Contemporary design has taken to the streets of Manhattan in the shape of tiny public lending libraries. Lodged between stately columns, on a public park bench, nestled in a schoolyard fence, in a street or in the end of a pier, 10 small-scale designer libraries currently reside in New York’s East Village and Lower East Side, inviting visitors and neighbors to stop, read and stay awhile. Creations of the Little Free Library (LFL) project, these libraries were created and built by 10 teams for the New Museum’s Thoughts City festival.

The Little Free Library project is a nonprofit whose mission would be to put available lending libraries in neighborhoods worldwide. Over 6,000 libraries are built this year , using a projected 25,000 libraries by the end of 2013, according to Todd Bol, the organization’s founder. Whether individuals build, purchase or design their own library, the idea of “choose a book, leave a book” is sticking.

The front lawns of residential neighborhoods host many of these pocket-size public libraries, enabling neighbors to share and gather directly outside their front doors; but for a lot of people that live in Manhattan, the town streets substitute front lawns; the organizers of this particular project were enthused about the chance to build a particularly New York–based project. Public plazas, college campuses and art centers, among other sites, are standing in for front lawns and cul-de-sacs.

The design and architecture community created particularly for this project each of the libraries — and the designers didn’t return. Some libraries use existing structure as the foundation, like the brushed steel framework of the LFL in Cooper Union, while others are freestanding and could be built and replicated anywhere, like Matter Practice’s library, slightly reminiscent of a fishbowl. You can go inside a few of the libraries, like Stereotank’s inverted yellow tank, while others must be noticed, like the laser-cut acrylic of Davies Tang + Toews, but all somehow invite the neighborhood in to get a closer look.

Location: Abrons Art Center and Henry Street Settlement
Designers: Forrest Jessee and Brigette Borders, Studio.0
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Location: La Mama
Designer: Davies Tang + Toews
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Teams were chosen based on “the quality of the work, hands-on fabrication experience and a brief statement (100 words or less) that discussed that the entrants’ fascination in Little Free Libraries/New York,” says Anne Rieselbach of the Architectural League of New York, that, along with the PEN World Voices Festival, organized the event.

The organizers were also excited to see how the city could help determine the design and total experience of the libraries.

Location: New York University
Designer: Issue Exercise
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Location: Extra Place, a street from the East Village
Designer: Stpmj
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Outdoor space is limited in cities, so a lot of outdoor adventures happen communally — in parks, even in caf├ęs or perhaps on the road. This communal experience works well for the NYC libraries. “what’s so interesting is how many of the New York architects chose an approach that in many cases produced a place to sit down and talk or read,” says Rieselbach. “Either through incorporating existing infrastructure like park benches, building their particular integral seating , or through other design features, [they] established areas to melt.” Forrest Jessee and Brigette Borders assembled a wooden mat that rolled out and over a cement park bench, and Chat Travieso attached a bench straight to a wrought iron fence.

Location: Two Bridges Neighborhood Council
Designer: Chat Travieso
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Location: Hester Street Collaborative
Designers: Shannon Harvey, Adam Michaels and Levi Murphy
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Rieselbach admits there was some vandalism early on and that some locations were experiencing more “take one” than “render one,” but overall the libraries have fared well and have been adopted by their own communities. Contemplating this is New York City, the most populous town in the country and one of the top most populous cities on earth, that is a good sign.

It is likely that LFL has tapped a nerve, that our shared admiration for books is what we will need to bring us together and enjoy our neighbors’ company in people — but I think that is only considering the small libraries from the literal sense. Community gardens and urban parklets reveal how a lot of individuals use public spaces for collecting and strengthening community ties. These libraries are unexpected and experimental — almost like hidden city treasures — but they are also useful. New York resident Tracey Coffin says she loves being in a position to “skim a book through my lunch break rather than emails.” Rieselbach says that these libraries remind us that “no structure is too small to be enriched, and often made more practical, by a carefully considered design that is responsive to its own program, users and website.”

Location: St. Patrick’s School
Designer: Stereotank
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The libraries will probably return on September 1, 2013, but you can still go through the layouts firsthand through free downloadable plans. Rieselbach says talks are in the works to revive a few of these libraries and that the architectural league and PEN are already exploring options for another round of layouts next spring.

Location: University Settlement
Designers: Mark Rakatansky Studio using Aaron White
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View a movie about the Little Free Library/NYC here.

More: Bring a Mini Library For Your Front Yard

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