still-friendly face, but residents often miss opportunities to forge friendships in the hustle of daily life.
Now, Rebecca Cigal, who has lived on the street for 20 years, hopes a unique addition to her front lawn will strengthen the legacy of community on her block. Her project has already sparked conversation.
“A friend of mine, she lives on the next block, she walked by and she was like, ‘Why do you have a birdhouse in your front yard?’ ” she said of her project.
“I was like, ‘Michelle, walk up to it, it’s not a birdhouse.’ ”
Though it looks a bit like a giant birdhouse with glass doors, it’s actually a Little Free Library, one of about 15,000 in the world. Cigal asked her husband to build one as a birthday gift after reading about the international movement that focuses on building community through books.
Little Free Library Ltd. is a nonprofit organization that grew from one Wisconsin man’s effort to commemorate his wife, who loved to read. He was inspired to construct the first free library on his lawn in her memory. Neighbors saw the project and asked for libraries of their own, and the project grew.
With the help of socially minded researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Little Free Library took off. Now, from the Netherlands to Niskayuna, neighbors build weatherproof boxes in their yards and hang signs that read, “Free books!” or “Take a book, leave a book.”
Next to the 4-foot wooden structure, Cigal set up two Adirondack chairs inviting passers-by to browse her selection of about 50 books, spanning many interests and ages.
“This street has a lot of pedestrian traffic, so I thought it was a good location,” she said. She has not been disappointed. Already, since she installed and opened the Little Free Library on June 15, several people have stopped to swap books and sign her guest register.
A mother and daughter stopped to read together during an evening walk, and a man pushing a baby carriage said he might build one for his wife. Cigal plans a launch party for the library, and expects the spot to become even more popular as awareness grows.
Cigal’s library is the second in Niskayuna. Another, on Pheasant Ridge, is tucked into a leafy spot in the front lawn and furnished with wooden benches. Its guest book is also filled with signatures from book borrowers and admirers.
Cigal hopes hers will be as well received. “I think you have to kind of make the library fit with your neighborhood,” she said. But perhaps the Little Free Library could shape the neighborhood’s next chapter, too.
Little Free Libraries in the Capital Region:
- 14 Broderick St., Albany
- 92 Pheasant Ridge, Niskayuna
- 1374 Myron St., Niskayuna
- 15 E. Harrison St., Saratoga Springs
- 501 Glen Ave., Scotia
- 6 Cardin Drive, Halfmoon