Book-lovers set up libraries around town


9/21 Update: These can be found in Park Heights across from NW high school and one on Greenspring between Smith Ave and the Quarry. 

Shed of a library (Yona Zalesh)
This library will shed your expectations of a library. (Photo by Yona Zalesch)

Movie theaters may be in trouble, but books are experiencing a renaissance in quarantine. Some community members have noticed colorful miniature libraries pop up around town, housing cinematic stories.

Yona Zalesch’s family, who belong Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim and Congregation Darchei Tzedek family, love books. So when she noticed the community suffering during the pandemic, she knew exactly what she wanted to give everyone.

Luckily for her literary dreams, Zalesch had a fair amount of storage in her new home’s shed.

“I always love little libraries, but you can’t store that much in them,” Zalesch said.

A friend drove from Carroll County to donate some books, and then she advertised her library on Facebook groups and took staged photos to make it cute.

“Then it spread,” Zalesch said. “Some people said they found it through a WhatsApp group, when I never even put it on WhatsApp! People just started coming in.”

The shed is open for Jewish and non-Jewish book donations and taking. Zalesch cleared it of valuable items. There are no official rules about masks or distancing, so those interested should use their discretion.

There are two and a half bookshelves in the 400-square-foot shed, for adults and young adults. Some days, no one comes by, but Fridays and Sundays often see five families swing by.

“If people start conversation over it, that’s great, especially because we’re new to town,” Zalesch said.

Shed of a library (Yona Zalesh)
Shed library’s books (Yona Zalesh)

Nearby, another resident had a similar idea. Ettah Bienenstock of Park Heights had just lost her father, so she wanted to do something to commemorate him. She had always loved little libraries, but they cost about $500 online. However, her husband, who has a woodshop in their basement, knew that his wife wanted a mini-library, and he constructed one for her. She painted it with flowers and trees, then posted about it on Facebook.

Friends reached out to ask if they could commission one of the libraries, too. Soon, people from all over the city and county were buying them for less than $200 from her husband. They’ve sold more than 10 so far.

Bienenstock, a congregant of Bais Lubavitch, loves to see these pop up in her community.

“I’m obsessed with reading, so getting to get other people into it, when we’re with Netflix usually, is great,” she said. “Especially with COVID, people are finding that they’re reading much more than they have, and after a while, you just get sick of what’s in your house, like TV. I sound like I’m 90 when I’m barely 40, but physical books are so great. I used to sit in the hallway at school and read, and I remember staying up late past my bedtime as a kid to read.”

The books in her library are for everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish.

“There was one African American lady walking by who asked if it’s OK for her to take some, and I said absolutely!” Bienenstock said. “So we just got to talk a little. It’s nice because a lot of people stop by and say, ‘Oh I have books I should drop off.”

Some put Harry Potter books in, or Hunger Games. There are also cookbooks, travel books, Jewish philosophy books and “trashy romance novels are always popular.”

Bienenstock’s 7-year-old son, overhearing his mom’s conversation with the JT, shouted out that he loves seeing the different pictures on the covers.

Bienenstock’s only rule for the library is that she asks people to not leave boxes of books on her lawn. That happened once before, and it rained and ruined the books.

Next, she would love her husband to build a bench for her to sit on next to the library.

“It’s so good for the community to share this,” Bienenstock said.


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