Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What to read, or not, during a global pandemic March 17, 2020

The sun rises east of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WITH A RECENT OVERLOAD of reading and listening to media reports on coronavirus, I need mental diversions. I continue to start each day by praying and reading devotionals. That’s mostly unchanged from pre-COVID, although the number and types of prayers are fluid. Beginning my morning this way calms and centers me. As a woman of faith, I need this reassuring, peaceful mindset that God is in control and will see us through this pandemic.

In the evenings, I settle into my recliner with a book or a magazine and hope that my tired eyes won’t cross (a vision problem fixed as a child, but not fixable again), rendering the pages unreadable. Sometimes I struggle to stay awake.

 

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

 

I love to read. For that reason I’m especially thankful I got to the library on Saturday and stocked up on reading materials. No empty shelves there. The City of Faribault closed Buckham Memorial Library on Monday to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We’ve no confirmed cases in my county. Yet. The library closing continues until the end of the month. Maybe longer. I appreciate that city leaders are being proactive in declaring a local state of emergency rather than reactive.

 

In Audrey’s reading pile.

 

At the time I visited the library, I had no idea the facility would close two days later. I’m glad I chose as many magazines and books as I did. I checked out six magazines ranging from architectural to lifestyle to food. And I have a stash of five books covering topics from farming to murders in Minnesota to mental health and more.

 

In Randy’s reading selections.

 

Now compare that to what my husband chose. Randy, not nearly as much of a reader as me, selected books about Putin, fish in Minnesota and, get this, plagues. Or more specifically, Diseases in History—Plague by Kevin Cunningham. As if we don’t have enough to think about with the current coronavirus global pandemic. Let’s toss in learning about the bubonic plague, the Black Death, the flu…

© 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

 

Of books & puzzles & loving my granddaughter April 3, 2018

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Grandpa and granddaughter work together on a puzzle in the morning light.

 

PAJAMA CLAD FEET SLAP against wood as Izzy runs to meet me in the sunshine of a Sunday morning. My smile widens as I scoop my granddaughter into an embrace, my arms and lips kissing her with love. Oh, what joy in the morning.

We are the only two up and I’m enjoying this solo time with Izzy. The evening before, it was three of us—Izzy, Grandpa and me—hanging out while her mom and dad enjoyed dinner and a concert.

Every time I see Isabelle, which is about once a month, she’s changed, grown and learned new words, new skills, new ways to make Grandma smile.

 

 

Books remain her great love. This visit, I read, among many other titles, Pat the Bunny, the same book I read to her mama decades ago. There’s something endearing about familiar words passed from generation to generation. There’s something remarkable, too, about the act of reading to someone you love. The closeness, the teaching moments, the interaction, the bonding over words and pictures imprints love. As I cuddle Izzy in the bend of my arm, her lean body pressed against me, I feel an overwhelming, nearly indescribable, love for this almost two-year-old.

 

 

When I watch my husband put puzzles together with his granddaughter, I experience the same. Likewise when I observe Izzy with her mom and dad, other grandparents and extended family. This little girl is loved by many from West Coast to East Coast and in between.

 

 

On this visit, Izzy demonstrates that she’s learning her letters and numbers. She’s got “o” down and the hoot of owls, a favorite for awhile. But now she loves Poppy, her new best friend from the movie “Trolls.” And she likes Elmo and Daniel the Tiger and Minnie Mouse and… She’s stringing words together, counting to five, learning her colors. She’s holding up two fingers to indicate that she will soon turn two.

I see the independent traits of a two-year-old emerging. I see, too, her endless energy. I swing Isabelle upward and back down just to hear her laugh. (There’s a reason I lift weights.) And I reread the same books just to make her happy. I am thankful I can be part of this growing, this learning, this loving. There’s nothing quite like being a grandma.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Passing a love of books onto the next generation November 30, 2017

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My granddaughter with a book.

 

I HAVE ALWAYS loved books. Always. They have taught, inspired, uplifted, entertained and challenged me and so much more.

 

I didn’t have many books as a young child because my parents couldn’t afford them. But I had this one, which I recently spotted (and should have bought) at a Pequot Lakes antique shop

 

A favorite childhood storybook, Three Billy Goats Gruff, instilled in me a fondness for goats and for fairy tales. And a beginning reader book, Joey the Kangaroo, endeared me to kangaroos. As my reading skills advanced, I treasured my hardcover copies of Little House on the Prairie, The Bobbsey Twins, Little Women and The Five Little Peppers.

Somewhere in that time-frame I discovered Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Those series led to a life-long love of mysteries, my favorite genre.

I thrilled in bringing home book orders from school and ordering a paperback or two to add to my bedroom bookshelf. Even though money was tight in our family, Mom allowed me to select books like Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle and Other Modern Verse.

 

When Izzy visits, she often heads straight for this basket crammed with 14 books (current count) and a few toys. While I washed dishes one morning, she pulled the books from the basket one-by-one and “read” each one.

 

When I became a mom in 1986 and birthed more children 21 months and six years later, my time to indulge in leisurely reading vanished. Instead, I found myself with a baby or child on my lap or snuggled next to me on the couch with hardboard and picture books in hand. When my eldest turned six, I was already reading The Little House and Betsy-Tacy series to her and her four-year-old sister.

 

When Izzy opened an I Spy book, I showed her how a matchbox bus matched the photo. I said the word “bus,” then repeated myself. At 20 months, she’s learning new words at a rapid pace.

 

I hold dear those memories of reading to Amber, Miranda and Caleb. All three of my kids love to read. Miranda fixated on horses for awhile, our local librarian Mary Jane always on the watch for new equine books.

 

I love this photo of Izzy “reading.” She didn’t even notice me with my camera, so engrossed was she in her book.

 

Reminders of those youthful passions for reading linger in bookshelves packed with science fiction and fantasy books in Caleb’s former bedroom. My son also frequented the nonfiction section of the local library seeking out books to teach himself juggling, magic tricks, computer programming and more. He loves to learn and never wanted to wait for a teacher to teach him. Today, with a computer science degree, he works in that field and continues to pursue learning. He holds an innate desire and passion for knowledge.

Both of my girls worked in the local library while in high school and later at their respective college libraries. They have never been far from books—whether listening to stories read at home or at library story hour, participating in summer reading programs, filing books on library shelves or simply just reading on their own.

 

One of Izzy’s favorite books to read at my house is All Year Round With Little Frog. When she pushes on the plastic frog, it squeaks. I read this book to Izzy’s Uncle Caleb more than 20 years ago.

 

My kids are grown and gone now. But the importance of reading remains, circling back now to the next generation. My granddaughter, Isabelle, loves to page through books and to be read to by her parents and others who love her, including me. She’s already completed her first summer reading program, attends storytime at the library and has a significant collection of books.

 

My husband, Randy, reads to his granddaughter during an overnight stay at our house several months ago.

 

Izzy has received, says my librarian friend Kathleen, “the gift of generational literacy.” I’ve never thought of the continuum of loving books in that way. But I love that phrase. “Miss Izzy loves books because you instilled that love in her mom (and her sister and brother)…and now, another generation benefits…and on and on,” Kathleen observed. Izzy’s daddy, too, enjoys reading, a gift of generational literacy also passed from his family.

 

Izzy pages through her mama’s childhood book, Moo, Moo, Peekaboo.

 

To watch Isabelle page through books I once read to her mama, aunt or uncle brings me much joy. The words I read some 30 years ago tumble from my memory as I hold Izzy close and recite from memory Moo, moo! Peekaboo, we see you, cow!

 

TELL ME: Have you received the gift of generational literacy and/or passed that gift along?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Food art at the library April 4, 2017

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WHAT COULD YOU CREATE with an orange, pretzels, sweet potatoes, marshmallows, coconut, cake and frosting, lots and lots of frosting? Or with other food?

 

Winner of the People’s Choice Award and also winner of the Most Humorous in the Families division.

 

Contestants in the Edible Books Festival & Competition at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault proved they could craft some impressive edible representations of books.

 

 

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

The display generated lots of interest, which is precisely what Public Services Librarian Allyn McColley hoped to get people into the library. The contest showcased the artistic side of books while also promoting reading, she said.

 

 

Based on the 14 entries and the estimated 80 people who perused the 90-minute April Fool’s Day exhibit, the Edible Books Fest was a success.

 

The book, Girl with a Pearl Earring, inspired the entry below.

 

This interpretation of Girl with a Pearl Earring won Best Literary Theme in the staff competition.

 

I was impressed by the creativity.

 

Medals were awarded to winners in various categories and divisions.

 

Go ahead and scroll through selected photos and decide for yourself which is your favorite. I expect favorites will be as diverse as reading lists.

 

The artistic entry for How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods. We all have days when we feel rotten.

 

On the Families table, I spotted this book label. Great creativity in printing, I say.

 

The Needle’s Eye, Passing Through Youth, won Best Literary Theme in the Adults Category.

 

Orange is the New Black, My Year in a Women’s Prison, inspired the entry below.

 

A singular food item becomes book art.

 

The Hat entry up close. Look at the work that went into creating this hedgehog.

 

Pooh’s Hunny Pot, chosen as Most Visually Appealing.

 

Heaven Is Paved with Oreos earned Most Visually Appealing among City of Faribault staff entries.

 

Two books, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Bob the Builder, inspired this Most Visually Appealing entry in the Adults Category.

 

This cake was inspired by the classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, awarded Best Literary Theme.

© Copyright 2017 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.

#

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

 

You can help: Establishing “water coolers of literacy” in rural Minnesota November 17, 2011

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault

WHEN A NOTICE arrived in my e-mail in-box on Monday that Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was available for me at the local public library, I was thrilled. I’d been number 45 on the waiting list. I figured maybe I’d get the book in say seven years, long after I had forgotten it. Instead I waited only a few months.

Around 6:30 p.m. Monday, on my way to a church meeting, I stopped at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault to pick up this bestselling novel. Much to my dismay, the library appeared closed. It was. And then I remembered the budget cuts that had trimmed evening hours to only Tuesdays and Thursdays.

As frustrated as I sometimes am about shortened night-time hours, I shouldn’t complain. At least I have a library in my community, unlike my hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota. Like two dozen other small towns in Redwood, Cottonwood, Murray and Pipestone counties, Vesta residents rely on the services of the Plum Creek Bookmobile to deliver library materials. (Click here to learn more about that bookmobile.)

Once a month the bookmobile pulls onto Vesta’s Main Street, just as it does in towns like Currie, Iona, Revere and other towns you’ve probably not heard of unless you live or grew up in that rural area of Minnesota.

Given how often I use the Faribault library, I’d have a tough time with only once-a-month library access via a bookmobile. But I know that residents of these rural communities, like my 79-year-old mom, are grateful for their library on wheels.

Can more be done, though, to get books into the hands of these rural residents more frequently? I don’t expect that will come via public library systems with already financially-strapped budgets.

That’s why I’m particularly excited about the nonprofit Little Free Library project, co-founded two years ago by Todd Bol, a native of Stillwater now living in nearby Hudson, Wisconsin. I spoke at length with Bol earlier this week about this endeavor which places birdhouse-sized mini libraries mostly in front yards and in some public locales.

A Little Free Library seems the ideal way to fill a void in small towns without libraries.

But the problem lies in connecting to these sparsely-populated areas and growing these libraries. Bol wanted to pick my brain on how to best reach these communities and spread the word about opening a Little Free Library.

A recently-opened Little Free Library in a southwest Faribault neighborhood.

Several weeks ago a little library opened in Faribault. I learned about Dale and Joan Smith’s front yard library in the local daily newspaper on the same day I read about one opening in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota now has about a dozen Little Free Libraries with orders for some five more, Bol says. Two of those are going to Lakefield near Worthington in the southwestern corner of the state.

That’s the area I want to target for these libraries which operate on the premise of “Take a book, leave a book.” No library cards. No fee. No anything except a steward of the library and the sharing of donated books.

In a blog post published last week about the Smiths’ library, I challenged Vesta area residents to open a Little Free Library. Thus far, no one has responded.

Bol’s nonprofit is there to help, offering everything from advice to publicity to ready-built mini libraries. Those physical libraries range from a basic no-frills model priced at $375 to original art deluxe models listed at $1,000.

Or, like the Smiths in Faribault, you can build your own and then become a Little Free Library member, for a recommended $50 donation. That entitles you to benefits like a sign, sharing of your story online, listing on the LFL world-wide map and more. (Click here for membership details.)

With monies donated through the LFL’s “Pay It Forward” program, funding is available for underwriting library costs, for signs, donations of the library structure, etc.—all aimed toward helping others open village libraries. Currently the nonprofit is assisting soldiers with placing libraries in Afghanistan. No application process exists to apply for funds, but Bol hopes to eventually establish one.

Some 200 officially-registered Little Free Libraries have opened world-wide, according to Bol, who is especially excited about one planned for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. He’s also thrilled about an upcoming story in an Italian fashion magazine.

Defining himself as a “social entrepreneur by profession,” Bol focuses on change and making a difference. He views a Little Free Library as “a water cooler of literacy.” That comes from a man who says he “leans toward dyslexic” and reads primarily social engineering, quirky nonfiction and history books.

The Smiths of Faribault have filled their Little Library with a variety of books.

A LFL, Bol continues, becomes not only a place to get and give books, but also a community gathering spot, a “unique space of conversation” to discuss reading, books, education and more.

“There’s a sense of community being built through Little Free Libraries,” its co-founder says. He sees social interaction between neighbors who previously may not have met or spoken. A front yard library brings them together.

Bol remembers the moment he realized he was onto something with the Little Free Library concept. He had built and placed a schoolhouse-shaped library in his Hudson front yard honoring his mom, June A. Bol. When folks stopped by to shop at a garage sale he was holding and saw the mini library, they were intrigued. “That’s cute. Can I build it?” customers inquired.

From that spark of community interest, this social entrepreneur and his friend Rick Brooks of Madison, Wisconsin, ran with the idea and co-founded the Little Free Library movement.

Today Bol’s looking to engage others, like me, in spreading the word about these mini libraries. I didn’t come up with a brainstorm of an idea when we talked about how to best reach places like the small towns of southwestern Minnesota without libraries. I only suggested establishing a LFL in the area and then contacting small-town daily and weekly newspapers and radio stations in a publicity blitz.

He suggested a contest that would give away a Little Free Library, something he’s previously done.

Bottom line, it’s going to take networking to grow Little Free Libraries in more remote and rural areas.

Once the interest is established, it’s going to take individuals, families, neighbors and/or organizations to build and tend these libraries—perhaps a 4-H club or a 4-Her, a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, a church youth group, a Friends of the Library organization, a woodworker, a service club like Sertoma or Rotary or…

IF YOU HAVE ideas, any ideas, on how to grow Little Free Libraries in rural Minnesota, please submit a comment and share.

IF YOU HAVE a Little Free Library, plan to open one or need assistance in opening one, submit a comment. Most of all, tell others about this project.

FINALLY, if anyone is specifically interested in opening, building or funding a Little Free Library in my hometown of Vesta, let me know. It’s always been my dream to have a library in Vesta.

CLICK HERE for detailed information about the Little Free Library project.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

For the love of reading: Little Library opens in Faribault November 10, 2011

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault

GROWING UP on a farm in rural southwestern Minnesota, all I ever really desired in my hometown was a library, a place where I could check out books and then read to my heart’s content.

Today Vesta, population around 340, still doesn’t have a library, although the bookmobile stops along the one-block Main Street once a month.

Fortunately I have, for nearly 30 years, lived within blocks of Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. I go there often as did my three children, all of whom possess a deep passion for reading.

Just like Joan Smith of Faribault.

Joan, a member of the Rice County Library Board, loves reading and books so much—she can’t pass up a bookstore—that she and husband Dale have opened a library, in their front yard on Faribault’s south side.

As part of a growing world-wide “Little Free Library” movement, this retired couple decided, when encouraged by fellow book lover and library board member Pat Rice, to start a free library.

Dale, known for the log cabin style birdhouses he crafts and sells, had the skills to build the little library. The Smiths sized up books before deciding on the dimensions of 18 inches wide and 12 inches deep.

I counted 31 books in the Smiths' Little Library when I stopped to photograph it. "We all find ourselves with too many books," Joan says. "We need a place to share them." Her place is a Little Library.

That's the Smiths' house to the right at 825 Sixth Ave. SW. Feel free to knock on the door to drop off books, ask questions or thank them. Or simply drop by, open the library plexiglass door and take and/or leave a book.

Shortly before Halloween, the Little Library, situated atop a post at Joan’s eye level and within about a foot of the Fifth and Sixth Avenues Southwest sidewalk intersection, opened. (And, yes, folks, I got that right; two avenues do intersect by the Smiths’ house at 825 Sixth Avenue Southwest.)

Detailed with doors, windows and shutters, the Little Library stands at the intersection of Fifth Ave. S.W. and Sixth Ave. S.W. Here's a back view of the library Dale built.

Joan gushes over a project that shares her passion for reading and which she hopes will get others excited about reading and using the local public library.

“It’s (Little Library) another step toward reading and becoming a lover of books,” she enthuses.

Joan enjoys books, always has, ever since she was a young child living in Mankato, the childhood home of author Maud Hart Lovelace. Her mother read Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series to Joan as well as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Later, when the family settled in the Faribault area, Joan attended a country school with less than two dozen old books on a library shelf. But her mother took her to Buckham Memorial Library, a place with plenty of books.

Joan understands the importance of reading to success in education. Although few children live in her neighborhood, Joan encourages her neighbors to grab a book from the Little Library when the grandchildren visit. She also wants the Faribault community to know: “This is for everybody and you’re welcome to come.” Already, those outside the neighborhood are stopping at the library.

It’s a library without rules or library cards. Take a book. Take a book and leave a book. Leave a book. Whatever works, Joan doesn’t care as long as people are reading.

You never know what books you'll find in the Little Library. Joan says she momentarily panicked after spotting a book with a library label. Turns out the donated book was a library discard.

She’s stocked the Little Library with books gathered from her home and from family members: mysteries and westerns, easy-reader children’s books and picture books, classics and the popular vampire series for teens and, well, whatever Joan collects, buys or no longer needs.

And, yes, the Smiths are accepting donations to their library. They’ve been asked, “What if everyone starts bringing you books?”

“That wouldn’t be a problem,” Joan responds. If she can’t use the books in their library, she’ll donate them wherever they are needed.

Dale Smith is open to considering requests to build little libraries. But the couple encourages interested individuals to construct their own libraries. (Dale’s pretty busy with that birdhouse building.)

Joan hopes their Little Library in southwest Faribault inspires others to open mini libraries and to read, yes, to read.

The Little Library is located right next to the sidewalk in the Smiths' front yard.

A front view of the Little Library looking toward Fifth Avenue Southwest.

FYI: Click here to visit littlefreelibrary.org for details on this library movement, including locations of existing libraries and how to start your own.

The website lists the following Little Free Library sites in Minnesota:

If you know of a Little Free Library in your neighborhood or plan to open one, submit a comment. I’d like to hear.

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.”

Main Street Vesta and the Vesta Cafe, perhaps the perfect spot for a Little Free Library.

And I was thinking… maybe I should open a Little Free Library. I live along a well-traveled street in Faribault with lots of kids in the neighborhood. I love books, love to read…  Say, Dale, are you up to building another library?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling