The Little Free Library organization has installed special “Read in Color” book-sharing boxes in New York City as part of its effort to reach underserved communities in cities around the country. With its Read in Color initiative, which launched in fall 2020 in Minneapolis in honor of George Floyd, the literary nonprofit organization is placing its signature book-sharing mounted boxes in communities in need and filling them with books that address racism and social justice and that amplify BIPOC and LGBTQ voices with their diverse content and characters.

Each of the five New York City boroughs is receiving one Read in Color book-sharing box. “For Little Free Library, there is no better place to bring our Read in Color initiative to share the works of diverse authors and inspire readers than New York City,” said LFL executive director Greig Metzger in a statement. “There is no greater example of diverse communities than the five boroughs of New York City. While its residents are joined together by a map, each neighborhood presents different lived experiences, voices, and perspectives.”

Read in Color boxes are located in the following locations:

  • Manhattan: Columbia University Irving Medical Center’s Haven Plaza, in collaboration with Columbia University and H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths.
  • Brooklyn: Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design, in collaboration with WHSAD and H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths.
  • Queens: Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson Community Garden, in collaboration with the New York Restoration Project and H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths.
  • The Bronx: Hostos-Lincoln Academy’s soccer pitch, in collaboration with the New York City Football Club and H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths.
  • Staten Island: Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, in collaboration with Snug Harbor and H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths.

While 1,000 books to date have been provided to keep these five Read in Color book boxes replenished, there are plans for expansion in 2022, as well as ongoing support to keep boxes filled with appropriate books. The growth and maintenance of the program is being planned in collaboration with local community partners and supporters, including the publishing industry. While many books are donations, others are purchased at wholesale prices.

As in every other community where LFL has established Read in Color book boxes, the organization is committed to purchasing Read in Color books from indies with BIPOC owners—in New York City, this includes such bookstores as The Lit Bar, Cafe con Libros, and Sister’s Uptown.

New York City is the 10th city to participate in the Read in Color initiative, following Tulsa, Okla.; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Ferguson, Mo.; Atlanta; and Phoenix. There are 100 Read in Color book boxes total to date in these cities. A total of 30,000 diverse books to date have been distributed to the Read in Color book boxes, as well as through the launch cities’ own boxes maintained by LFL volunteer stewards.

Noting that the placement of these book boxes was facilitated by local literacy advocates who collaborated with LFL on the venture, Metzger commented that LFL was “honored to have worked with a variety of New York’s best.”

Primary among those local advocates was Heather Butts, a native New Yorker raised in Queens and co-founder of H.E.A.L.T.H. for Youths, a nonprofit guiding young people to reach their goals in life. Butts, who has spearheaded the placement of approximately 70 Little Free Libraries book-sharing boxes in neighborhoods around New York City, brought in several other organizations to assist LFL in bringing the Read in Color project to all five boroughs.

“I’ve always felt that the beauty of the Little Free Library concept is that it has something for everyone,” Butts said. “Over 800 different languages and dialects are spoken in New York City, and a third of the people living in New York City were born in a country other than the United States. My ultimate hope is that anyone who picks up a book from one of the Read in Color libraries sees something in the story that may be different from their own personal life, and yet at the same time, speaks very clearly to their own life.”