Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Celebrating Reading, Greenwich Style: The Book Shed at the Recycling Center

April is THE month to celebrate reading. First, it’s DEAR, Drop Everything and Read Month. April is also National Poetry Month and School Library Month. Other dates this month to  consider include:

April 02 – International Children’s Book Day
April 12 – National Drop Everything and Read Day
April 12 – National Library Workers Day
April 13 – National Bookmobile Day
April 30 – Independent Book Store Day

In addition to these dates on the calendar encouraging reading, there are many places that support the wonders of the written word, most obviously libraries and bookstores—whether brick and mortar, on wheels, or online.

In Greenwich, though, we have another option, not as obvious, perhaps, but just as significant, the Book Shed at the Greenwich Recycling Center.

Last year Greenwich Oral History Project interviewer, Sally McHale, interviewed Douglas Francefort, founder of the Greenwich Book Shed at the recycling center.
Douglas Francefort at his post in front of the Greenwich Recycling Center Book Shed
(photo courtesy of Leslie Yager, Greenwich Free Press)

Francefort, a longtime recycler, began recycling books in the 1980s, before the shed was in existence. In those days the books, packed in boxes, had to be placed out on tables for viewing and then packed up again at the end of the day. Eventually the shed, designed by Francefort, was built by carpenters assigned by Maurice (Zip) Roddy, head of Public Works.

The book shed opened officially in September 1995, a success from the start—but not without its share of challenges, too many books donated to handle, vandalism when the shed was unattended. That was the time Francefort had to take action by temporarily shutting the shed down. But help was on the way, from members of the Retired Men’s Association who came down and pitched in as volunteers. Not only were they there to help monitor the overeager, they helped with the overflow. The shed’s ongoing issue is one of inventory, a lot of it.

Today overflow books deemed salvageable and of interest are donated to places such as the Mews, hospital cancer wards, and to the senior center. Children’s books are donated and set up on shelves at Neighbor-to-Neighbor and given to neighboring school districts in need as well. In the summer, Francefort takes books to the Island Beach dock and another volunteer is responsible for books at Tod’s Point.

The books are never displayed at the shed or at other locations without thought given to placement on the shelves or to genres. In summers thought is given to likely themes of interest, such as romance, mystery. Year round there are cross-referenced lists, by theme and by author, for example.

Handling a large inventory is always a challenge. And publicity may very well magnify the issue. The book shed has been featured in the New York Times, as well as in local newspapers and magazines. Howard Fast used the book shed as the vehicle for a “meet cute” scene in his novel, Greenwich, published in 2000, three years before his death. In the book, a character Christina, a lovely dark-haired young woman, meets Dickie, a blond-haired, blue-eyed young chap, at the “book shack” at the Greenwich “dump,” (a word Francefort eschews in favor of the term, recycling center). The pair’s first date goes awry pretty quickly, but that’s a topic for another time.
Young readers checking out the wide selection of children's books at the Book Shed
(photo courtesy of Leslie Yager, Greenwich Free Press)

Asked if he needed more books, Francefort said what he really needed was more help. But not the “accidental” kind, rather, the committed kind. He and his stalwart helper, Lorrie Stapleton, need the assistance of volunteers who can commit to a regular schedule.

Running the book shed is a labor of love—requiring a lot of labor.

What does the future hold for the Greenwich book shed? The answer is still uncertain. Douglas Francefort may actually wish to surrender his role as the “town bookie,” as he calls it, someday in the not too distant future. Will his trusty helper, Lorrie Stapleton, take over? Will the book shed continue to exist at the recycling center? (There have been rumors of its demise, untrue its fans hope.)

Inquiring minds, the ones attracted to reading, want to know, but answers are not forthcoming. One thing is certain, though. If you enjoy book browsing, if you like a bargain, then the Greenwich book shed at the recycling center is the place for you.

Spring is in the air—and April is DEAR!

The Greenwich Oral History Project interview, “Book Shed at the Recycling Center,” (April 2015) narrated by Douglas Francefort, is available in the reference area on the first floor of the Greenwich Library or through the Oral History Project office, located on the lower level of the library.