A large glass entry way into the Albany International Airport reading lounge. A sign above the entry way says "The Mario and Matilda Cuomo Pavilion"

Albany Airport’s unique Reading Lounge provides free books to flyers

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Having a block of uninterrupted time to read a great book is one of the benefits of a long plane ride. A good book can also help to make a long wait at the airport fly by. 

At New York’s Albany International Airport (ALB), they get that. The airport has a special Reading Lounge — called The Mario & Matilda Cuomo Pavilion — featuring comfy armchairs, exhibits about noted writers, and books that are free for the taking.

Opened during the pandemic and located pre-security on the first floor of the terminal, this 800 sq ft glass-enclosed lounge was developed in partnership with the Albany-based New York State Writers Institute at the University of Albany. 

The institute was founded more than 36 years ago by Albany’s Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy and brings dozens of writers, poets, historians, and filmmakers in for event, workshops, and readings each year. 

In addition to providing a comfortable space to read a book, the lounge has bookshelves filled with more than 100 books selected, donated, and restocked by Grassroot Givers, a local non-profit organization that stocks 22 Little Free Libraries in the region with books, among it many community programs. 

When ALB’s Reading Lounge first opened, Grassroots Givers stocked the shelves with titles by authors who had visited the Writers Institute. Now the choice of reading material has been expanded to include a wider range of non-fiction and fiction books for adults as well as books for children. And anyone visiting the Reading Lounge is encouraged to take a free book with them on their trip.

The Reading Lounge at Albany International Airport showcasing book cover art on the wall and other interesting books displayed in glass cases.

The Reading Lounge features comfy seats and free books. Image: Albany International Airport

Albany International Airport’s Art & Culture Program oversees the reading room, which has a wall filled with colorful posters celebrating some of the authors who have come through town as part of the Writers Institute program. 

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There are also two exhibit cases here. 

“One offers a little history about the inception of the NYS Writers Institute and the legislation passed by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo founding it,” said Kathy Greenwood, Director of the Art & Culture Program at Albany International Airport. 

“The other is about the celebrated author William Kennedy who spearheaded the Writers Institute at the University at Albany,” and includes samples of his published titles and digital prints of writing samples. 

Greenwood says the airport plans to host events with visiting writers in the reading pavilion, “but since we opened this just as the pandemic hit, we have yet to schedule in person programming.”  

Other airports that celebrate reading 

Travelers will find reading nooks and free book programs at some other airports around the country and the world. 

Some examples include the Aviation Museum and Library at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in the Main Hall of the International Terminal, which reopened in June, 2022 after being closed for more than two years.

SFO Aviation Museum and Library has a selection of seats for passengers and displays a large globe and other artifacts in a glass viewing case.

SFO Aviation Museum and Library. Image: SFO Airport

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has a post-security library, on Holland Boulevard, that is open 24 hours. On the shelves are books about Dutch history, art, and culture, translated into more than 40 languages, that are meant to be read onsite.

Schiphol’s library also has digital screens and exhibitions about Dutch literature as well as a selection of Dutch music and music videos. A leave-a-book/take-a-book section for books travelers have brought from home is also available.

The library at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is decorated with a shelf in the shape of a map on one wall and multiple tones of green and blues throughout.

Library at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Image: AMS Airport

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) hosts a fun free book exchange (in Terminal A-West) with a seating area made from recycled materials. 

There is also a growing list of airports around the country that have kiosks that dispense free short stories. The list includes Oregon’s Eugene Airport (EUG), Philadelphia International airport (PHL), Oakland Airport (OAK), Dane County Regional Airport (MSN) in Madison, WI, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), and several others. 

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Featured image credited to Albany International Airport