A Passion for Books

An interview by Ava Burstyn

Christine Gallo is a longtime Bay Ridge resident who is passionate about promoting literacy across all ages and getting books to those most in need. Since her previous position at Scholastic Book Fairs, Christine has looked for ways to continue to address literacy related barriers. Social work intern Ava Burstyn interviewed Christine to learn more about her background and the value of books during challenging times.

Q: Where do you live in Brooklyn, and why does that community matter to you?

A: I live in Bay Ridge, not far from the Center. Bay Ridge is between my and my husband's family, and it is a lot like the neighborhood I grew up in. I enjoy the lifestyle here because I can walk to places and there are always a lot of activities going on. It continues to feel like home to me since moving here thirty years ago.

Q: Your background is in children's books, and you are now working on a project for older adults. Why do you think it is important for older adults to have books?

A: Before COVID, I worked for Scholastic Book Fairs, which was strictly focused on children's books. After that, I had a lot more time on my hands and still wanted to stay involved with being around books and getting books to people. That has always been my mission. I have a love for children's books because of my background, but I really wanted to branch out. There are so many who do not have access to books. I know so many older adults who really enjoy reading as a form of entertainment and as a pastime. Now that we're stuck at home, and we can't go to the movies or sporting events, we're all looking for ways to entertain ourselves. We're all experiencing what a lot of seniors have been experiencing all along. We're spending most of our time at home, we can't get around as easily, and there aren't many activities for us to do, so a book is a great solution. I know a lot of older adults who are sitting at home watching the news all of the time. With a book, you can escape and learn; it's a healthy way to disconnect from negativity.

Q: Today, books are especially beneficial for older adults, as nearly everything is online and many older adults are uncomfortable with technology. In what ways have you seen books compensate for this issue?

A: There aren't as many barriers to accessing physical books as there are to accessing electronic books. Many older adults have used eBooks in the past, but they relied on help from their grandchildren, for example, to help them download the books. Now that older adults are getting little to no visitors, they often face technological difficulties with no one to help them with. Books are also a fun way to stay connected to others. Once you read one, you can drop it into a friend's mailbox, and they can then pass it along to someone else – safely, of course. Sharing is caring!

Christine is a steward of one of Bay Ridge's nine Little Free Libraries - book boxes placed in front of homes, businesses, parks, and more, and are always available for people to take a book or leave a book (or both), for free! Christine has been experimenting with doing Little Free Library pop ups at other locations such as food pantries and plans to expand this initiative as the weather gets warmer. You can follow Christine’s Little Free Library on Instagram at @littlefreelibrary87thstreet and on Facebook at Little Free Library 87th Street.

And, participate in Books on the Ridge, the Bay Ridge Connects online book club that meets monthly on a Thursday afternoon (usually the 2nd or 3rd Thursday) at 2:00 pm. Watch for the May listing on our calendar.

Ava Burstyn is an intern from the Columbia School of Social Work.

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