A custom-designed cart that rolls into place and unfolds to reveal books, with benches for seating. (Our first reading room relied on a system of cubes, and that structure is still in use. See Design.)
High-quality books (300+ in each cart), drawn from the Uni Project’s collection and curated for each location. Books in the Uni don’t circulate. We’re not a book swap, and we’re not a lending library. The point is not to take books home and read in private. We want people to read them together, in public, and be seen reading. That’s why we choose books that work well for browsing: short fiction, art books, poetry, and lots of picture books. And because we watch over the books, we offer high-quality, unusual, and even fragile books, like pop-up titles. We want to put out what you wouldn’t expect in public space. And we find that a little trust goes a long way with our patrons. To be engaging, some of the collection is also organized into a series of mini-collections curated by individuals or organizations who have a real passion or expertise about a topic. Explore our collection below.
Mini book reviews, created by fellow New Yorkers. You can write a mini book review and post it on the side of the READ cart. Book reviewers take home instant photos of themselves holding their favorite book at the Uni.
Participation by local libraries and other NYC organizations and institutions, featuring books and other material that has either been donated or loaned for the day.
Uni staff and volunteers to facilitate and read aloud, as needed.
How you can help Your support helps us take READ NYC to New York neighborhoods. Make a donation here. Or, donate books. Visit our wish list at Strand Bookstore. We love bilingual and international titles. We also accept used books in the categories above. Uni Book Donation Policy. Contact Leslie Davol.Donate Online or by Mail
Susanne Beck and Billy Parker, Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown, Leaves of Grass Fund, Sam and Esme Lee, Karen and Daniel Taylor
Our collection includes:
Various Donors: PICTURE BOOK CUBES
From the start, the Uni has embraced the picture book, and for good reason. These books work in public space. We’re constantly expanding our collection. Here’s a statement from Cynthia Yee, educator and former volunteer librarian in our 2009 Storefront Library about the educational value and importance of picture books: In our modern misguided rush to show achievement, we wrongly assume that reading chapter books early is a sign of an advanced reader and so we push and encourage young children into children’s chapter books earlier and earlier. As a result, children often think, as some adults do as well, that picture books are “baby books” and so skip an entire valuable genre of literature. Actually, picture books are essential to the development of an avid and skilled reader. Picture books often have a more advanced vocabulary than the chapter books purposely written with a “controlled vocabulary” for the young market. The illustrations in high quality picture books are often beautiful works of art, colorful, expressive, and tell a story that words cannot express by themselves. They can communicate complex ideas, support a pace that is quick and clever, and so inspire delight in children as well as the wise adult. Indeed, the experience of enjoying picture books read alone, read aloud, or shared together with children is to indulge in one of the greatest joys of a literary life. It is an experience to be encouraged and supported in our schools, libraries, homes, and communities.
NYC DOT: BOOKS FROM NYC DEPTARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
NYC DOT has done groundbreaking work with city streets, and it is now a model for transportation departments across the nation. On Nov 22, 2013 at the Talking Transition tent in Lower Manhattan, the Uni received a wonderful donation of publications from NYC DOT. Included was the just-published “Sustainable Streets: 2013 and Beyond,” a detailed summary of the department’s work over the past six years with guidance for the next administration. Also included was Making Streets Safer. We’ve seen first-hand how the DOT’s efforts with community plazas, play streets, and Weekend Walks are benefitting neighborhoods. These new public spaces are where we bring our portable reading room. And we appreciate that DOT sees value in hard copy publishing too! Read more about this cube and learn how you can add to it.
Uprise Books: BANNED AND CHALLENGED BOOKS
Books are powerful. When books are banned or challenged in America (which happens more often than you might think), they end up feeling even more powerful. And interesting. And tempting to read. The Uprise Books Project, fellow Innovations in Reading Prize winners, takes advantage of this reaction, and they use banned books to draw teens into reading. We’re pleased to announce that Uprise has donated an outstanding mini-collection of banned and challenged books to the Uni pop-up reading room. They’ve also included a reference text that our librarians will use to help answer questions from New Yorkers about banned books. More about this cube.
La Casa Azul Bookstore: BOOKS FROM LA CASA AZUL
In 2012, we had the opportunity to meet Aurora Anaya-Cerda and visit La Casa Azul in 2012 at an educators’ open house. Sitting in the bookstore’s brightly colored lower level that also serves as a community space, eating sweets made by Aurora’s mother, we learned about how Aurora raised funds to open La Casa Azul on Indiegogo, and we discussed the need for culturally relevant books and Aurora’s vision for a bookstore that can contribute to communities. La Casa Azul is East Harlem’s only independent bookstore, and the only bookstore in New York that features art and writing by Latino writers. In 2013, The Uni Project purchased books to create a wonderful cube curated by La Casa Azul, using funds from our National Book Foundation Innovations in Reading Prize.
New York Hall of Science: BOOKS FROM THE SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY LIBRARY
This cube is a gem, donated by New York Hall of Science and filled with science-related books that will grab the attention of passersby. The Uni now has a new tool to get people on the street thinking about science. One of our favorite titles in the cube is the oversize book “Actual Size,” which doesn’t just tell you how big a gorilla hand or a giant squid eye can be, it shows you. Thank you to the NY Hall of Science for donating these books and for the work you do in Queens—we’re proud to be taking you with us as we move around the city. And a special thanks to NY Hall of Science Librarian Rebecca Reitz, who not only chose perfect titles for our browsable collection but also took the time to cover them in protective sleeves so they’ll last for years to come.
Museum of Chinese America: BOOKS ABOUT CHINESE IN AMERICA
Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) has donated a cube of wonderful books to the Uni collection, including the acclaimed graphic novel, American Born Chinese, exhibit catalogs, and picture books for children. MOCA has been telling stories of the many communities of Chinese America since its origins as the New York Chinatown History Project, founded by community and student activists in 1980.
Museum of Modern Art: BOOKS ON ART
Coinciding with the Uni’s visit to the PS1 Dome at the Rockaways in April, 2013, the Museum of Modern Art curated and donated a cube of outstanding books that will engage kids and adults across NYC for years to come. MoMA’s publications program has been an integral part of the Museum’s mission since its founding in 1929. MoMA has published over 1,250 titles in twenty languages to date, showcasing the scholarship of the Museum’s staff and associates, and serving as a valuable resource to scholars, students, and art lovers alike. And now, these books will travel to neighborhoods across the city. MoMA PS1 also donated several titles. Thanks MoMA!
Andrew Collins: CITIZEN SCIENCE CUBE, WITH MICROSCOPE!
This cube was a hit on the street from day one. Use a microscope to identify live ants and explore books about magnification and biodiversity. This cube was created by the Uni Project and Andrew Collins, a science communicator and educator who has taught science in NYC schools and is currently pursuing for a degree at Columbia University. Recently, the cube has been expanding beyond ants to explore the parts of flowers and leaves. Besides learning about biology and ecology, Kids and adults become comfortable operating a stereo microscope and slides. Stay focused New York!
The Louis Armstrong House Museum Cube: LOUIS ARMSTRONG OF CORONA, QUEENS
The Uni generally runs without electricity, but we made a special exception for an exceptional New Yorker and Queens resident, Louis Armstrong. This special cube, our first with audio, was created in partnership with the Louis Armstrong House Museum. It includes books, photos, and music all donated by the museum to the Uni. This cube was debuted on Corona Plaza in July 2012, just steps from the Armstrongs’ house. New York is home to some of the largest museums in the world, but some of our favorites are the smallest. House tours are given in person by a guide and are limited to about eight people at a time. If all 8 million New Yorkers take this beautiful and moving tour, it will take us some time to pass through, but let’s do it! Thank you LAHM for what you do for the legacy of Louis Armstrong and New York.
The 826NYC Cube: WRITING BY YOUNG NEW YORKERS
Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes. 826NYC, home of Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co, has curated and donated a cube of books featuring young New York writers. The 826 donation includes several remarkable non-book items which challenged our Uni cataloging system in the best way, including a can of ANTIMATTER. Thank you 826 for your work to create a new generation of writers, and for showing us how the inspiration to read and write can come from a label on a can, as well as a published book.
Robert Berkman: STREET MATH INVESTIGATIONS
In 2012, we encountered a wonderful exhibit on Governors Island that evoked the street scenery of New York City and prompted you to solve puzzles with magnetized pickles. It also asked you to use your powers of spatial reasoning to connect appliances to water mains and electrical lines. The exhibit was the work of educator/public mathematician Robert Berkman, who has a family math program called “Street Math.” The exhibit was his first experiment with walk-up, self-guided learning in public space. We knew right away his work and mission were a great fit for the Uni. Robert’s math organization is called Better Living Through Mathematics. We’re thrilled he agreed to re-create his mobile, street math exhibit for the Uni.
New York Bound Books Cube: BOOKS ABOUT NYC
We were honored to receive a donation of books from Barbara Cohen, owner of New York Bound Bookshop, a once-thriving NYC bookshop which is now a piece of New York history itself. The store was located in Rock Center and specialized in rare, out-of-print and new books, photographs, prints, and maps relating to New York. It was also a place where people with long-standing interest in New York and people with newfound interest would mingle. Learn more about the closing of the shop here. We’re proud to have this piece of New York’s soul in the Uni, and we’re excited to see Barbara’s books in the hands of New Yorkers once again. This is why we do the Uni.
Lisa Bateman: OLDEST BOOKS CIRCULATING IN NYC
Artist Lisa Bateman curated a cube reprising a work shown at EIDIA House in Brooklyn called The Book Cart, gathering some of the oldest books in circulation in the New York Area for your perusal. Also included is a limited edition print, called “what I remember most is this,” an inkless letterpress text of a remembered short story in a book which Lisa has lost—the narrative distorted and manipulated as a tool for invention through forgetting.
Place in History and Furnace Press Cube: URBAN AND LANDSCAPE EXPLORATION
Furnace Press was co-founded in 2005 by two Brooklyn-based arts groups, Ars Subterranea and Place in History. Both groups focus on city architecture with a view towards the obscure and neglected: urban decay and abandonment, industrial ruins, disjointed neighborhoods. The Furnace Press cube is beautiful; it contains viewing plates that show New Yorkers like Frank “Red” Scollo, Longshoreman of Red Hook who once walked these streets, and moments in history that are all around us. Thank you Furnace Press for looking into the past and delving into corners of New York we sometimes forget to notice.
Deborah Putnoi: The Drawing Lab
The Uni partners with artists, educators, and institutions to bring opportunities for learning and creativity to the street. One of our first partners was Deb Putnoi, an artist and educator who has a passion for getting people to draw. She created a mini version of her installation called The Drawing Lab, which traveled with the Uni.
Jared Green: Flash Fiction
A Uni literary activity cube created by Jared Green. Flash fiction is a very short story, usually no more than 1,000 words, that captures a little piece of life “in a flash.” Flash fiction can be funny, serious, sad, exciting, or anything else you want—but it has to be short. In the Flash Fiction cube, visitors are invited to pick up a clipboard, walk around, and write.
Yoko Ono Wish Tree
Yoko Ono’s WISH TREE project began in 1981 and was inspired by her childhood memory of going to a temple in Japan where the trees were filled with people’s wishes written on pieces of paper and knotted around tree branches. The Uni Project collection includes a Wish Tree that appeared in the Uni on Sep. 11, 2011, and was originally used for Ono’s retrospective exhibition at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in 2001. Visitors are invited to write a wish and attach it to the tree.
The Uni’s Zoetrope offers a chance to draw and learn about animation and human vision. Our Zoetrope is a hand powered device built especially for the Uni and inspired by artist/educator Deb Putnoi’s Drawing Lab.
Here’s a slideshow of more cubes in the collection: