Kennya Adams-Martin and Camille Ansley at a "Cedar Hill Paint Party" earlier this year. It was there that they decorated the first little free library. Lucy Gellman Photo.
Camille Ansley doesn’t have a lot of items on her Christmas list. Higher attendance at neighborhood block watch meetings. More work on a new footpath called Miss Betty’s Way. And a new little free library, filled with books for Cedar Hilll’s youngest residents.
That’s the most pressing as 2018 draws near. In November, a Grinch swiped the neighborhood’s first one from the corner of May Street and Cedar Hill Avenue. It had a short but prosperous life there—painted and installed by the community, and used widely by the neighborhood's book-hungry kids. Now, neighborhood activists are seeking a second before spring rolls around.
The little free library when it was first installed. Cedar Hill Assocoation Photo.
Ansley said it is especially important to the neighborhood because of its location, largely severed from the rest of New Haven and the city’s five branches of the New Haven Free Public Library.
“I'm heartbroken,” she said in an interview earlier this week. “For me, it’s about the kids who don't really get to go to a library. They got an opportunity they wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to. That's the joy of reading—it was such a treat for them to go there and pick up books.”
“Please look out for other children who don't have the availability, the accessibility to drive to the library,” she added. “For me, for it to be taken, it's almost like you're stealing from kids.”
The first little free library came to Ansley through Meredith Miller and Rob Rocke, East Rock residents she met at the neighborhood’s monthly Community Management Team meeting. The two had contacted the New Haven Register about its old, out-of-commission newsboxes, one of which came to Cedar Hill in mid-July. Late that month, neighborhood residents decorated it at a Cedar Hill Paint Party, and then began to use it almost immediately.
From August to November, Ansley recalled that “we couldn’t put books on the shelves fast enough.” Kids flocked to the little free library in groups, Ansley restocking the shelves with donations of books she’d received earlier that year.
In October, the Cedar Hill Association began talking about bringing it inside for the winter months, as soon as temperatures began to drop and snow hit the ground. So when Ansley saw that it was gone in November, she assumed someone had brought it inside. At first.
Then neighbors said that someone had taken it, books and all. Ansley contacted the local scrapyards, looking for it at every single one. She filed a police report. And then she started strategizing about what to tell neighborhood kids if one didn’t return in the spring.
She and fellow Cedar Hill champion Kennya Adams-Martin are asking neighbors, community management teams, and friends for any little free library leads they may be able to provide. For them, Ansley said, it marks the difference between whether a kid gets age-appropriate books or doesn’t get to read at all. They're prepared to decorate another one as soon as they have it—and then bolt it down to the old location with nails and chains.
“This gives them [neighborhood kids] just the same playing field as others, at closer proximity,” she said. “It's also a place of engagement. Kids go together. It's a positive thing for the neighborhood. I think reading is infectious. And that's something we should be looking to spread.”