On the Lower East Side, near the intersection of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, a colorful bench has returned to its place in front of an affordable housing unit called 82 Rutgers Slip. The installation is a “Little Free Library,” one of ten designed and constructed as part of the Little Free Library/NYC project in May 2013.
Chat Travieso, a Brooklyn-based architectural designer and artist, designed the library to reflect the heterogeneous nature of its surrounding neighborhood. Titled “Word Play,” the library is made of layered plywood and its surface is strategically painted so that, depending on where you stand, it reads “library” in Spanish, English and Chinese. Upon closer inspection, the bench’s middle section opens to reveal a small cupboard for books.
The Little Free Library/NYC project was a joint effort between The Architectural League of New York and the 2013 PEN World Voices Festival as part of last year’s IDEAS CITY Festival. Ten small book shelters were installed in the East Village and the Lower East Side from May through September 2013, designed with the premise of “Take a Book, Leave a Book” in mind. It was inspired by the original Little Free Library movement, which was conceived in 2009 with a mission to promote literacy and build community. As of January 2014, nearly 15,000 “Little Free Libraries” have been built around the world.
“It functions on an honor system. If someone steals a book, they steal a book. What’s the worst that can happen? You know, like, someone’s reading the book,” Travieso explained.
Several Little Free Library/NYC installations were taken down during the winter. But Travieso’s community partner, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, saw the library’s value as a gathering place for the neighborhood’s ethnically diverse population. The organization has offered community development programs and housing in the area since the 1950s. As spring commenced in the city, they decided to make their little library a seasonal fixture.
“[T]he library, this little thing that’s outside, I liken it to bringing the living room to the street,” said Victor Papa, president of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council. “Over time, the children that lived in the immediate area and this building began to see it as part of their home.”