You are reading

Sunnysider Fights to Keep His ‘People’s Library’ Going on Skillman Avenue

The Sunnyside Free People’s Library located on the corner of Skillman Avenue and 43rd Street (Photo: Volker Detering)

July 9, 2020 By Asha MacKay

What started as a man giving away books on a street corner has turned into a tug-of-war over community use of public space in Sunnyside.

The Sunnyside Free People’s Library, located on the corner of Skillman Avenue and 43rd street and in operation seven days a week, is a charitable exchange of books, media and ideas.

Seeing the complementary needs for public access to books and the lack of places to put excess during COVID-19, Volker Detering started a charitable community book exchange. Anyone can drop off unwanted books and take new-to-them tomes.

The book swap shares a corner with the Sunnyside Greenmarket on Saturdays, which has been supportive of the initiative. One vendor brought over a tarp when it unexpectedly rained one Saturday.

The volume of books being donated soon became too much for Detering and the handful of people helping him to store them. They have resorted to leaving the books outside indefinitely. Detering covers them with a tarp when it rains.

The People’s Library has become a hub for conversation about books, politics, and the goings on about town. “This is a literacy corner, a free speech corner. It’s not a political statement, and every political opinion is welcome and respected,” Detering says.

“There are no rules except common sense,” says Detering. “It’s the people’s. Nobody owns it,” he adds.

Local representatives are in favor of the book swap. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY 14th district) gave kudos to Detering for addressing a community need when she visited the Greenmarket. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer is another public supporter of the initiative.

Volker Detering, who established the Sunnyside Free People’s Library, with the iconic rainbow in the background

Yet the concept of a low-maintenance charitable book exchange is lost on some. Last Sunday morning a Parks Department employee came to tell Detering to pack up the books because he did not have a permit. A neighbor had called 311 on the Free People’s Library.

According to Detering, the Parks Depart. called on Van Bramer to make him disband the library. Van Bramer, for whom libraries have long been a key issue, reportedly said no.

The councilman declined to provide comment.

Detering says that the Parks Dept. does not seem to understand the charitable nature of the giveaway.

He said that an official told him that when no one is physically there to oversee the books the items are considered trash.

Therefore, he is required to move them elsewhere when he is not present. Detering says it is not physically possible. “Complying would mean an end to the program,” he adds.

Detering, who continues to operate and is not backing down, also said having the books available for the public at all hours of the day and night provides a service.

“People want books, even at midnight or at four in the morning,” he adds.

The Parks Dept. also expects Detering to take down the hand-crocheted rainbow attached to the park fence.

The artwork, by Sunnysider Kyle Bouchard, has become a point of pride in the community and is separate from the People’s Library.

“Can you imagine if I had to be the one to go and take it down?” asks Detering. “People would not like that, they would be taking pictures and saying how terrible I was.”

A spokesperson for the Parks Dept. said the agency is “looking into this matter” in terms of Detering’s library and the artwork.

She also clarified that “While it’s not illegal to exchange ‘media’ on our property, hanging materials on parks property without a permit is against our rules,” referring to the rainbow artwork and Detering’s Free People’s Library sign.

With support from elected officials and the Sunnyside community at large, the Sunnyside Free People’s Library is looking to stick around. “It’s not something that can be stopped anymore,” Detering said.

The Sunnyside Free People’s Library is on Facebook as Sunnyside Swap, where book highlights and weather updates can be found.

Unwanted books in good condition can be dropped off at any time.

The Sunnyside Free People’s Library located on the corner of Skillman Avenue and 43rd Street (Photo: Volker Detering)

email the author: [email protected]

39 Comments

Click for Comments 
Queens Streets for LOL

Can the entire cobblestone area surrounding the park be transformed into parking spaces? Asking for 12,000 friends.

4
3
Reply
Sunnysider

Can we build a Community Little Library to house all these books? If it is in park property permits are needed. Let me know and I will be down to help build it.

4
3
Reply
Book lover

How did this subject become a political issue? This gentleman is providing a much needed service to people who are famished for reading material and other media. Those who object so strongly should actually open and read a book sometime; you might learn something and open your minds. Right now, the amount of ignorance being shown is literally staggering and truly frightening. Grow up, folks.

25
2
Reply
LIC DIRECT

How about the $40 + million dollar library on the waterfront supported by JVB which is not even ADA compliant a wheel bound person can’t even get into the place – a watse of our tax funds – then you have a guy on the sidewalk with a few tables giving and swapping books for free…. proving that you dont need govt to provide books to the masses. Watch JVB turn this into another library $$$ cash cow for himself and his friends. Keep your sticky fingers out of this JVB…. Just watch out people’s library will become JVB’s sunnyside gardens branch soon enough.

12
6
Reply
Julz

So glad the tp shortage was dealt with. Other wise there would be many clogged toilets with all this free paper.

3
4
Reply
Michelle

None of the material caught my attention. He needs to add more black and brown authors and books written in Spanish or he needs to be shut down.

1
46
Reply
This is not a funded thing. No grants.

Neighbors to the neighborhood are bringing their I don’t needs anymore to here and seeing about swapping them out. You want more black and brown authors??? YOU provide!!!

40
Reply
Bks40

Could it be that Michelle’s comment was facetious ? A subtle mocking of HLM protests and cancel culture ?

5
8
Reply
Sunnyside Loves Me Long Time

Michelle, he is not a retail bookstore. He is a community service based on book donations. If more people donated Black and Latinix authors he would have them on the tables. Unfortunately, people are not donating those books. You’re politicizing something that does not need politicizing. If you want to see more Black and Brown authors on the table contribute to the cause by asking your friends and family to donate those authors to achieve the balance you seek.

37
Reply
Tamra

He should should reach out to black and brown communities and set up an exchange there. Somewhere in Harlem or Brooklyn. I am sure they would be very welcoming to his book collection.

4
7
Reply
Heidi Rojas

Just another example of certain people exercising their privilege. The police actually show up, fine and try to close down people when for example they sell tamales to minorities on the sidewalk but our local authorities are all for allowing a white book hoarder take over a city sidewalk. Its systematic racism. If he is allowed to do it then everyone else should be allowed to take over a city sidewalk.

4
35
Reply
Have several white people been murdered by police in the past couple weeks?

No?! Oh, well that’s why people are talking about black people.

REALLY strange you think that means your life doesn’t matter. Can you imagine being that gullible?

Reply
Hey Heidi

Books aren’t going to make you sick, selling tamales without a license on the street will.

10
Reply
Bench warmer

how can someone be so miserable at heart to call 311 on this lovely man with a beautiful idea

28
3
Reply
Anonymous

how can someone be so miserable at heart to call 311 on this lovely man with a beautiful idea

16
1
Reply
BOOK em danno

Well, we donated a sizable collection of lightly used books, I think it’s a nice community affair. Now if the parks department were half as enthusiastic on real issues inside the park then they might look a bit more credible, for example urinating , drinking ,drug use and sales
Loud People there as late as 3am
Etc etc. Maybe they are afraid folks might educate themselves and starting asking intelligent questions, we can’t have that.
It will fun if and when parks staff try to ticket an uncooperative person, who will they call for backup, Jimmy!!

27
Reply
Jimmy Paul

Looks trashy like a trailer park yard sale, I will continue to call the parks department. Not to state the face this is a huge public health hazard books, cds, and movies are not sanitized just a hot spot to spreed covid

5
41
Reply
Bench Warmer

Never thought books look “trailer park “ maybe you should take your passion for calling the parks department to report on the drugs being used in the park during the day near the children playing or the filthy bathrooms and overfilled garbage cans

Reply
Jugashvili

Reporting drugs and alcohol being used in the park is an example of white privilege. You all need to learn the correct way to think and behave. Don’t complain about the trash, clean it up. Make the people’s park a more welcoming place for the people that live in overcrowded apartments without backyards to hang out and entertain. This is their backyard.

Reply
Cmv

Who would complain about the books? Especially now that the libraries are closed!

21
1
Reply
Carbie Barbie

I’m kind of surprised the right wing kooks on here are not savaging this “socialist/marxist” activity.

Here, let me get you started:

“THIS IS A STEP TOWARD ANARCHY! READING AND SHARING ARE SOCIALISM!”

Am I doing it right?

9
10
Reply
Sunnysideposthatesme

I think it’s hilarious that some of the people complaining are the very people joyously blocking traffic on what’s supposed to be a shared road on skillman. The park is literally right freaking there people you dont need to walk your dog in the middle of the god damn street

8
5
Reply
Rachel

This book exchange has been one of the few bright spots during this pandemic. Forcing it to close would be a pointless and shameful abuse of power.

21
1
Reply
Joanne Smith

I did not know the sidewalk in front of the park was the parks property.

13
1
Reply
Volker Detering

The sidewalk is not technically part of the park, but similar to private properties, the owner is in charge of the sidewalk adjacent to it. This is why the Parks department has control over the sidewalk.

Reply
Interesting.

Call 311 to ask who is responsible for shoveling the sidewalk surrounding a park and they said Park’s department.

8
1
Reply
All Lives Matter

If Detering had been rioting or looting or spray painting BLM on public property, the city would leave him alone, if not publicly praise him.

648
12
Reply
Why does the Radical Right want everything to be PC?

Did they mention the protestors or…?

564
5
Reply
Book lover

This is a Godsend to people desperate for books, videos, CDs and other media while all libraries are closed. The items are all free, are clean and neatly displayed and fill an important need for those people looking for “brain food” and entertainment. Please make sure that this much needed service remains up and running.

39
4
Reply
community mechanic

im setting up a car repair shop beside him. please feel free to drop off any car batteries or tires that i could reuse. there is a drain in the side walk so will probably use that to dump oil in. its all kind of bulky so i will just pull a tarp over it in the evenings when i leave. My banner will be attached to the fence with my phone # so if you break down or get a flat at midnight or 4 in the morning, because these thing do happen just get your car towed to the corner of skillman ave and 43rd. And i will see what i can do.

26
32
Reply
Alia James

Oy. Leave it to bureaucracy to create a problem where there isn’t one. I love this guy, and have already gotten a few really good books from him!

35
5
Reply

Leave a Comment
Reply to this Comment

All comments are subject to moderation before being posted.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Recent News