Molly Reinmann, Contributing Photographer

There’s a book bank in town with more than 100,000 new and gently-used books. 

The best part? Visitors can take books home with them, for free.

New Haven Reads — a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting literacy in the Elm City — recently re-launched its in-person field trip program. Organizers bring local public school students to their book bank on Bristol Street in Newhallville to listen to stories and select free books to take home. 

“We have had people from all over the country come in and take books,” said Victoria Smith, who oversees the book bank. “They will take books for themselves, they’ll take books to send overseas. We have a lot of teachers who come in for books, and we provide community organizations with books. We have a really broad reach.”

The organization hosted its first in-person field trip in three years last week. Classrooms of students, from pre-kindergarteners to fifth graders, are bused in along with their teachers from across the city. 

Inside the colorful space, students learned about the organization’s mission, listened to stories read by organizers and browsed for the room’s many shelves and tables lined with titles. At the end of each trip, every student took home five free books of their choice.

Field trips, which typically last an hour, consist of three parts. First, Smith gives students a brief introduction to New Haven Reads as an organization and explains the importance of books and literacy.

“We then split the class in half,” Smith explained. “Half the class gets to stay in the central space of the Book Bank and shop around for books, and the other half comes into the back room, and they get a couple of stories read to them. Then they switch. So ultimately each student gets stories read to them and gets the opportunity to pick out five books to take home with them.”

All books at the bank are donated and then distributed back to the community. 

“Our Book Bank is almost like a free bookstore,” Smith said.

The selection of books offered in the Book Bank includes options for readers of all ages, Smith explained, with both fiction and nonfiction titles. 

The Book Bank is not just a resource for New Haven residents, Smith added, but is open to all visitors in need.

The field trip program was founded in 2013, Smith explained, in order to make the books in the Book Bank more accessible to students during school hours.

Smith added that the schools which most frequently send classes on field trips are Lincoln-Bassett Community School, Benjamin Jepson Magnet School, Fair Haven School, King-Robinson Inter-District Magnet School, Dr. Reginald Mayo Early Childhood School and Barack Obama Magnet University School.

“A lot of these kids don’t have access to books in their homes,” added Amanda Brown, the communications associate at New Haven Reads. “So if we can help build their home libraries through this program, it’s super important, because that’s where literacy starts, in the home.”

Molly Reinmann, Contributing Photographer

Fiona Bradford, the organization’s development and communications director, echoed the importance of the field trip program to promote at-home reading and literacy throughout the city. Yearly, Bradford estimates that 10,000 books are distributed through the field trip program alone.

“Field trips have also been a great way to connect with teachers across the Greater New Haven area and support them as they build their classroom libraries,” Bradford added.

Bradford, Brown and Smith all pointed to the abundance of positive feedback on the field trips from students, teachers and parents alike.

“We have seen some families come back [to the Book Bank] with their students after a field trip,” Smith explained. “They come back consistently, to get books, which is amazing.”

Comfort Parker, a teacher at Dr. Reginald Mayo Early Childhood School who accompanied her class on the inaugural in-person trip, emphasized the importance of the field trips in promoting literacy among her students.

“My favorite part of the trip is when the children are able to pick out and check out some books of their choice,” Parker said. “It helps them to appreciate and value books and reading from a very young age. 

For Brown, the highlight of the first field trip back after the pandemic was watching two young students bond over a book. 

“Neither of them could read it yet,” Brown said, “but they were just looking at the pictures and sharing their excitement with each other. It was awesome.”

The New Haven Reads Book Bank was founded in 2001.

MOLLY REINMANN