Red Hook – Small Library, Big Ideas!

Red Hook Public Library is situated in Red Hook Village, Dutchess County, New York State, the population of the village is under 2000, the library serves a population of approximately 4000 with out-lying areas. Red Hook Library is run by director Erica Freudenberger and a team of two full time staff, seven part time staff (between 10 and 20 hours) and five pages. Pages are teenage staff, aged 14 + who work 3-5 hours per week, after school, weekends and holidays, they earn the minimum wage. There are also 12-15 volunteers giving a few hours each, they usually help with shelving but may help run or lead activities.

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This small library is based in an historic octagonal building, with limited space the team have found plenty of innovative ways to engage with their community. Red Hook Library has been nationally recognised for the work they have done, it has been designated a five star library by the Library Journal and was a finalist this year in the Best Small Library of America Award.

Although only just over 4000 square feet, there is space for a children’s library, a tween room, a teen area, adult library, study areas, three public computers and a children’s learning garden.

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Red Hook is a municipal library which has a Board of Trustees. The Trustees act as governors of the library, dealing with finance and policies, they are appointed by the Mayor of the village. Erica reports to the trustees at the monthly board meetings. The library is funded by local taxes. The funding system means that residents vote in local elections for the amount they are prepared to spend on their library. This means that in order to secure appropriate funding it is imperative that the library demonstrates it’s value to the community.

Red Hook Board of Trustees meeting

Red Hook Board of Trustees meeting

As one of the Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) cohort Red Hook Library have been working hard on their community engagement activities, much of the programming is based on experiential learning. The amount of programming they achieve is truly impressive. On average they put on about 15 programmes per week. Usually the planning is done in 6-8 week cycles. Programmes include:

  • Romp and Stomp – pre-school
  • Toddler FUNdamentals – playing and developing fine motor skills
  • Petite Picasso – art for pre-schoolers
  • Story time – pre-school
  • Spinning yarns – knitters group
  • Libratory – STEM based maker sessions, after school
  • Crafternoon – for grade school children
  • Lego Club
  • Curators of the Lost Art – hands on art history and practice, after school grades 6-9
  • Minecraft
  • Two monthly book groups – adults afternoon and evening
  • Colour Club – adult colouring
  • Teen Tech Help – Saturdays, help with digital devices by pages and teen volunteers 10am-2pm
  • Farmers Market – Children’s craft activities and stories weekly at the village Farmer’s Market
  • Homeschool Discovery Zone – for homeschooled children and families
  • Learn conversational Italian – 8 week course for adults – beginner and intermediate classes
  • Learn Japanese for fun – introductory course for adults and high school students – volunteer led
  • Latin for teens – volunteer led
  • Shakespeare Discussion Group – monthly
  • Job Search Clinic- partnering with local career centre
  • Health Exchange Navigators – private sessions with navigators – partnership
  • After school sessions held at the High school library – currently web design and graphics – weekly partnering with school

In addition to these regular sessions there are many one-off adult evening events usually led by members of the community sharing their skills. These talks and workshops have included bee-keeping, gardening, brewing and maple tree tapping.

Hispanic Heritage Month organised by the library at the Farmers' Market

Hispanic Heritage Month organised by the library at the Farmers’ Market


Children's craft at the Farmer's Market

Children’s craft at the Farmer’s Market

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Erica and the Mayor of Red Hook at the Farmer's Market

Erica and the Mayor of Red Hook at the Farmer’s Market


Erica and some of her team at Red Hook Farmers' Market. LtoR Dawn, Fiona, Erica and Jacob

Erica and some of her team at Red Hook Farmers’ Market.
LtoR Dawn, Fiona, Erica and Jacob

The work that Erica and her team do is inspiring, they work extensively with partners, including the nearby University, Bard College and the High School. There is a monthly meeting with village organisations and businesses “Red Hook Together” where there is an open dialogue and organisations share what they are doing, giving further opportunities for partnership work. Programmes are often held out of the library in community venues because of the limitations of space but this allows extensive outreach work, for all ages, and increases the visibility of the library and their work. Erica is constantly talking with her community and many of the events they deliver have been suggested by community members keen to share their skills.

Red Hook Library is thriving with over 150,000 visits and 11,000 attending programmed events in the last year as well as increased issues. Erica is convinced that the book issues will take care of themselves if you have people attending the programmed events. This library is highly valued by it’s community.

A final couple of points that may be useful for UK libraries when considering activities and events. At Red Hook and the other libraries that I have visited so far, there are no charges for any of the programmed events or courses, everything is offered for free.

The libraries are also open for longer hours, early evening is the busiest time. Red Hook is open 10am-7pm Monday – Friday and 10am-4pm on Saturdays. Many adult events are later in the evening after the library is closed. The staff work flexible shifts to accommodate out of hours programmes. Provision of library services outside the standard working day can only help engage the community with the library.

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