Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My poem included in collection vying for Minnesota writing award September 23, 2020

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WE ARE SIXTEEN STRONG, 16 area poets whose collected poetry, Legacies: Poetic Living Wills, is now a finalist in the 2020 Minnesota Authors Project: Communities Create contest.

I learned of this honor only recently via Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy. A gifted poet and tireless promoter of poets and poetry, he submitted the collection to the debut contest sponsored by the Minnesota Library Foundation, Minnesota libraries and Bibliolabs.

According to the MN Reads MN Writes website, the new contest is designed “to recognize community-created writing and to highlight the central role that libraries play in providing support for local authors and the communities they serve.”

I crafted my poem, “Life at Forty Degrees,” in response to Hardy’s 2018 call for submissions to an anthology of “poetic living wills.”

The content of the poetry collections is summarized as “poems (that) deal with death and dying, with the things that make life meaningful in the face of death, and with the legacies that the poets hope to leave behind or have received from others before them.” My poem, about hanging laundry on the clothesline, focuses on the legacy passed on to me by my grandmothers.

You can read the collection by clicking here.

The winner of the first-ever Minnesota Authors Project: Communities Create contest will be announced later this month at the annual Minnesota Library Association’s annual conference. No matter the outcome, I feel honored to stand in the “finalist” category with 15 other gifted poets from Northfield and nearby (like me from Faribault).

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Take a (story) walk along Central in Faribault September 2, 2020

 

A page from Eric Carle’s book, From Head to Toe, photographed inside a StoryWalk display case.

 

“I can do it!” What an empowering statement, especially for young children. Those four words refrain in an installment of pages from the children’s picture book, From Head to Toe, now posted on street corners in the heart of historic downtown Faribault.

 

Posted next to Burkhartzmeyer Shoes and looking down a side street off Central.

 

I love this latest addition to my community as part of a StoryWalk® CENTRAL project coordinated locally by Buckham Memorial Library. The idea is rooted in Vermont and seems to be a trend right now in the library world. River Bend Nature Center in Faribault and the public library in neighboring Northfield are hosting similar story walks.

 

Looking north on Central Avenue, you can see one of the StoryWalk pages posted next to an historic-themed bench.

 

Last week one evening, Randy and I walked Central Avenue with our four-year-old granddaughter, viewing the colorful story crafted by noted author and illustrator Eric Carle. He is perhaps best-known for his children’s picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’ve long been a fan of Carle’s creativity. He understands how to connect with the littlest of people through colorful illustrations and simple, repetitive and engaging language.

 

Historic Central Avenue provides the backdrop for StoryWalk CENTRAL.

 

Bold colors and strong shapes define Carle’s art.

 

The book engages.

 

It took Isabelle a bit to get into From Head to Toe. But when she observed Grandma and Grandpa wriggling their hips like crocodiles, bending their necks like giraffes and stomping their feet like elephants, she joined in. Carle’s book calls for the reader and listener to actively participate in the book by doing the actions associated with each animal. It’s a great way to get kids up and moving. Adults, too.

 

The thoughts behind StoryWalk.

 

And that, according to information posted on one of the 12 signs, is part of the motivation behind the interactive StoryWalk® concept. The book “combines early literacy learning, family engagement and physical activity.” And promotes brain growth and physical health through exercise.

 

The animals lead the action.

 

The book also highlights diversity in the different ethnicities of the children and in the different animals Carle has created in his story. I especially appreciate that in our diverse community of Faribault. Buckham Memorial Library Director Delane James echoes my thoughts, praising From Head to Toe as a book that “resonates with everybody in the community…anyone can enjoy it no matter who they are.” And that means even those who can’t read or whose native language is one other than English. Like me, she calls Carle’s book “empowering.”

There are plans for more, and longer, book installations, all funded by a federal grant and coordinated with multiple city departments, James says. She noted the joint efforts of library, economic development, engineering and public works staff in getting the first StoryWalk® CENTRAL in place. From Head to Toe will remain posted for several months. This will be an ongoing and evolving public art and literacy project with five years worth of books included in the funding. The library buys multiple copies of the featured books, then removes and laminates the pages for posting in the weather-proof display cases.

 

The 12th, and final, story board is located outside the entry to Buckham Memorial Library. This is looking north toward Central Avenue. The final board is designed to get kids and others inside the library, although the library is currently open by appointment only.

 

I appreciate, in this time of a global pandemic, a safe activity I can do with my granddaughter when she’s visiting. Only after we arrived home did Izzy share, “That’s Isaac’s favorite book.” That means we’ll be back on Central with her 20-month-old brother, wriggling our hips, bending our necks, stomping our feet and repeating, “I can do it!”

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finally, well into COVID-19, I go to the library August 11, 2020

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’VE PREVIOUSLY POSTED about my deep love of libraries tracing back to my childhood. As a child, I had limited access to books. My small rural Minnesota community had no library. Nor did my elementary school, which sourced books from the county library 20 miles away in Redwood Falls. On occasion, I would be among students selected to board a school bus to travel to that library and return with books temporarily borrowed for our school. I loved those opportunities to browse and choose.

 

The LFL installed outside the community owned Vesta Cafe in July 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Today my hometown of Vesta still does not have a public library. County bookmobile service ended long ago with budget cuts. But, thanks to my efforts and those of locals and the generosity of Little Free Library co-founder Todd Bol, a LFL sits outside the Vesta Cafe with additional materials inside. Bol gifted the mini library to my hometown in July 2012.

 

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

 

Fast forward eight years and these mini libraries are seemingly everywhere. And during a global pandemic, especially when public libraries closed for a period (some still with restricted hours), the LFLs proved invaluable to book lovers like me. I found a few good books to read, but still longed to step inside a public library with an abundance of reading materials. That happened three weeks ago.

 

This photograph was taken last September (pre pandemic) outside the Northfield Public Library during a cultural event there.

 

Randy and I headed up to neighboring Northfield on a recent Saturday afternoon to look for and check out items at the library. Unlike Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, the Northfield Public Library reopened months ago (May 26) for regular hours that include evenings and weekends. That makes it accessible to everyone. Masking, social distancing and other protocols are in place and required to protect patrons and staff.

 

The books and magazines I checked out from the Northfield library.

 

I arrived at the NPL with a list of books I wanted. I wasn’t sure computers would be available to access the card catalog. Because I am unfamiliar with the lay-out of the library, I needed help to find some titles and staff generously assisted. I left with a bag full of seven books and two magazines.

 

 

Since then, I’ve been happily reading my stash of Minnesota-authored books. Only one—Love Thy Neighbor, A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji with Alan Eisenstock—was not on my list. I spotted the book on a shelf of library staff picks, this one recommended by Sue. I read the book in a single day. One day. That’s how good this book is and how necessary to read. Especially today when headlines daily reveal instances of hatred, racism and so much more dividing our country. Insensitive, inflammatory, just plain horrible words and actions, including in southern Minnesota.

In summary, Love Thy Neighbor is the story of a medical doctor who relocates his family from a busy eastern urban setting to rural southwestern Minnesota to practice medicine as he desires, with a deeper personal connection to patients. Initially, all goes well and Dr. Virji and his family find themselves settling in, accepted, enjoying their new life in rural Minnesota. But then the November 2016 election happens and things begin to change. And that is the focus of this book—the shift in attitudes toward Muslims, how that negativity affected this small town family doctor and his family, and what he did about it.

I’d encourage you to read this enlightening book that recaps Virji’s struggles and the community talks he gave to help those in his small Minnesota community (and elsewhere) to understand his faith and the challenges he faces in a more toxic national environment.

 

 

Once I finished that book, I moved onto another environment—into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota in A Year in the Wilderness, Bearing Witness in the Boundary Waters by Amy and Dave Freeman. It’s been an enjoyable escape into the remote wild, to a place I’ve only ever visited through others. The Freemans, like Dr. Virji, wrote their book with a purpose. To educate, to enlighten and to protect the BWCAW from sulfide-ore copper mining. Incredible photos enhance this detailed documentation of living for a year in the wild. I’d highly recommend this title also.

 

I especially enjoy reading books by Minnesotans and appreciate the Northfield library tagging these books with Minnesota-shaped art.

 

The remaining books in my library book stash are mysteries/mystery thrillers, my preferred genre. I quickly read Desolation Mountain by one of my favorite Minnesota authors, William Kent Krueger. Interestingly enough, that fictional story in the Cork O’Connor series also references potential mining near the BWCAW.

New-to-me author Chris Norbury’s books, Castle Danger and Straight River, also connect to the northeastern Minnesota wilderness. And southern Minnesota, where the main character returns to the family farm in Straight River. I always enjoy reading books that include familiar places. Norbury lives in Owatonna and references area communities. And those of you who grew up in this region recognize that the book titles are actually an unincorporated community in northeastern Minnesota and a river here in southern Minnesota.

I’m determined to stretch my reading beyond the seed mystery love planted decades ago through Nancy Drew books. To that end, I appreciate when library staff pull and showcase books they recommend. Like Dr. Virji’s book.

And I appreciate libraries. I look forward to the day when Faribault’s library opens again for regular hours. Currently, it’s open by appointment only, for 30-minute Browse-and-Go Visits between 10 am – 5 pm weekdays or for No-Contact Curbside Pickup. Because Randy is gone to work between those hours, he has no opportunity to get books locally. And so we will continue our trips to Northfield.

Now, you may wonder why these two communities within 20 minutes of each other and in the same county differ in library reopening. I expect it has much to do with numbers, usage and demographics as it relates to COVID-19. My county of Rice, according to information posted by Rice County Public Health on August 7, has had 1,020 lab confirmed cases* of COVID since March. That breaks down to 830 cases in Faribault. Northfield has had far fewer at 141. The balance of 49 cases are spread throughout other communities in Rice County.

I can only speculate that numbers factor into local library decisions about operations. But who knows? I am a word person, not a numbers person.

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FYI: My friend Sue Ready, a book lover and writer who lives in the Minnesota northwoods, is a good source of info about Minnesota-authored books. She reviews books on her Ever Ready blog, Click here. Sue also heads up the Northwoods Art & Book Festival in Hackensack, MN., which brings together Minnesota artists and authors. This year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19.

* The number of COVID-19 cases in Rice County as of Monday, August 10, were 1,038.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

For the love of books, a spotlight on several Little Free Libraries October 22, 2018

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I was delighted to find a Little Free Library near my son’s apartment when I visited him in Somerville, Massachusetts, in May of 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHENEVER I SPOT A LITTLE FREE LIBRARY, I feel a deep appreciation for the stewards of these mini libraries.

The ability to read, as I see it, is the foundation of learning. But to read, you need access to books. Not everyone has that, whether by geographical location or lack of money for books.

So those individuals who place a Little Free Library in their yards (or elsewhere) and then stock and restock shelves have my gratitude. They realize the importance of easy 24/7 access to books.

 

The LFL Todd and Susan Bol installed outside the community-owned Vesta Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

I grew up in a rural Minnesota community without a library. I understand what it’s like to be without library books. But thanks to Little Free Library founder Todd Bol, my hometown of Vesta has had a small public library since July 1, 2012. A Little Free Library. Todd gifted that to this small farming town. I am grateful.

 

A LFL in downtown Decorah, Iowa.

 

Recently I spotted two particularly distinct Little Free Libraries, one in the heart of downtown Decorah, one of my favorite northeastern Iowa cities. The library sits in a public plaza next to Oneota Community Food Co-op. That it’s barn-shaped seems especially fitting in a primarily agricultural state. A red barn remains an iconic symbol of rural life.

I grabbed a hardcover copy of James Patterson’s Double Cross with every intention of starting to read the book while in Decorah. That never happened and now the book sits on my to-read pile back here in Minnesota. First I need to finish The Girls of Ames—A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow. The national bestseller published in 2009. The book holds special interest for me given one of the women taught journalism at Faribault High School and served as advisor to the student newspaper when my second daughter was co-editor. It’s an excellent read. And quite revealing.

But I digress.

 

 

A variety of books for all ages fill an eye-catching LFL posted at 805 State Street in Waseca. It’s designed as a TARDIS, the featured mode of transportation on the BBC sci-fi television show “Doctor Who.” I know nothing about the show. To me, the TARDIS resembles a blue phone booth.

 

 

The stewards of the Waseca TARDIS do a great job of visually promoting the LFL with the library now seasonally decorated for autumn and Halloween. Inside, they’ve also stocked Halloween-themed books. They seem to have a lot of fun with their LFL. I expect given its location along one of Waseca’s main arteries that the library is well-used.

 

 

What kid wouldn’t be drawn to a mini TARDIS? Or adult for that matter?

 

 

 

I love when folks run with the LFL idea and get especially creative, all for the purpose of getting books into the hands of others.

 

A cat watched as I photographed the TARDIS LFL.

 

FYI: This post is dedicated to Todd Bol, who founded the Little Free Library movement and who died on October 18 of pancreatic cancer.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering with gratitude Todd Bol, founder of the Little Free Library October 18, 2018

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The Redwood Falls Gazette editor Troy Krause, right, interviews Todd Bol, co-founder of the Little Free Library in Vesta in early July 2012.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

TODD BOL DIED ON THURSDAY from pancreatic cancer.

 

The beautiful handcrafted LFL donated to my hometown of Vesta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

I met him briefly in July 2012 when he drove three hours from Hudson, Wisconsin, to my hometown on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. He delivered a Little Free Library, fulfilling my life-long dream for a library in Vesta.

 

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 file photo 2012 by Randy Helbling.

 

I shall be forever grateful to this visionary’s gift of a mini library and books. My mom used that LFL. So did extended family and others in and around the small farming community. Folks operating the Vesta Cafe expanded the library, placing shelves inside the restaurant for more books. Locals tended the outdoor library Bol installed near the cafe entrance.

 

The LFL Todd and Susan Bol installed outside the community owned Vesta Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Now, all these years later, the founder of the Little Free Library leaves a world-wide legacy of literacy with 75,000-plus officially registered libraries in 88 countries.

 

The books Todd Bol and I placed inside Vesta’s LFL on July 1, 2012. He brought books donated by several Twin Cities publishers and I brought books from my personal collection. I have since collected and donated an additional 40 books. A retired librarian from nearby Wabasso donated eight bags of books, primarily mysteries and the cafe managers also donated books. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

And one of those is in my hometown because one man cared enough about a small town in the middle of nowhere to deliver the seed plant for the Small Towns Minnesota LFL Movement. Because of Todd’s generosity, his kindness, his love of books, my hometown has a library. As a lover of books, of the written word, I am grateful.

 

One of many Little Free Libraries in Faribault, where I’ve lived since 1982. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

TELL ME: Are there Little Free Libraries in your community? I’d like to hear your LFL stories in honor of Todd Bol.

FYI: Click here to read the original post I wrote about Todd’s visit to my hometown to install the LFL.

PLEASE CHECK BACK to see a memorable LFL I spotted recently in Waseca.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My “farm wife” mother inspires my winning poetry February 28, 2014

MY 81-YEAR-OLD MOM inspires me.

She inspires me to live my life with the same positive outlook, grateful heart and kindness she’s exuded her entire life.

And she inspires my poetry. In recent poetry writing endeavors (click here and here), she has been the subject of my poems. This surprises her.

When I informed Mom that my poem, “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960,” had been selected for inclusion in Poetic Strokes 2014, a regional poetry anthology published by Southeastern Libraries Cooperating, she responded with a humbleness that truly reflects her character.

“I didn’t know I led such an interesting life,” Mom said.

To most, she likely hasn’t. She grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, attended Mankato Business College after high school, then worked at a government office in Marshall until marrying my father shortly thereafter and settling onto a farm near Vesta.

My parents holding my older brother, Doug, and me in this January 1957 photo.

My parents, Elvern and Arlene Kletscher, holding my older brother, Doug, and me in this January 1957 photo. Rare are the photos of my farm wife mother.

There she assumed the role of farm wife, the title given rural women long before stay-at-home mom became a buzzword. She no longer lives on the farm, having moved into my paternal grandmother’s home in Vesta decades ago.

As an adult, I now understand that her life as a farm wife was not particularly easy—raising six children on a limited income; doing laundry with a Maytag wringer washer; tending a garden and then canning and freezing the produce; doing without an indoor bathroom…

I sometimes wonder how her life would have unfolded
had she not locked eyes with my father on the dance floor…

–Lines one and two from “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960”

Although I’ve never asked, I expect she dreamed of time just for herself. On rare occasions she and my dad would go out on a Saturday evening.

With those thoughts, I penned “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960.” As much as I’d like to share that poem with you here, today, I cannot. That debut honor goes to Poetic Strokes, a copy of which will be gifted from me to my mom, the woman who has led an extraordinary life. Not extraordinary in the sense of great worldly accomplishments, but rather in the way she has treated others with kindness, compassion and love. Her depth of love for family, her faith and her empathy and compassion have served as guiding principles in my life.

I am proud to be the daughter of a farmer’s wife.

The cover of Poetic Strokes/Word Flow. Image courtesy of SELCO.

The cover of Poetic Strokes/Word Flow. Image courtesy of SELCO.

I AM HONORED, for the sixth time, to have my poetry published in Poetic Strokes, a Library Legacy funded project (through Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund) that promotes poetry in southeastern Minnesota and specifically in SELCO libraries. Each library will have a copy available for check out near the end of March or in early April, National Poetry Month.

This year my county of Rice joins Winona County with the highest number of poets, six from each county, included in the Poetic Strokes section of the anthology. I am the sole Faribault poet with five from nearby Northfield.

Twenty-three poems from 21 poets in five of SELCO’s 11 counties will be published in Poetic Strokes 2014.

There were 196 poems submitted by 112 poets. Two published poets with PhDs in English literature and a third poet who is a former English teacher, fiction writer and contributor to the League of Minnesota Poets judged the entries.

Says SELCO Regional Librarian Reagen A. Thalacker of the judging process:

The general sense I received when the poems came back is that our judges felt that there was a great variety in subject matter and skill and that they were impressed with many of those that were submitted. There was also the overwhelming sense of having enjoyed thoroughly the opportunity to read the works submitted.

Additionally, the anthology includes 28 poems penned by youth ages 14 – 18 (or in high school) residing within SELCO counties. Twenty-eight poems chosen from 111 submissions will be featured. What an encouragement to young poets to be published in the Word Flow portion of this project.

For me, a seasoned poet, selection of “The Farmer’s Wife, Circa 1960” encourages me to keep writing in a rural voice distinctly mine, inspired by the land and the people I love.

FYI: Click here to read a full report on Poetic Strokes/Word Flow 2014, including a list of poets selected for inclusion in the anthology.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Presenting poetry: Practice makes perfect December 7, 2012

THAT WELL-KNOWN ADAGE of “practice makes perfect” proved prophetic for me Thursday evening during a poetry reading in Faribault.

An event which I had fretted/worried/stressed about for the past week nearly went off without the proverbial hitch. (I struggled only once, as I read a poem about my son being struck by a hit-and-run driver six years ago.)

Peter Allen presented with me Thursday evening at the Faribault library. I handed my camera to my husband and he tried to get some decent shots shooting available light. This one is the best.. And, no, I am not not sleeping. I'm either contemplating Peter's poem or glancing at my script. Photo by Randy Helbling

Peter Allen presented with me Thursday evening at the Faribault library. I handed my camera to my husband and he tried to get some decent shots shooting in available light. This one is the best. And, no, I am not not sleeping.

Yes, I did it. I stood before an audience and read/discussed poetry along with a co-presenter for 1 ½ hours.

The secret to that success most certainly was practice and, as I emailed my virtual, now real-life, blogger friend Beth Ann, prayer. Beth Ann traveled all the way from Mason City, Iowa, 20 miles south of the Minnesota border, with her husband, Chris, to hear me and Peter Allen present.

Me reading "Prairie Sisters," my first poem of the evening. The poem was published in volume two of Poetic Strokes.

Me reading “Prairie Sisters,” my first poem of the evening. The poem was published in volume two of Poetic Strokes.

About that practice… I’ve been reading my poetry and scripts to my kitchen walls for the past week, rehearsing twice on Thursday and even more on Wednesday. When I phoned my husband, Randy, late Thursday afternoon to remind him of the presentation (he’d asked me to do so), he inquired, “Have you been smoking? Your voice sounds hoarse.”

He was joking, of course, as I don’t smoke and can’t even tolerate cigarette smoke.

I’d been practicing, I told him. Perhaps I’d rehearsed enough if my voice was growing raspy.

The scene in the Great Hall before the audience arrived. It's a gorgeous venue.

The scene in the Great Hall before the audience arrived. It’s a gorgeous venue. I used a few props and visuals in presenting.

Here’s one of the biggest surprises of all from the evening: Because I felt so confident going into the presentation, I actually, truly, enjoyed myself. Who would have thought? Not me.

Second, the turn-out of 32 audience members floored me and Peter. I expected perhaps a dozen. Buckham Memorial Public Services Librarian Allyn M. McColley, who coordinated the event, shared my enthusiasm for the high audience attendance. And, honestly, I did not personally invite a single person, although I did post about the event here last week.

I am grateful that so many ventured out of their warm homes on a cold December evening to embrace poetry. Such interest warms this poet’s heart. I could hear that interest in the laughter, in the questions, in the comments.

It also warms my heart that my two dear friends, Billie Jo and Tammy, both the mothers of young children, would choose to hear me read poetry on their girls’ night out.

And then to think that blogger Beth Ann, whom I’d never met prior to Thursday evening, drove more than an hour with her husband from northern Iowa to listen to me and Peter present simply touches me. (Beth Ann blogged this morning about our meeting and the poetry presentation, so be sure to click here and read her engaging piece.)

Finally, my dear husband, Randy, who helped me tote a van full of props and books and food to the library and then assisted with props and hand-outs, took me out to dinner afterward. We dined at a lovely Italian restaurant, Augusto’s Ristorante, several blocks from the library. It was the perfect way to end a fabulous evening.

FYI: Click here to link to photos posted on the Buckham Memorial Library website.

I believe this is a bust of Judge Thomas Scott Buckham, after whom the library is named. His wife, Anna, gifted the city of Faribault with this Art Nouveau/Greek Revival style building constructed in 1929-1930. The bust is located above the fireplace in the Great Hall, right behind where Peter and I presented.

I believe this is a bust of Judge Thomas Scott Buckham, after whom the library is named. His wife, Anna, gifted the city of Faribault with this Art Nouveau/Greek Revival style building. The bust of this pioneer settler is located above the fireplace in the Great Hall, right behind where Peter and I presented.

One of several Greek murals gracing the Great Hall.

One of several Greek murals gracing the Great Hall.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929-1930 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project in Minnesota and Wisconsin officially kicks off at MOA August 15, 2012

TEN MONTHS AGO, Todd Bol, co-founder of the Wisconsin-based Little Free Library, and I were discussing an idea to get Little Free Libraries into small towns without libraries. I wanted a library in my hometown of Vesta, a community of around 340 residents which has never had a library.

I had blogged about a LFL in Faribault, where I have lived for 30 years, and challenged the residents of Vesta to start a LFL.

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

After making that challenge, Bol and I talked and, several months later, he offered to donate, deliver and install a LFL in Vesta, placing the first library in a new initiative, Little Free Libraries for Small Towns. Bol and his wife, Susan, drove from Hudson, Wisconsin, on July 1 and installed a LFL in front of the Vesta Cafe.

This Friday, August 17, that small towns project officially kicks off with a celebration from noon to 3 p.m. in the Mall of America rotunda near the east entrance. A program featuring activities and also appearances by local celebrities sharing their favorite books is slated for 1 – 2 p.m. Businesses and publishers are donating new books and the public is encouraged to bring books for 20 uniquely designed mini libraries to be placed in Twin Cities’ neighborhoods and communities surrounding the mega mall.

MOA is donating those 20 libraries and two special libraries (numbers 2,509 and 2,510) which will tie and break the records of libraries funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

How sweet is that? But even sweeter, in my opinion, is the MOA’s general support of the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project as a way “to promote literacy and community-building by supporting neighborhood book exchanges.”

The beautiful handcrafted LFL donated to my hometown of Vesta.

The LFL works on the premise of take a book/leave a book in a little library, which is typically an over-sized birdhouse size structure attached to a post and installed outdoors, making books accessible to the public 24/7.

In kicking off its Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project, the LFL non-profit aims to focus first on the small towns of Minnesota and Wisconsin without ready access to public libraries, like my hometown of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. The closest libraries to Vesta are about 20 miles away. Earlier this year bookmobile service to my hometown and several other communities was cut by Redwood County commissioners to save money.

I expect that many other small towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin are in similar positions, without library services because a) they’ve never had libraries or b) funding has been cut or trimmed.

Living in or near a town without a library, as I did growing up, is a hardship for someone like me who loves to read. That’s why I was adamant in my discussion last fall with LFL co-founder Bol that he focus on small towns without libraries. He liked the idea—Bol is very much an energetic ideas man—and he eventually shaped our discussion, with the help of his equally enthusiastic staff, into the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project.

Bol thinks big. The LFL group is initially seeking 20 sponsors to each facilitate 20 Little Free Libraries for small towns across Minnesota and Wisconsin, resulting in 400 new free libraries. A $600 contribution supports construction, delivery and installation of one LFL to a small town and a starter collection of books as well as official LFL registration and promotion, and a plaque on the sponsored library.

Beyond all of that, the real satisfaction, I think, comes in the reaction of those communities which benefit from such generosity. My hometown has embraced the LFL with a level of enthusiasm beyond anything I ever expected.

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 and in which I have two poems, “A school without a library” and “Saturday night baths”).

Karen Lemcke, who early on supported the LFL as a member of the Vesta Commercial Club and is now the Vesta library steward, shared several weeks ago that Vesta’s LFL is a “very successful project.”

She then went on to explain that area residents are taking books from the outdoor LFL and that two bookshelves inside the Vesta Cafe have also been filled with donated books. Says Lemcke:

We have a variety of books from non-fiction, fiction and children’s books. On Sunday, children had taken some of the books and sat on a couch nearby looking through them. I heard today that tractor books were on a shelf and local farmers were borrowing them overnight to look through. The women have been going through the books as well and they will be picking up some to read, too…It’s like it (LFL) brought a “little life” to Vesta.

If you are thinking that Karen’s report brought tears to my eyes, you would be right. To hear that farmers are pulling tractor books from shelves to take home, especially, pleases me. And kids paging through books…

The books Todd Bol and I placed inside Vesta’s LFL on July 1. He brought books donated by several Twin Cities publishers and I brought books from my personal collection. I have since collected and donated an additional 40 books.  A retired librarian from nearby Wabasso donated eight bags of books, primarily mysteries, and the cafe manager’s family also donated books and I expect others have given books, too.

With this new LFL for Small Towns project, just consider for a moment how many more scenarios like this can happen in small towns without libraries. What a gift to bring books to the residents of small towns and enhance or instill a love of reading.

The LFL organization is now accepting applications from communities which would like to be considered for the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project. Applicants from Minnesota and Wisconsin need only complete a short questionnaire requesting information such as the town’s population, whether it has a public library and how a LFL would make a difference in their community.

LFLs will be awarded based on available sponsorships and contributions and the need and interest level of the applicant communities, among other criteria.

So…if your small Minnesota or Wisconsin town needs a library, believe. It can happen. My conversation with the co-founder of the Little Free Library resulted in the donation of a library and a starter collection of books to my hometown…and the launch of the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project.

The Little Free Library at the Vesta Cafe on the one-block Main Street in my hometown is the seed plant of the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project.

FYI: For more information about the LFL program, click here to reach the website. To learn more about  the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns initiative and to download an application, click here.  Applications will also be available at the MOA-LFL event on Friday, to which I’ve been invited but will be unable to attend.

If you or your business or organization is interested in sponsoring a library or libraries for the small towns initiative in Minnesota or Wisconsin, email Megan Hanson at mphanson@littlefreelibrary.org.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

For the love of reading: Faribault’s east side now home to a little library August 6, 2012

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Pat Rice’s little library, right, installed about a month ago in her front yard, 713 Ravine Street, Faribault.

PAT RICE LOVES TO READ. That passion, short and simple, inspired this retired audiologist to recently install a little library in her front yard on Faribault’s east side.

Hers is among four little libraries—one officially registered as a Little Free Library—now gracing neighborhoods in my community.

The little library seems a natural outreach for this woman who reads 100-plus books a year, belongs to a local book club, accepts donations for the American Association of University Women, Faribault chapter’s annual book sale, and serves on the Buckham Memorial Library Advisory Board.

The Smiths’ Little Free Library, located in their yard at 825 Sixth Ave. SW.

It was her connection with another library board member, Joan Smith, that led to the establishment of Faribault’s first Little Free Library last fall. Pat read an article about a little library and passed the story along to Joan whose husband, Dale, crafts elaborate birdhouses. Dale adapted his birdhouse pattern and built a little library which is posted on a corner of the Smiths’ southwest Faribault front yard. It’s open 24/7 to anyone who wants to take and/or leave a book.

And now, thanks to Dale’s efforts, Pat has a near-duplicate little library in her front yard at 713 Ravine Street.

The books recently stashed in Pat’s little library.

She’s stocked it with mostly a variety of paperbacks (adults tends to favor romances and mysteries, she says), several cookbooks and some children’s books. Pat plans to add more children’s books, even though few kids live in her neighborhood.

But she enjoys children’s books. “I love the illustrations,” says this long-time reader who remembers, as a four-year-old, stretching on her tiptoes to print her name on her first library card at the Camden Library in Minneapolis. That marked a memorable moment for a preschooler whose family had no extra money for books. Acquiring that orange library card—yes she remembers the color—allowed her access to thousands of books, fostering a life-long love of reading.

To this day, Pat still appreciates, and buys, children’s books. She has a little library full of them in the upstairs of her stately brick home. That stash includes a collection of 40 ABC themed titles. Among her favorites are the books of Grand Marais author and illustrator Betsy Bowen who specializes in woodblock prints.

Whenever Pat needs a baby gift, she gives a book.

There’s no doubting this woman’s passion for books. She doesn’t have a television, at least not one that’s plugged in. “I would rather read,” says Pat. She counts Jan Karon, Thomas Gifford and Minnesotan John Sanford among her favorite writers. On a recent 20-hour trip to Virginia, she and a friend listened to four books on audio.

Dale Smith built Pat’s little library, which is open to anyone. Pick up or drop off a book if you’re walking or driving by.

Now she’s hoping the little library in her front yard will encourage others to read due its easy accessibility. “I think there’s a lot of people who don’t use libraries,” Pat says. She cites a story shared by Dale Smith about a man who chose a Zane Grey book from the Smiths’ Little Free Library. It was the first book the man had read in 40 years.

For a voracious reader like Pat, that’s encouraging and reaffirms her reasons for establishing a little library in her east Faribault neighborhood.

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FYI: I plan to scout out the other little libraries in Faribault and post about them in addition to updating you on the LFL installed in my hometown of Vesta a month ago by Todd Bol, co-founder of the Little Free Library project.

© Copyright 2012 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.

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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