A volunteer steward who helps keep West Hartford’s Little Free Libraries well stocked, and the organizer of a Facebook group to support those with libraries have made a major impact in increasing access to books for all.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford is a town full of libraries.
Most residents are familiar with the town’s three public libraries – the main (Noah Webster) library on South Main Street and the Faxon and Bishops Corner branches, but in the past several years more than 30 others have sprouted up in all corners of town.
The architecture of these libraries is often whimsical. They don’t require cards. They are very low tech, and you don’t have to be quiet when you visit, unless it’s during a time when people might be sleeping. These libraries are open 24/7/365.
West Hartford now has 33 Little Free Libraries – in front of homes, on playgrounds, in parks – bringing even greater access to books to the community as a whole.
On a recent balmy morning, Giovanni Seccareccia – aka Mr. Bookman (he even uses the hashtag #MrBookman) – was making his rounds, stocking the libraries at the schools with a supply of kid-appropriate books, and adding a variety of other books to some libraries he heard were in need.
The Little Free Libraries operate on an honor system, but sometimes there’s more “take” than “give,” and Seccareccia, as the self-proclaimed Mr. Bookman, has taken on the mission of picking up donated books from West Hartford residents and helping keep the libraries well-stocked.
Seccareccia’s shirt features the image of a sheriff’s badge, with the words “Book Enforcement Agent” printed on the star. He saw it for sale online and said he couldn’t resist.
Seccareccia doesn’t have any formal affiliation with the Little Free Libraries, although he now has one in front of his Ardmore Road home, but he takes his labor of love very seriously. He previously had a long and varied career that included work as a Hall High School security guard, TSA trainer, air marshal, and even a scuba diving instructor, but had to retire with a medical disability when he was hurt on the job in 2008.
In mid-September he heard about a “man driving an orange truck who empties the Little Free Libraries.” The man confessed when confronted by a resident that he likes the libraries because he can make money on them, selling the books to the Book Barn in Niantic.
Seccareccia was outraged.
As someone who was involved in law enforcement, he decided to go on patrol, looking for the man in the orange truck so he could pass the information along to the West Hartford Police. He and Gerry Aldrich, who runs the West Hartford Little Free Library Facebook page, also called Book Barn to put them on alert, and were advised that they would not purchase any books from a man with an orange truck.
“Then everyone started calling me Mr. Bookman,” Seccareccia said. And although he never saw the man with the orange truck, he started noticing that some libraries needed more books, and through Facebook offered to collect and deliver them.
“I went to my bookshelf and cleared out a lot I’d read, and my daughter’s books from when she was little,” Seccareccia said.
“I love kids books, and I really like to see kids reading,” Seccareccia said. He said his goal is to help ensure that every school in West Hartford ultimately has a Little Free Library filled with age-appropriate books.
His personal favorites include Steven King and Dean Koontz. He’s found several to borrow from the Little Free Libraries around town.
Mr. Bookman also does minor repairs. “I go around with a little tool. Sometimes the latches are loose,” he said.
Seccareccia enjoys seeing the different concepts that people have come up with for their libraries. “A lot are really creative,” he said. A Little Free Library on Gerthmere is made from an old newspaper honor box, while one on Timothy Drive was originally a Masterbuilt Gas Smokehouse.
On the crest of the hill on Brookmoor Road in the Buena Vista neighborhood, the expansive Thomas Kilfoil Memorial Little Free Library features French doors, and the architecture echoes the owner’s home. A 33-year employee of the West Hartford Public Library and mentor to many, Kilfoil died in 2005.
The Little Free Library on Court Park has solar lights, and the one at Whiting Lane Elementary School is large enough for children (or petite reporters) to climb inside and select their books from the multiple shelves.
“I love the ones that have a seating area or a bench,” Seccareccia said.
There’s a turquoise chair next to the Little Free Library on Asylum Avenue, across the street from Elizabeth Park. That’s one of the busiest in town, and Seccareccia visits often because the books aren’t always replaced fast enough.
He’s picked up donations from more than 20 residents, and distributed them all over town. He gets texts and Facebook messages letting him know when libraries are getting low on books, and whether kid or adult books are needed. His daughter, now a sixth-grader, helps on weekends. Books are a family affair, Seccareccia said. His wife works as head library aid at the Prosser Library in Bloomfield.
Seccareccia loves his new volunteer role, but asks that people let him know when they have books to donate. He will pick them up, but doesn’t want boxes of books being dropped off at his house.
Although there’s no genre restriction, neither magazines nor textbooks should be donated to the Little Free Libraries.
A quick check of the Morley Little Free Library, on the school’s playground, indicated that restocking was needed. As Seccareccia got to work, Reading Specialist Mary Beth Hixson came outside with a stack of books to add.
“They’re donated by families, teachers, collections I’ve acquired,” Hixson said. She said that Morley’s Little Free Library was installed thanks to a grant from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools, and is loved by the school community.
The newly-opened Jonathan’s Dream playground at the Mandell JCC also has a Little Free Library. Seccareccia made sure it started off filled with plenty of books.
Seccareccia now is steward of his own Little Free Library, built as a donation by Sean Herring – whom he met when picking up a donation. Herring was replacing the homeowner’s deck.
Herring asked if the donation was for Seccareccia’s library, but he said he didn’t have one and wasn’t sure he could easily build one because of his disability. “[Herring] said, ‘Well Mr. Bookman has got to have a library,'” Seccareccia said. “He tells me that he wants to build the Little Free Library for me and install it as well! It is his way of giving back to West Hartford and and to thank me for running around and … well, being Mr. Bookman! He wouldn’t take my money. I must admit, he got me all choked up about this LFL,” Seccareccia said.
About a month later, Seccareccia filled his own Little Free Library with books.
A Book Community on Facebook
Seccareccia met Gerry Aldrich when they were two of the marchers in West Hartford’s impromptu Memorial Day parade in 2016, when the official parade was rained out. The two men are now working closely together to support West Hartford’s Little Free Libraries.
“I started hearing about these things, and seeing them pop up. I wondered where they all were,” Aldrich said. So he started a West Hartford Little Free Libraries Facebook page in August 2016 to keep track, and to encourage more to become stewards.
“The Little Free Library community has been growing and growing. It’s exciting,” said Aldrich. “Every schoolyard in West Hartford should have one – especially the elementary schools.”
Aldrich hopes to also encourage the growth of Little Free Libraries in Hartford, where currently there are seven libraries – although he can’t find one of them.
A handful of West Hartford schools already have Little Free Libraries. Last week Aldrich got a call that someone is interested in building one at Charter Oak. And Jill Gavalis, a former Braeburn parent who has created a mural, puppet theater, and porch for the school library, plans to build the school a Little Free Library for installation in the spring.
“I’m working with scouting groups to see if they’re interested in building one,” Aldrich said. He was excited to learn that the Girl Scouts now have a Little Free Library badge. “I never thought it would get as large as it is,” he said of the movement.
“I’m trying to get a challenge going between contractors in the area, to have them build for a local school,” Aldrich said. Jason Clatterbuck, whose work is highly-regarded and praised on Facebook, already told Aldrich he will “build the best one.”
“To me, reading is fundamental,” Aldrich said. He said the Little Free Libraries are a great way of recycling books.
Through setting up the Facebook page, Aldrich has created a new community. “Once you get hooked, you’ll find it’s so pleasing.”
Like Seccareccia, Aldrich is doing this because he likes books, likes reading. “It’s my retirement job,” said the former director of Human Resources for the Travelers.
Although Aldrich doesn’t have his own Little Free Library because he said his house isn’t in a great location for it, he has a personal collection of 18,00o signed books. “If it’s signed, I love it,” he said.
That collection was launched when Aldrich came across a book signed by Martin Luther King. He bought it for $1, then found one signed by Coretta Scott King. He even has a book that James Earl Ray signed from prison.
“I have a lot of shelves,” Aldrich said.
Little Free Library has a national organization and a website, which states that the organization “inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.”
Registered libraries appear on a map – although West Hartford has many more than the 11 the map indicates. Most of the town’s library’s are registered, but Aldrich said those that are not can still join the page “as long as they stay with the principles.”
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!