Thanks to Amore Coffee for their support.
Little Free Libraries have become a hallmark of community interaction and neighborliness. Who doesn’t love pairing books and neighbors? We have a wealth of Little Free Libraries in West St. Paul, and we talked to a few librarians about the experience.
Three Local Little Free Libraries
While there are tons of libraries to choose from in West St. Paul, we reached out to three library owners to get their input.
“I’ve always had a love of books and libraries, so once I got settled in my own home I knew I needed to put in a Little Free Library,” said Soledad Kern, who has had a Little Free Library since 2015.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sarah Kirkwood never planned to have a library. But when a neighbor’s nephew was installing them around the Twin Cities for an Eagle Scout project, Kirkwood jumped at the chance. She’s had her library since 2013.
“I loved the concept and wanted to share a love for reading with our community,” said Kerry Appleton, who has had her Little Free Library since 2015 as well.
Everyone reports a positive response with lots of people stopping by, especially with kids and pets.
“I think my most memorable moment was when a little girl painted me some rocks to put at the base of the library,” said Kern. “It was so sweet!”
Over the years Kirkwood has found hand-written notes left in the library saying thanks.
“My favorite are cars that whip a U-turn to slide right up to the library,” said Appleton.
Used to seeing Little Free Libraries at schools, Kirkwood was surprised at how many adults use it.
“I remember one time I was out weeding the garden near the Little Free Library and an older gentleman happened to be walking by on Smith,” Kirkwood recalled. “He wanted to let me know that he really enjoys historical biographies so if I could get some more of those he would really appreciate it.”
Take Any Shape
As we’ve seen with the seed library and pantry, Little Free Libraries can take any shape and house more than books. Most resemble little houses, but there are a pair of Little Free Libraries on Stryker that are repurposed newspaper boxes painted in Hogwarts regalia. One offers books (Hogwarts) and the other is a food pantry (The Three Broomsticks).
“I love the idea of the Little Free Library,” said Kirkwood. “I would have more if I could. I would have one shaped and painted like the TARDIS that would only be for sci-fi/fantasy books and I would love one closer to the ground decorated like a castle that would be exclusively for children’s books.”
Coincidentally, Kern’s Little Free Library is modeled after that distinctive blue telephone box fans will recognize as the TARDIS from Doctor Who.
“I love most nerdy things, but the Doctor Who TARDIS was just too perfect to pass up,” said Kern. “On my sign it reads, ‘Every book is a TARDIS: Innocuous on the outside, bigger on the inside, and able to transport you through time and space.”
Little Free Libraries aren’t limited to homeowners either. Many schools and churches have their own Little Free Library. Jameson’s Irish Bar has their own, as does the Dodge Nature Center. ISD 197 manages one at the Oakdale Apartments. The West St. Paul Police Department supports one in front of city hall and there’s a plan to add one stocked with sidewalk chalk to the Art Park.
Little Free Library Naysayers
As wonderful as Little Free Libraries may be, there have to be some drawbacks. What about keeping the library stocked, potential problems, and Minnesota winter?
What About Stocking Books?
“I don’t ever want a kid to leave my library without something fun to read!” said Appleton, which means stocking up on books from friends, yard sales, and Goodwill. Kern likewise looks to garage sales and end-of-year school library clean outs for new books.
But in general, Little Free Library owners take a fairly hands off approach.
“The beautiful thing is that Little Free Libraries basically maintain themselves,” said Kirkwood. “People take and give books as they are able.”
“There are always new books in there and very rarely do I need to supply my own,” said Kern.
“I have a laissez faire attitude to the library,” said Kirkwood. “It’s really a resource for the community to use as they desire.”
What About Problems?
“When we first got the library, I did a little research and found that the consensus is that you should plan for/expect vandalism and then be pleasantly surprised if it does not happen,” said Kirkwood. “So far we are pleasantly surprised.”
Kern had one incident when someone threw all the books on the ground. But the community responded before Kern could: “I didn’t even get to see it since some of the neighborhood kids came and picked them all up for me.”
The Appletons haven’t had any problems.
What About Winter?
“If we forget to snowblow a path to the library, there will be boot print holes in the snow,” said Kirkwood. “Gotta love Minnesotans.”
Appleton agrees: “[It’s] a bit quieter, but we have our drive-by users and frosty walkers.”
Kern says her library is still busy in winter—she chalks it up to people walking their dogs.
“One time I saw a woman pull up near the Little Free Library in the twilight of a freezing winter’s day,” said Kirkwood. “She pulled over, got out of the car, ran to the library with a book in her hand, returned the book and got a new book and was back in her car in less than a minute. I knew exactly how she felt, some days you just need to curl up and read!”
Local Authors Love Little Free Libraries
One unexpected bonus about Little Free Libraries is you might find some books by West St. Paul authors.
Jackie Polzin left five copies of her novel Brood in libraries around town.
“The idea was basically an extension of our daily routine: go outside, take a walk,” said Polzin, who has two young children. “We made it an adventure for the whole family and stopped to get hot chocolate at Amore Coffee and we met some backyard chickens and somewhere along the way I acquired a copy of Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I’ve always thought of Little Free Libraries as a means of celebrating books and that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
Julie Schanke Lyford distributed 10 copies of her picture book Katy Has Two Grampas around West St. Paul.
“I want everyone to have access to the book,” said Lyford. “[But] not everyone can get to a bookstore right now.” She added that it’s hard to shop for picture books online because people want to see the artwork. If people can see it for themselves, they’re more likely to enjoy the book and spread the word.
Though it’s hard to know the impact of local author leaving their own book for neighbors to find. Lyford hasn’t heard from anyone who picked up a copy even though she left bookmarks and offered prizes. Polzin was pleasantly surprised to see someone post on Twitter sharing excitement about finding a copy.
Creating Community One Book at a Time
Whether it’s interactions with authors or just everyday neighbors swapping good reads, Little Free Libraries are adding to the community feel of West St. Paul.
“People have built these intricate structures with roofs and doors and shelves inside for no other purpose than to share books,” said Polzin. “How amazing is that?”
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