The New Jersey Clean Communities Council has given its education award to city resident Talena Lachelle Queen for starting a free book exchange program targeted at young people in public parks.
Queen has installed 15 little libraries throughout the Silk City in the past year. Some of the parks with little libraries include Wrigley Park, Barbour Park, and Eastside Park. She hopes to have a “Little Free Library” at all of the city’s 44 parks over the next three years.
“These small libraries are becoming a center of community life. People tell me they feel a sense of ownership, not only of the lending boxes and books, but the entire park,” said Queen, a poet and English teacher at the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. “This program is helping transform our parks and build a community around reading.”
The little libraries are increasing traffic to municipal parks. The boxes are also instilling a sense of pride in local parks. The book lending boxes in neighborhood parks allow adults and children to borrow or donate books.
“Ms. Queen found an exceptional way build pride in Paterson’s parks. People and families who enjoy use of these park-based lending libraries are more likely to keep their parks clean by recycling and not littering,” said Sandy Huber, executive director for the New Jersey Clean Communities Council.
The little libraries cost $400-$500, said Queen.
“Sometimes I pay for them. Sometimes people will sponsor,” she said. One group to help was the Paterson Education Association, the local teachers’ union, which gave a grant to the Municipal Alliance Program for the little libraries.
“Talena (Queen) goes above and beyond to ensure these lending boxes stay in good shape and are stocked with books. She also makes sure the parks where they are located stay clean,” said Diane Polifronio, municipal recycling coordinator. “These parks have never looked better.”
Queen has been hosting poetry recitals and storytelling events to encourage both young and old to come out to enjoy their neighborhood parks. She was bestowed the title “Poet Laureate of Paterson” through a resolution by the City Council.
She organizes volunteer cleanups and sponsors “Built-It” events to encourage residents to construct lending boxes in their neighborhood parks.
Queen, who was living in Washington state prior to returning to Paterson, brought the idea from the West Coast. Seattle has little book exchanges to promote literacy.
“It was really important for me to bring literacy to our community. I wanted to find a way to make books accessible and reading fun,” said Queen.
Some local organizations have adopted the book lending boxes at the parks. Among them are the Paterson Education Association, Habitat for Humanity, and the Paterson Municipal Alliance Prevention Program.