RED BANK: A LITTLE LIBRARY, ON A POLE

rb free lib 100813Judi Pack’s ‘Little Free Library, decorated for Halloween. (Photo by Sarah Klepner. Click to enlarge)

By SARAH KLEPNER

rb free lib 2 100813Judi Pack wants kids to love books so much that she has installed a permanent, weather-proof bookshelf, known as a Little Free Library, in the front yard of her Red Bank home.

It is indeed a little, free library: passersby and neighbors of all ages can take a book or leave one for others. Even better, there is no obligation to return a book once taken.

It’s a logical step for a woman who has dedicated 40 years to early childhood education, including seven years in Middletown. Pack has taught pre-kindergarten and early primary school, and instructed the teachers of these age groups as well.

“We’ve made a fetish of learning to read, instead of encouraging kids to love books,” Pack said in a recent interview at her home, at 170 Hudson Avenue.

Pack discovered the Little Free Library movement through her online perusals of literacy practices. According to the website of an organization dedicated to the movement, the project began in 2009 as one Wisconsin man’s homage to his mother, a former teacher. Four years later, the organization claims that there are nearly 15,000 Little Free Libraries in 55 countries around the globe.

Red Bank’s Little Free Library is believed to be the first in Monmouth County, and one of only eight in the New Jersey.

“I loved the idea,” said Pack, who asked her husband, Charlie, to build one.

“It’s very rustic,” Charlie said. He built the structure from repurposed materials: old plywood and shingles.

“I painted it very intentionally. I didn’t put ‘read.’ I put ‘wonder,’ ‘look,” said Judi. “I want kids to know that reading is a window into the world and into their understanding of themselves.”

Pack launched the library with a few of her own books, as well as a cache of children’s books from Fragile Earth on Monmouth Street as it transitioned from a toy store to gifts for all ages.

In the process, she’s met neighbors for the first time. To let her fellow Hudson Avenue residents know about the Little Free Library, Pack went house-to-house with a flyer.

“I wrote a short piece with a picture. People seemed really happy about [the book box], “ she said. “They said, “’What a great idea. I have loads of books [to contribute], maybe this will get me reading more.’”

The Little Free Library is cross-cultural, as well.

“I’m going to add. ‘take a book, leave a book,’ in Spanish,” said Pack, “because we have so many Spanish-speaking families that walk by.” The starter package sent by the Little Free Library included a children’s book in Spanish and English, and Pack is seeking more bilingual children’s books.

Since the library went up, Pack has added a bookmark holder and plans to add pamphlets with information about the Eisner Memorial Library in Red Bank.

“People are borrowing, returning and contributing,“ Pack reported several weeks into the life of the library. She added, “A note dropped out of one of the children’s books, written in a child’s handwriting, “’I am great and so are you!’”