Building community, one little library at a time

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Two new libraries have quietly opened in the Como Park and St. Anthony Park neighborhoods since November. They are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and you don’t need a library card to check out a book.

The approximately 2-by-2-foot wood-and-Plexiglas birdhouse-like structures are part of the Little Free Library initiative that began in 2009 in Madison, Wis. The program aims to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.

Sylvia and Robert Hoke installed their Little Free Library in November after moving into their newly constructed home on Chelsea Street in Como Park. A friend had posted a link to an article about the libraries on her Facebook page, Sylvia said. She liked the idea and “kept it in my head.”

After they moved into their new house, the Hokes and their two sons, Mathias, 6, and Andreas, 4, got to work. They ordered plans from the Little Free Library website (www.littlefreelibrary.org), and Robert searched a nearby construction site for recycled materials to use in the library’s construction. Mathias helped paint the library to match the color of their new home, and Andreas’ passion for wires helped him land the job of assisting with the solar lighting his dad added to the project. “It gets dark early,” Sylvia said, so the library lights up in the evening for neighbors whose evening walks happen after the sun goes down.

Right: The Hokes added solar lighting to their library.

Sylvia first stocked their library with books she bought at the Roseville Library’s annual used book sale in October. The family has been surprised at how many people use the library, which holds about two dozen books. “I had no idea,” Sylvia said. “The books have turned over quite a bit.”

They have seen a variety of books come and go from the stacks: from The Art of Lucid Dreaming to a book on musician Jimmy Buffett to classic reads and Harry Potter, much to the delight of 6-year-old Mathias.

A pile of bookmark-size fliers sits inside the Hokes’ library explaining what it is. They read: “If you see a book that interests you, please take it. Borrow, donate, trade—this is a community effort.

The Hokes also placed a bench in front of their library for neighbors to use. They plan to add flowers and plants to the area come spring.

Anders and Julie Himmelstrup’s library went up on Commonwealth Avenue in St. Anthony Park shortly after Christmas. It was a gift from their daughter and son-in-law, Lisa Himmelstrup and Dan Liljedahl.

Liljedahl learned about the Little Free Library movement through a friend in Portland, Ore., whose brother built one here in St. Paul. “He showed me photos of his and [I] drove by and saw the one at his brother’s house, and I was all in,” Liljedahl said. Both Liljedahl and Himmelstrup work in St. Paul Public Schools. Liljedahl is the librarian at Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet School and Himmelstrup is the ceramics teacher at Central High School.

Dan Liljedahl’s woodworking, Lisa Himmelstrup’s ceramic work, books, community: What’s not to love?

“My wife and I have been putting our work together, her tiles and my woodworking, for about five years now,” Liljedahl said. “The Little Free Library was a perfect fit for what we do and what we love. It includes her tiles and my woodworking, it is community oriented [and] it includes books. What’s not to love, right?”

Andrew Carnegie built 2,509 libraries at the turn of the 20th century. The aim of the Little Free Library founders, Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, is threefold: to promote literacy and the love of reading, to build a sense of community and to beat Andrew Carnegie by building more than 2,510 libraries around the world.

You can find out more about the Little Free Libraries at www.littlefreelibrary.org. There, you can access plans for building your own library or order a ready-made library. You can also see a map that shows where many of the libraries that have been built are.

and we look forward to the collective exchange of ideas and interests as the contents of this library evolve.”

The Hokes also placed a bench in front of their library for neighbors to use. They plan to add flowers and plants to the area come spring.

Anders and Julie Himmelstrup’s library went up on Commonwealth Avenue in St. Anthony Park shortly after Christmas. It was a gift from their daughter and son-in-law, Lisa Himmelstrup and Dan Liljedahl.

Liljedahl learned about the Little Free Library movement through a friend in Portland, Ore., whose brother built one here in St. Paul. “He showed me photos of his and [I] drove by and saw the one at his brother’s house, and I was all in,” Liljedahl said. Both Liljedahl and Himmelstrup work in St. Paul Public Schools. Liljedahl is the librarian at Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet School and Himmelstrup is the ceramics teacher at Central High School.

Dan Liljedahl’s woodworking, Lisa Himmelstrup’s ceramic work, books, community: What’s not to love?

“My wife and I have been putting our work together, her tiles and my woodworking, for about five years now,” Liljedahl said. “The Little Free Library was a perfect fit for what we do and what we love. It includes her tiles and my woodworking, it is community oriented [and] it includes books. What’s not to love, right?”

Andrew Carnegie built 2,509 libraries at the turn of the 20th century. The aim of the Little Free Library founders, Todd Bol and Rick Brooks, is threefold: to promote literacy and the love of reading, to build a sense of community and to beat Andrew Carnegie by building more than 2,510 libraries around the world.

You can find out more about the Little Free Libraries at www.littlefreelibrary.org. There, you can access plans for building your own library or order a ready-made library. You can also see a map that shows where many of the libraries that have been built are.