Orleans CCE installs ‘little free library’ at fairgrounds

Posted 18 June 2021 at 7:47 am

Press Release, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Orleans County

Provided photos: The new little free library is filled and ready for the public. It is located outside the Dwight “Buzz” Hill Education Center.

KNOWLESVILLE – The Cornell Cooperative Extension office on Route 31 has a new structure on its grounds, albeit a small one. In a collaborative effort between Master Gardeners, 4-H and CCE staff, a mini free library has been constructed and installed at the entrance to the Honor Garden in the front lawn of the office building.

Horticulture Educator Katie Oakes had the idea for the library after cleaning out the Master Gardener closet in the office.

“There were so many gardening, wildlife, and nature books that have never sold at our plant sales. I was just brainstorming the best way to get these educational resources out into the community,” explained Oakes. “My kids and I love browsing the little free book boxes located all over the county, and I thought something similar on the grounds here would be a great way to get people interested in some of these topics.”

Oakes brought up the idea to the Master Gardeners in early February, seeking feedback and guidance. With budgets tight because of the ongoing pandemic, funding the project appeared to be the first hurdle. Long-time Master Gardener Don O’Keefe stepped in and generously offered to personally donate the funds needed to purchase building supplies.

“I really liked this idea because unlike flowers and plants that have their own seasons, if nurtured… a library is forever,” O’Keefe said. “I hope that with it being on the extension grounds, it continues to provide information and encourage the public to exchange ideas.”

Other collaborators to the project included Sherwin Williams of Brockport who donated paint and primer. Construction of the library was done by OCCCE facilities manager Pete Beach with the help of his grandson Joe Cecchini, an enrolled 4-Her.

The cheerful red library stands along the sidewalk to the OCCCE office, at the edge of the Honor Garden, a project designed by Master Gardeners and paved with memorial bricks honoring contributors’ loved ones. The public is welcome to take any material they’d like with no obligation to leave another book in its place.

The intention will be to keep the library stocked with educational materials the Cooperative Extension office no longer has need for – the gently used gardening books, older versions of 4-H textbooks, Cornell booklets that are no longer in print, etc.

The sign on the library door encourages people to take a book “and grow your mind!”

Several of the books included in the library were donated by the family of lifelong CCE supporter Gail Culver after she passed away last year. Gail worked for years as the Genesee County CCE Master Gardener Coordinator, then served as a Master Gardener volunteer in Orleans County after her retirement.

Gail was a volunteer with the Orleans County 4-H program for over 40 years and tirelessly devoted herself to educating children about gardening, nature and wildlife. Many of the books donated by her family are duplicates or older editions of books already on the Orleans County CCE office bookshelves, and sharing them with the public allows for Gail’s legacy of education and volunteerism to continue.

“I hope people can take a book home and learn something new because of this new library,” Oakes stated. “Our offices are here to help our community grow, and I think this library enables that mission even when there’s not an actual event or program going on.”

To learn more about the subjects described in the free books or any other 4-H, agriculture, or gardening topic, contact the Orleans County CCE office at 585-798-4265 or email orleans@cornell.edu.