Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My dream come true: A Little Free Library installed in my hometown on the southwestern Minnesota prairie July 3, 2012

IMAGINE GROWING UP in a town without a library and, all your life, wishing for a library in your hometown.

Then imagine one July day, when you have been gone for nearly four decades and are old enough to qualify as a senior citizen, that a couple drives into your hometown in their station wagon to deliver a library.

That scenario played out in my hometown on Sunday afternoon as Todd Bol, co-founder of the Little Free Library, traveled three hours from Hudson, Wisconsin, with his wife, Susan, and their two dogs to deliver and install a LFL at the Vesta Cafe in the southwestern Minnesota prairie town of Vesta.

Troy Krause of The Redwood Falls Gazette interviews Little Free Library co-founder Todd Bol as Dorothy Marquardt, left, and Karen Lemcke of the Vesta Commercial Club listen.

“I love books. They are part of my heart and soul,” Todd Bol said Sunday as he stood outside the cafe near the over-sized birdhouse style library anchored on a post. I listened and snapped photos as Troy Krause, editor of The Redwood Falls Gazette interviewed this man who has seen his LFL story spread to media outlets worldwide, from The Huffington Post to The Los Angeles Times and beyond.

The LFL Todd and Susan installed outside the community owned Vesta Cafe.

Little Free Libraries are popping up everywhere across the country (and even outside the U.S.), bringing books to neighborhoods and cities and now, for the first time, to places likes Vesta, the seed plant for the “Small Towns Minnesota” movement of the LFL project, according to Bol.

The beautiful handcrafted library Todd Bol had built and painted for the residents of Vesta, population around 340.

He offered to donate the library, hand-built by an Amish carpenter from Cashton, Wisconsin, to Vesta after I blogged last November about a LFL in my community of Faribault and then issued this challenge to my hometown of some 340 residents:

I’d like to challenge the residents of Vesta to start a Little Free Library. How about in or near the Vesta Cafe? Make my dream of a library in my hometown come true. I’ll even bring some books for the library the next time I’m “back home.”

The books Todd Bol and I placed inside Vesta’s LFL. I plan to bring some books for children and teens the next time I’m back in Vesta. Anyone is welcome to donate books. Overflow books will go on a bookshelf inside the cafe and books will be rotated.

Sunday afternoon I delivered on that promise as did Bol with his promise. He brought the library and we filled it with books—his donated by Coffee House Press and mine from my bookshelves. Among my seven donations were two books of poetry, not something I would typically expect Vestans to read. But I wanted Vesta’s LFL to have a copy of Poetic Strokes—A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume Four. That includes two poems I wrote, one titled “A school without a library.” (When I attended Vesta Elementary School, our library books were selected by students from the Redwood County Library in Redwood Falls 20 miles away and brought back to our school, then later returned and exchanged for a new selection of volumes.)

The other poetry book, Stone & Sky, was written by a Faribault High School English teacher who once lived in nearby Belview and who understands the prairie like I do.

Vesta resident and Vesta Commercial Club resident Dorothy Marquardt took home this book donated by Coffee House Press to Vesta’s LFL. Dorothy is an enthusiastic promoter of my hometown.

Dorothy Marquardt, a member of the Vesta Commercial Club, which worked with Bol on getting the LFL into Vesta, understands what a LFL will mean to area residents. Vesta recently saw its county bookmobile service end. “It’s kind of a godsend,” she said on Sunday, clutching a copy of Minnesota State Fair—An Illustrated History by Kathryn Strand Koutsky and Linda Koutsky with foreword by Garrison Keillor. Marquardt is officially the first reader to pull a book from Vesta’s LFL.

The team that worked to bring a Little Free Library to Vesta includes Dorothy Marquardt, left, and Karen Lemcke, representing the sponsoring Vesta Commercial Club, LFL co-founder Todd Bol and me (holding a copy of a poetry anthology I donated).

Monday morning, while dining in the cafe, I promoted the LFL to locals, moving between tables explaining how the library works. It operates on the premise of take a book, leave a book. Or take a book and bring a book back later to place inside the outdoor library. It’s all done on the honor system and done to promote literacy and encourage reading.

For me, the establishment of a LFL in my hometown is a dream come true. I always wanted a library while growing up. And now that I’m all grown up, my hometown finally has one.

The Little Free Library at the Vesta Cafe.


I’D LIKE TO ISSUE A NEW CHALLENGE TODAY. This one goes to the people of my native prairie, of southwestern Minnesota. I’d like to see more Little Free Libraries in the many small towns, like Vesta, that are without libraries and/or bookmobile service. Purchase a library via the LFL organization. Build your own. Work together—perhaps as a 4-H club or a church youth group or a civic organization or whatever—to bring a LFL into your town.

Be sure to officially register your LFL (there’s a small fee) so word of your library can be spread on the LFL website and via social media. Comment on this post and tell me that you are going to accept my challenge and bring a LFL to your community.

Finally, thank you, Todd Bol, for making my dream come true through your gift of a LFL to my hometown. It is my hope that the library in Vesta will inspire other communities to grow this project in rural Minnesota so that no child or adult, no matter where he/she lives, is without a library.

Thank you also to Karen Lemcke of the Vesta Commercial Club for working with Todd and me to make this project a reality.

This LFL, repurposed from a cranberry crate, needs a new home. Check The Redwood Falls Gazette to read how editor Troy Krause will be attempting to find a location for the library in southwestern Minnesota. Interested? Contact Troy.

FYI: Todd also dropped a LFL off in the neighboring community of Belview. And he left a third library with Troy Krause, editor of  The Gazette. Troy promised to publicize the availability of that third library. I’ll keep you posted on which town accepts the third LFL.

Click here to link to the LFL website and learn more about the Little Free Library project.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “My dream come true: A Little Free Library installed in my hometown on the southwestern Minnesota prairie”

  1. Mark Ritchie Says:

    This Little Free Library movement is one of the most exciting developments in years – so glad to read this story and to see how you could help spur this along! Thank you.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I agree with you, absolutely, on the Little Free Library movement. I am happy to have played a role in getting such a library into my hometown of Vesta.

  2. Jackie Says:

    This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen Audrey. I Love this idea! I’m so glad your dream finally came true. I think of how fortunate our kids were here in Rochester to have the “bookmobile” come to the end of the street once a week, it was something to look forward to. I’d like to see a follow up on how vesta is taking advantage of their new little library. Hopefully their shelves will be overflowing!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You can bet I’ll check back and see how things are going with Vesta’s Little Free Library.

  3. Brenda N Says:

    What a great idea! I’m going to forward this on to a small village in Illinois that is not in a library district. It is too pricey for most families to get a card from a neighboring town library. This is such a fun way to share favorite books and share the love of reading!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Brenda, thank you for passing along the Little Free Library idea to that small village in Illinois. This is how the project works. We all just keep spreading the word and growing these centers of literacy.

  4. Bernie Says:

    I love this!! How wonderful to have this in Vesta! Nice to see dreams come true!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Isn’t this just great? I talked to your mom yesterday at the cafe and explained the LFL to her and her dining friends.

  5. hotlyspiced Says:

    What a great idea and I love the little box. How gorgeous! And how amazing that it was made by an Amish craftsman. (We don’t have any Amish in Australia). And fabulous of you to donate some books Audrey xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, isn’t the Little Free Library simply a fabulous idea? Most of the books I donated were review copies I received, had read and reviewed. But not all. I plan to bring more next time I’m “back home.”

  6. Fantastic! I’m so glad that it worked out for your hometown – I know you really were hoping for one there. Hooray!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Well then, Gretchen, I challenge you to get a Little Free Library into Bigelow. Make it a project of your theatre group or your church or a youth organization or…

      Troy Krause at The Redwood Falls Gazette is currently running a contest to give away a LFL made from a cranberry crate. Anyone interested in “winning” this LFL should submit a request, including a reason why a LFL is needed for the requested community, by July 31, 2012. A panel of judges will select the winner and Krause will deliver the LFL and help set it up.

      So southwestern Minnesota residents, submit your proposals now to Krause at this address:

      • I am on the Friends of the Library board! Does it cost anything? I mean, apart from the give away…which obviously is free…does it cost to get it?

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        You’re right. Free is free. However, to officially register a LFL, there is a $25 fee. This gets your library onto the website, map, etc. and it’s really a good way to publicize your LFL. An additional $50 gift to the LFL is encouraged, but not necessary. The folks in Vesta presented a $50 check to Todd Bol.

        Of course, if you build your own LFL, you will have the materials expense. But I expect getting monies for that and someone to donate time to build a LFL for your area would not be an issue.

        Your LFL can be built as creatively or as simply as you wish. Check out the LFL website and Facebook page for ideas. The website likely will answer any questions you may have.

      • Thanks for the info., Audrey!

  7. […] Several of my friends have been successful in getting Little Free Libraries set up in their hometowns as well.  Val from Corn Beans Pigs and Kids shares in her post here about the one in Latimer, Iowa.   Audrey from Minnesota Prairie Roots shares the joy of seeing one installed in her childhood home of Vesta, Minne… […]

  8. krcc Says:

    Love those little free libraries!

  9. Ruth Says:

    I hope more little libraries have sprouted up all over! I think they have accepted your challenge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.