The Little Free Libraries of Troy

little free library outside TVCOG

This box is outside the Tech Valley Center of Gravity in downtown Troy.

By Lauren Hittinger

There are little metal newspaper boxes popping up around Troy this summer. But instead of distributing newspapers, they're serving as free "libraries" for anyone to take a book and/or leave a book. They join a collection of "Little Free Libraries" that includes a few other spots around the Capital Region, and many others around the world.

Organizer Emily Armstrong says the three Troy locations are already seeing revolving donations. I talked with her recently about what inspired the tiny libraries, the merits of the "regular" library, and treasure hunting and surprise...

How does it work? Is the idea to take a book/leave a book? Or borrow and later return the book?

Folks using the Little Free Library are certainly welcome to read a book and put it back, or pass it on. I've had a stamp made that says "always a gift, never for sale" which I will be stamping books with in the future to discourage anyone from trying to take books they don't want from the libraries just to sell at a used book store. I've seen some Little Free Libraries emblazoned with "take a book, return a book," and I think "leave a book" is less likely to give anyone guilt. 

troy little free library take a book leave a book

Why did you decide to create these? What inspired you?

I first learned about the project while I was in grad school, thinking about community-engaged art. I saw photos on the internet of these oversized birdhouse-like structures on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Besides being quirky, these appealed to me because I had seen firsthand the limitations of engaging with the community while expecting them to enter a space.

Take-a-book, leave-a-book shelves exist in coffee shops, but those only service a portion of the population. Existing on the street, in spaces where people already are, is a more accessible, democratic solution. 

Why not just visit the "regular" library?

I'm a big supporter of public libraries and in no way do I think Little Free Libraries replace the benefits of these. The Upper Hudson Library System has a tremendous selection of books, magazines, music, movies, books on tape, and other things. The library also lends out museum passes, has free wi-fi, and provides a quiet place to go with knowledgeable folks on hand to help you in your quest for knowledge. The library also has great programming, putting on a variety of events for every age level and a diverse amount of interests.

And it's free to join! I don't understand why more people aren't in love with the library.

I was recently contacted by Carolyn Fagan from the Troy Public Library about their support of the project. Many more books are donated to the public library than end up in circulation, so some of these books will now grace the shelves of the Little Free Libraries of Troy. 

You've asked, "Why not just go to a 'regular' library?" If you are looking for something specific, you should certainly go there. But if you're a fan of treasure hunting and surprise, you might appreciate taking a peek in one of the Little Free Libraries.

troy little free library inside the box books

How is it going so far? How are you monitoring the boxes?

So far the project has been going really well. I've enlisted a cadre of folks to help steward the libraries, and we've been working hard to make sure the libraries where books are taken the most also see the biggest influx of donations. Anyone is welcome to help if they feel so inclined.

What's next for this project?

Next for the Little Free Libraries is hopefully making it official. The Little Free Library organization maintains a database and map of registered Little Free Libraries, and those registered are eligible for new books donated by publishers.

[Since this interview, the Troy Little Free Libraries successfully fundraised the registration fee.]

Some people have asked me about getting a library in front of their home or business. While anyone is welcome to make one, I'd encourage those who are within a few blocks of an existing Little Free Library to think about variations on the upcycled newspaper box theme. Perhaps someone could make a seed library, a board game library, a one-piece kids' toys library, a craft supplies library, or anything else. 

Do you have any other new projects starting up soon?

I've been working on the Little Free Libraries for many months (and dreaming about it for a few years) and now that they are out of my tiny apartment and on the street, I have more time to focus on other endeavors.

My newest is Erstwhile Signs, my hand-lettered, hand-painted sign business. I've been studying old fashioned sign painting for a few years and I'm finally in a place to make signs for other people, which is exciting. 

This interview has been lightly edited..

The three Little Free Libraries of Troy are located outside: The Sanctuary for Independent Media in North Central, the Tech Valley Center of Gravity downtown, and DeFazio's in the Little Italy neighborhood.

Lauren writes about shopping, crafting, and living well on a small budget at The Thrifty Ginger.

Earlier on AOA: Hey there, Emily Armstrong


There's one on State St in Albany, outside Westminster Presbyterian (which is extra cool because it's a scale model of the church). A friend from Philly and I saw one at the corner of Washington Park and Englewood Place the other night. I may be biased as a librarian, but I just love these. How great that they're making appearances in the Capital District.

i've been enjoying these around the city lately, and saw one of these in woodstock the other day as well. you never know what you'll find in these guys love them!

I've seen these other places and I have really wanted this for the capital region for a while! I love the concept, I too LOVE libraries and I truly do not understand why people don't take advantage of them. I'm really excited to see this, hopefully it expands more!

Oh I love this, I'm surprised I haven't noticed them before. A stack of books to donate has been sitting on my desk for a while - I'll have to drop some off at these little spots!

What a great idea! I have to look for those little libraries. I got a stack of books waiting to go to good home. This sounds like it!

These are awesome. I used to live in Seattle and they have these all over the place.

I think it's a lovely idea, but some municipalities haven't taken kindly to the idea & have removed them and slapped owners with fines and additional property taxes

Where did the library outside the uncle Sam parking garage go? I had a bag of books to donate this morning and it disappeared. The TARDIS was still there...

I love these! I second @JayK , the one on State Street when I lived behind the church was great. There's also a big one on Manning, closer to the Western Ave end. I wanted to put a Little Library at home in my current neighborhood, but after my trash can got stolen 800 times, I lost faith that the Mansions would respect the idea of "borrowing" rather than "taking".

@Carly - That library has moved around the corner to the South East side of the Atrium at 4th and Broadway.

I have always loved these free little libraries and have wanted to do one for a long time I've been trying to find any contact info to see if anyone can tell me where I might be able to get a few of the newspaper boxes for free or cheap. I would be more than happy to start and maintain a few in different areas including my neighborhood. I would be able to do books, games toys jewelry clothing seeds craft items d I y items food (non parishables) and one for tools. If there are ideas for any other kinds that u have the startup inventory for I would be willing to do try if you can suggest and again let me know where I could find the boxes to redo! Please email me directly at vintageyettimeless@gmail please and let me know if interest in using these as well as ideas thoughts questions etc.

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