Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The powerful impact of a Little Free Library April 11, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The beautiful handcrafted LFL donated to my hometown of Vesta in 2012 by Todd Bol. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2012)

TEN YEARS AGO, Todd Bol, co-founder of the Little Free Library, drove three hours from Hudson, Wisconsin, with his wife, Susan, to deliver and install a LFL in my hometown. That act of kindness fulfilled my life-long dream of a library in Vesta, a small farming community on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. Growing up on a farm a mile from town, I longed for a library. So when Todd offered to make that dream come true, I felt overjoyed.

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). (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2012)

On a July afternoon in 2012, the Bols, a local newspaper reporter, two community leaders and I gathered outside the Vesta Cafe for the library planting. Todd and I then shelved the books we brought. From there the project grew with the cafe operators adding shelving inside for more books, and magazines. A librarian from nearby Wabasso contributed eight bags of books. And I brought more whenever I visited my mom. Community members embraced the LFL. Today the library has expanded into the City Hall/Community Center with a library based there. That’s inside the former Vesta Elementary School where all those years ago I learned to love books from teachers who read The Little House and other chapter books aloud each day after lunch. That compensated for the lack of an in-school library.

The books Todd Bol and I placed inside Vesta’s LFL. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2012)

At the time of his donation to Vesta, Todd called this the first in his Small Towns Minnesota LFL Movement. He aimed to get LFLs into rural communities without libraries. He died in 2018 from pancreatic cancer. But his mission continues today through the LFL’s Impact Library Program designed to reach underserved urban, suburban, rural and indigenous communities without, or with limited access to, books.

A Tardis LFL in a front yard in Waseca. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2018)

Thus far, the St. Paul-based nonprofit has donated more than 1,500 LFLs filled with books via the Impact Library Program. That includes 14 in Minnesota. One went to the small town of Goodridge in northwestern Minnesota near the Canadian border. The closest library is 20 miles away. I can relate to that geographical distance given I also lived 20 miles from a library as a child.

But even in big cities, there’s a need for LFLs. During National Reading Month in March, one was placed inside the governor’s office at the Minnesota State Capitol in celebration of books and accessibility to books.

Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2022)

Today I live several blocks from the public library in Faribault, a city of nearly 25,000 about 120 miles from my hometown. I’ve spotted many LFLs in Faribault neighborhoods. And I’ve also seen many others in Minnesota and beyond, most placed and maintained by individuals or organizations. I have easy access to books.

A LFL in an east-side Faribault neighborhood. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Yet, even with a public library nearby, a library may not be accessible to all. For example, in Le Center, a small town about 30 miles west of Faribault, a LFL was still needed, according to Christine. She applied for a free LFL and got one. In her application to the Impact Library Program, Christine noted the many low income families (including migrants) who live in this rural community and who have limited access to books. Now they have one more book source in a LFL. Also in southern Minnesota, the cities of Austin and Winona (both with public libraries), have LFLs as part of the Impact Library Program.

A LFL in downtown Decorah, Iowa. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

When I think back to the July day Todd Bol arrived in my hometown 10 years ago with a LFL and books donated by participating publishers, I feel such gratitude. He told me at the time how much he loved books. And he showed that by bringing a little library to a town without a library. From there, the library in Vesta became so much more than little. It became big. Bigger than I ever dreamed.

Photographed in a front yard in Somerville, MA., in 2016. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2016)

Books opened, still open, the world for me. They took, still take, me on adventures to places I will never visit, experiences I will never experience. Books grew, still grow, my love of words. And that love of words evolved into a love of writing. That’s powerful.

A LFL in downtown Plainview, a small southeastern Minnesota town. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2022)

FYI: If you’re in need of a LFL in your community or neighborhood, apply to the Impact Library Program. There are requirements such as maintaining and stocking the LFL, hosting a community event and more.

TELL ME: Are you the sponsor of a LFL or do you have one near you? I’d like to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “The powerful impact of a Little Free Library”

  1. beth Says:

    I love the little free libraries and they are a win for all communities

  2. These little libraries are wonderful and so important! 🙂

  3. There is a need for LFL’s and so glad to see the number of these available growing. Our neighbor recently put one in and his is on the main intersection so it was a perfect spot. We have a good majority of people down here that snowbird or have a 2nd home and if your primary address is not in the State on your driver’s license the library charges $25 for a library card. I love seeing a variety of books and magazines available too. Happy Reading – Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  4. Gunny Says:

    There are a few around my area but the library itself is very close, so not much need for these LFL. Not to say it could not be a good thing. I donated probably over 400 books to my local library plus magazines,etc. Then a call went out for period books for a new library in Tennessee. I have probably sent them 40 books to date. Having a house cleaning and Pre-Estate “sale”, I have donated items to include books as well as short histories and artifacts to various museums like in Lubbock, Irving, Galveston, San Angelo and others in Texas, New Orleans, Arkansas as well. I am fitting up donations for the Freeborn County Historical Society in Albert Lea, MN. One item for Albert Lea is a period image prior to 1889 of a couple on their wedding day in Aberdeen, South Dakota – er Dakota Territory. This 100 year old plus period photo was found in a junk shop in Brazoria, Texas! Some of my books, I have kept in the family because of family connections to the books and others I have tried to give to those with an interest. It hurts me to give away some (most) of these books but they need to be shared so that others can read, enjoy and learn. There are many fictional books that need to be shared just for the joy of reading. Sorry, I gave up most fiction years ago.

  5. Ruth Says:

    Little Free Library finds cheer me! Yes, they are absolutely wonderful! I enjoyed your post this morning, Audrey.

  6. Norma Says:

    I always loved reading books. At one time. I belonged to three book clubs. I would even read as I was walking to work which was a mile from where I worked. I don’t suggest doing that anymore. As I finally realized that such a thing could be dangerous. Anyway, I can’t read like that anymore because I am gradually losing my eyesight. Enjoy while you are able.

    • Oh, my, walking while reading does sound dangerous, kind of like texting while walking. To belong to three book clubs shows me just how much you love reading. I’m sorry your diminishing eyesight is taking away your ability to read. I have eye issues, too, and sometimes struggle to read when I’m tired. Seeing double is my issue.

      • Norma Says:

        I also have the double vision at times. Sometime, it just blurs. I have an eye appointment this week. I went for the same issues 5 years ago, but it is getting worse as time goes by.

      • I hope you get answers and an improvement in your vision. I was born with crossed eyes and had surgery at age four to correct the issue. With age and time, some of that double vision is recurring.

  7. You know I love LFLs —- have one and helped get the AAUW one started in town. Our town has a fabulous public library but we also boast at least a dozen more LFLs in the area.

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