Community leaders plan to bring little free libraries to East San Jose
Jeannette Marsala and Justin Triano pose next to a Little Free Library on Sunset Avenue in East San Jose. Marsala is hoping to bring more Little Free Libraries to the area and Triano is looking at sprucing up the corridor with public art. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

Little Free Libraries — those birdhouse-like structures used for sharing free books — are cropping up everywhere in San Jose. Everywhere, that is, except for East San Jose and Evergreen neighborhoods, some of the city’s most vulnerable communities.

The newly-formed Evergreen Valley Rotary Club is looking to change that and its Community Service Chair Jeannette Marsala is leading the efforts. Marsala says that after the Rotary Club came together in March its members brainstormed worthwhile projects for their area.

They had heard of another rotary club that had put in some free libraries. When Marsala looked into it she found a locator map online with red flags depicting the locations of all the registered Little Free Libraries. She saw that the flags were notably absent from East San Jose and Evergreen neighborhoods — where large communities of minority families and low-income residents live — and spotted an opportunity to make a difference.

“I’d like to kind of fill in that gap,” Marsala said.

Marsala wants to go about distributing books to these underserved communities in two ways. First, through the Free Little Library model most people are familiar with but also by placing books in area laundromats where children and their caregivers are expected to have some down time.

The idea is adopted from the Laundromat Library League which operates on the premise that books should be available to everyone — regardless of their financial standing. It’s a sentiment shared by Marsala.

Her goal is to get 50 libraries — whether they are Free Little Libraries or laundromat locations — installed in the next two years and hopes to get the first one up and running within the next month or so.

The Free Little Libraries aren’t cheap. If purchased from the official online store, the box and post together could set the buyer back around $500. To get the project going, Marsala is looking for cash donations from the public as well as volunteers to step in and be the stewards of each of the East Side libraries.

“It’s a huge expense,” said Marsala. “Which is one of the reasons you don’t see it in lower-income areas. They don’t have the disposable income to spend on Little Free Libraries.”

At the moment there is at least one free library in East San Jose but Marsala says it’s not officially registered with the Little Free Library site. Located at Sunset Avenue and Kammerer Avenue, the library was installed in April as an Eagle Scout project, according to the attached placard. Marsala has been visiting the site frequently and says she’s been impressed with the traffic it’s its received with neighbors both taking and adding books.

Marsala is planning on partnering with lifelong East San Jose resident Justin Triano who is leading efforts to revitalize the Sunset Avenue corridor which stretches from Story Road to Alum Rock Avenue. After two murals were removed in the neighborhood, Triano says a piece of the community’s identity has been lost.

By partnering with Marsala on the Free Little Libraries project he says he hopes to bring back that sense of vitality through public art and is interested in hearing from the community for ideas.

“What images do people want to see when they’re going to school, going to church or going to the park?” Triano asked rhetorically. The pair says they would love to see some form of local history documented in the project as well.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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