Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:13 PM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Little Free Library at the Vesta Cafe.

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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