No cards – no fines – but plenty of good books
No cards – no fines – but plenty of good books
SCHUYLER COUNTY – “I love books with a passion!” said Doris Breitbeck insistently. “I love books and I love people.”
His love interests converge at the Tyrone Book Exchange, a small, purpose-built brown building filled with books, located next to Tyrone Town Hall. It’s a kind of free public library for the community, whose gratitude is shown in the bags of soft-read books that are left inside the shed as donations to replace those left in the hands of avid readers.
The project started about five years ago when someone left two plastic bins full of books at the post office. People who came to the post office to post letters were soon joined by locals who also came to pick up reading materials. They were invited to take a book (or several) to read if they wished. There was no obligation to sign a book, nor to bring it back, although some also provided books. When the supply of books dwindled, someone brought more.
The arrangement was popular, but it only lasted a few months until a change in personnel raised concerns that this informal arrangement would not bring a smile to the U.S. Postal Service. The bins left the post office under the temporary care of Breitbeck. She asked the city office for permission to relocate the collection to an unheated, not-quite-sealed lean-to attached to the main building, used primarily to store shovels and brooms. Breitbeck spent several hours a week in all weathers keeping it tidy, arranging books alphabetically on given shelves.
It operated until the town hall was renovated and a meeting hall was added, which necessitated the demolition of the lean-to. The city council has decided to guarantee a small building for the book exchange. Built three years ago by Tyrone Building Supply, the small, isolated building “looks like a fairy house”, Breitbeck rejoices. “Such a beautiful little building!” It has one door, two windows and its white painted interior walls are lined with an assortment of shelves. Smaller than most garden sheds, the space is as comfortable an invitation to read as any larger, grander bookcase.
And without it, Tyrone would be in a reader’s wilderness. Breitbeck points out that the nearest libraries are in Watkins Glen, Dundee and Hammondsport, each 20km away.
When it was ready, more shelves were donated and put in place. The highway crew moved the books and Breitbeck’s daughter-in-law, Roberta Sparling, who works for the municipal justice, helped her put them aside. Breitbeck found the floor a bit bare and added a small floral rug.
“Customers” can come and borrow – or take home permanently – anything they would like to read. There is no exit sheet, no obligation to return the books within a specified time, if at all. Those entering are subject to only one request – to ensure that the door is securely closed when they leave.
Inside, Breitbeck has space for the most popular books inside the left door; the others are listed alphabetically by author around the perimeter of the room. On a shelf is a small basket where customers are invited to use a bookmark. There is a small set of shelves under a window for children’s books. She learned that fiction is much more popular than non-fiction, although she also has some of it. The books most easily picked up by customers are mystery novels and love stories. “Don’t Tyrone’s men bring home roses?” She wonders. And although the collection began with a large number of “how to” books for home improvement, they have remained on the shelves. These tomes, and other less popular ones, are periodically sent to other libraries to be used for their collections or book sales. Breitbeck wants to ensure that books have a second life in welcoming hands.
On the floor are several bags of groceries and a box full of books, as well as a few small piles of reading material. “They’ve all been left here since Saturday,” she said. “I looked inside and saw that there was a box and a pretty floral bag with books in it. I think someone really liked that bag,” she adds with a smile of his disappearance.
Regardless of the weather, she volunteers several hours a week putting away the books and tidying up the shed. “I love doing this so much,” she says. “I had to shut down for part of the pandemic and it really hurt my heart.” Back when it was believed the virus could survive for days on hard surfaces, the Book Exchange was closed Monday through Thursday. Breitbeck came to put books away on Thursdays, and the building was open for donations, returns, or takeout the rest of the week.
“It’s a good thing and the townspeople love it and she’s doing a great job,” said town supervisor Don Desrochers. “It’s a very good thing for the community.”
An enthusiastic reader herself, Breitbeck is well aware of the comfort that a good story offers. She is therefore particularly happy when a new subscriber discovers the library and wants to take a book home. “That’s what it’s all about,” she said.