Literary Mushrooms: Little Free Libraries Springing Up

Little Free Library Sunburst Roof 1

Little Free Library Sunburst Roof 2

Doll’s house? Bird house? Spirit house? Picturesque junction box?

Chances are, if you have spotted a small house-shaped structure raised to mailbox height, it is a Little Free Library.

Library Montessori

(This one is outside a Montessori school in Northfield.)

In Minnesota, there is a real mystique about morel mushrooms. If you have ever found one yourself–or even eaten one (sauted in butter and garlic) yourself–then you know that they are to be prized wherever they pop up. Recently, perhaps two years ago, I started noticing little doll-house-sized libraries popping up, clearly the result of people who prize the deliciousness of curling up with an as-yet-unread book. When I learned that my friend, Ann Lacy, a voracious reader and former librarian, had one, I asked her to write a few words about the experience.

Library Ann Front

Library Ann Side

Library Ann Back

Why I have a Little Library

I love books.  I love to read books, to read about books, to browse and own and accumulate books.  And I like the idea of passing on books I no longer want to others who might want them, so when  I first started noticing Little Libraries maybe five years ago—now my neighborhood is studded with them (like jewels, only so much better)—I knew that I would like to have and stock one myself someday.   Someday would have been never, due to my doubts that I could make anything other than a lopsided leaker, but fortunately, I share my home with an engineer.  And so, last year, I downloaded the plans from the website, and described to Steve what I would like (one shelf, tall enough to accommodate a picture book, a windowed door making it easy to view titles from the outside) and he took it from there, using wood from what had been a craft table when our children were small, paint left over from the exterior of our house on the Library’s exterior, and from our sunny yellow kitchen on the interior, buying only hinges and a plexiglass panel for the door, and enlisting the assistance of our artistic daughter Katarina when she was home on break to decorate the exterior with flowers and felines.  Our Library is mounted on a section of freshly cut tree branch scavenged by Steve while running in a riverside park past city workers pruning;  hops from the Steve’s nearby hop arbor twined around the base this summer and fall, and in the winter it has been adorned with a string of blue Christmas lights and often impressive icicles.  The Library began its time in our yard shaded like the front of our house by a city maple tree, which we lost to a dangerous crack in the trunk in early summer—a loss the residents of the house felt keenly in the heat, although the Library itself seems impervious to weather.  I have put many books into the Library, and taken some books from the Library, and numerous people known and unknown to me have done the same.   It is an entirely satisfying thing, like having a year-round bubbler in the front yard.   Ann Lacy

Joe and Kat Klafka (artist) in front of the Lacy-Klafka Little Free Library (2013)

Joe and Kat Klafka (artist) in front of the Lacy-Klafka Little Free Library (2013)

Most Little Libraries seem to be tended by individual families. Last month, however, on a visit to our old Minneapolis neighborhood of Linden Hills, I gasped in surprise: Shades of Snow White!  There were seven dwarf libraries in a row!

Libraries All in a Row

I had never before stood where a person with long arms could have borrowed from two libraries at once! And as I looked closely, these were sponsored by the locally owned businesses that make this area so lively and attractive. Each had its own personality.

Library in Linden Hills

On Northfield’s streets, too, Little Libraries are springing up. One that I have particularly admired is at the Swanson home on a tree-lined main artery where I often walk in good weather, St. Olaf Avenue.

Library Swanson House

Library Swanson

Recently, I talked with Judy Swanson. She told me that the library was built as an 80th birthday gift for her husband, Steve, a retired teacher and author of many books. Their son modeled the structure along the lines of the shed that sits farther up the drive. Both the shed and the library sport a dragon ridge along the roof, while cedar shakes cover the sides.

Library Swanson Shed

The style’s elegant lines are an expression of the love the Swansons share for all things Scandinavian, especially design. It has been in place since the summer of 2012, about eighteen months now. The library is stocked with many kinds of books, including copies of Steve’s titles. Users immediately understood the concept, and the stock turns over because often people leave one book when they take another. I asked Judy what it is like to be caretakers of a Little Library, she had this to say:

“It is a joy that nothing can diminish, not even the three episodes we’ve experienced of Saturday night vandalism. Actually, I could tell dozens of stories, but here are just two, both resulting from the character of our street, which has a lot of foot traffic. A neighbor overhead  two young girls say, “Let’s meet at the little library.” It was interesting to know that it is sometimes a destination, a rendezvous point. Another time we were out working in the yard, and a young woman jogged by. Without breaking stride, she waved and called, “I loved your book!” Steve was pleased; what author doesn’t like to know his work is being read and appreciated.

“As a trend, I think these libraries are a friendly way for people to connect, even if they never actually meet in person,” Judy said.

Recently, the Swansons’ grandson, who has a Little Library a few blocks away in front of his own home, decided that just as his grandparents house has out-buildings, so, too, the Little Library needed one. The remedy he designed and provided now rests at the foot of the main library building.

Library Swanson Library Shed

Here is another Northfield example, at Linden and Greenvale:

Library Greenvale

And below is a Minneapolis example that appears to have adapted a kitchen cupboard for library use. Its sign is clearly hand-lettered. I think it makes the (jauntily colored) chain-link fence appear positively friendly. This is the location where, last year, I found a copy of a book I had been meaning to read for at least a decade: The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. I was driving past, planning this post, actually, and approached only to get the photograph. But I simply couldn’t resist the book! Since then, I have read through the entire series. (I borrowed the others from the traditional Carnegie Library a few blocks from my house). I had many winter hours enlivened by that chance encounter with a “freelance” Free Library. Maybe this year I will be able to find it again and replace the book I took with something else that another person might be happy to find! (Note that this location also offers bookmarks!)

Narrow Little Library

Narrow Little Library 2

Do you have a Little Free Library or an informal “Little Freelance Free Library” outside of the network? Do you think you might create one? Or  have you patronized or just enjoyed seeing them in your area? If so, please drop me a line or send a jpg. I am very curious about this social and civilizing trend. As for us, well, Tim and I have been talking…stay tuned! Perhaps there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Winona Street in the next year or two!

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News Flash: Author JJM Braulick Publishes ALPHA, BETA,…; A PICTORIAL GUIDE TO THE ATTIC GREEK ALPHABET

Author JJM Braulick with her newest publication and her usual poodle, Peanut.

Author JJM Braulick with her newest publication and her usual poodle, Peanut.

Today, February 22, 2014–Peanut’s 6th birthday–is the official publication of Alpha, Beta,…: A Pictorial Guide to the Attic Greek Alphabet. Five years in the making, the book is complete at last. Look forward to a future post containing an interview with the author and information on how to order a copy for your personal or civic library.

Early reviewers are uniformly enthusiastic (all photos of ancient authors in the public domain; all quotes loosely translated):

Alpha, Beta contains the ideal essence of the Greek letters!”   Plato

Plato-raphael

sappho-pompeii

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Makes me think lyrical thoughts & break out in Adonic lines–and I’m not even from Attica!”      Sappho

 

 

 

 

Sophocles

 

“It’s a real tragedy that it wasn’t available until now. JJM Braulick, take a bow!”

Sophocles

 

 

 

Alpha, Beta Cover

JJM Braulick signatureSignature2

 

 

 

Thank you for reading this! If you think of someone else who might enjoy it, please forward it to them. And, if you are not already a subscriber, I invite you to subscribe to the Wednesday posts I am sending out each week–it’s easy, it’s free, and I won’t share your address with anyone!!

 

In Praise of Snow: Photography & Two Poems (“Like Snowflakes” and “Awaken”) by Leslie Schultz

Winter Bicycle

I am not a rugged, outdoorsy, winter-camping type of person–not by a long shot–but I do find snow very beautiful. When I have lived in climates usually foreign to snow, I found that I longed for it, watched for it to fall.

Winter Observatory

In each snow-starved place where I’ve lived (the Oregon coast, Australia, Louisiana), I experienced one freakish, exciting, and memorable anomaly of snow-fall. When I lived in Portland, Oregon, schools were closed. Plows were brought down from Mount Hood but unpracticed drivers mounded the snow into the middle of thoroughfares, creating temporary barrier walls and hindering the flow of traffic. In the Blue Mountains of Australia, a family trip during the May school holidays (winter Down Under) found us shivering in thin sleeping bags in an uninsulated cabin, my brother coughing with what I remember as sudden-onset pneumonia, while stinging snowflakes whirled through the branches of the eucalyptus trees.  In Louisiana, where I lived for two winters during my graduate school days, a Christmas snowstorm hit while I, like many people in sub-tropical Lake Charles, were away; the plunging temperatures snapped the exposed pipes of most houses in the historic district.

Winter Burn Barrels

When I moved to Minnesota in the fall of 1985,  there was an unseasonably early snow on September 17. I had just come from Louisiana, and I remember shivering in a coat without buttons, going out to purchase a scarf and a pair of red gloves.

Winter House

Today, a veteran of twenty-nine consecutive winters, I still have a healthy respect for the power of snow to remake–if temporarily–our assumptions about the way our days will proceed. We keep a long-handled broom on the front porch (to push fallen snow off the cars) along with snow shovels, sand, and salt. I think letter carriers deserve hazard pay for being out all day in the cold, but I still thrill to the beauty of the falling snow, the transformations it leaves behind.

Winter Heart Tree

And, for me, one reliable side benefit of the season of snow is more time and inclination to write, and never so much so as this year. After decades in which prose held literary sway in my life–either non-fiction for clients or fiction commitments for me–this year, poems are arriving thick and fast. Recently, many have centered on snow and ice.

Here are two poems, the first written yesterday, the second written in 1980 while I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin and published first in Wisconsin Poets’ Calendar: 1982 and in my chapbook, Living Room (Midwestern Writers’ Publishing House, 1981).

Winter Saturn

Like Snowflakes

A hush, a storm,
a gentle arrival—
poems come in their season,
transform the landscape
of my life—
ah, the dazzle
of that fresh page—white—
with slight patterns—
bird-foot, cat-foot, wind—
and the sculptures
of ink-blue shadows.

Leslie Schultz  (2014)

Winter Blue Shadow

Winter Tracks

Awaken

to find my house afloat,
pitched on an ocean
of foam-flecked fields.
My breath dissolves a porthole.
The barn is sinking.
Cows break waves with their bellies,
monsters of the deep,
leaving trails of wake.
The wind has died;
its roar is small as a hollow shell.
The prairie is lashed,
capped with white,
washed stiff as fence posts.

Leslie Schultz (1981)

Winter Trunk

Winter Arbor Vitae

Winter Mailbox Trim

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Thank you for reading this! If you think of someone else who might enjoy it, please forward it to them. And, if you are not already a subscriber, I invite you to subscribe to the Wednesday posts I am sending out each week–it’s easy, it’s free, and I won’t share your address with anyone!!