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A good thing in a small package

Rockville woman: Erecting a Free Little Library was fun, challenging, satisfying

One day a pair of women knocked on the door of a Rockville house and asked where the new library was. “We read about it in the newspaper,“ they said, waving the sheets.

They were told it was located at the corner of the property they were standing on, where the sidewalks joined. “It’s that box on the pole down there,” they were told.

Though disappointed not to find a brand new building, they went through the books anyway–and each came away with one they wanted.

A year earlier Nikki Rajala, of Rockville, read about the Little Free Library concept, a roughly 60-book box that people can erect on their private property. “I thought, ‘Oh, isn’t that a neat idea!’”

Meanwhile the Central Minnesota Woodworkers Association raffled off a mini-library at the St. Cloud Art Crawl. Which she didn’t win. “But I was excited to see their design and had them build one for me.”

She had already researched the Little Free Library organization online and became a member. It has a Facebook page, regular newsletters, and detailed information on how to purchase different models.

Erecting a New Library

Erecting the Little Free Library was a challenge, she said. “I knew nothing about it, but asked a woodworker friend of mine to build the stand for it, a 4-inch by 4 inch pole, 6 feet high. He has woodworking equipment I don’t have. He built the stand and attached the Little Free Library on top of the stand. My husband and I used two posthole diggers, taking turns removing dirt. It was so dry that every time we pulled out a little batch, more filled in. It took forever to get it dug 3-feet deep.”

The woodworker friend advised against cementing it in. “He said it would create rot and make the post harder to get out later. So, we dug the hole, lifted the pole with the Little Free Library at the top, and stuck it in. We packed rock and dirt around the pole so it would drain better.”

About 24 x 18 x 10 inches in size with a slanting, shingled roof, the Little Free Library has a glass-fronted door with a lower and upper area that can be packed with books, free for the taking. The concept is for reading enthusiasts to trade books: take a book or two and return a book or two, or just take books.

To add to the Little Free Library’s looks, she put fake wainscoting inside, painted rugs upstairs and downstairs. “I had a little flag for a while, which disappeared, as did its replacement. I figured if people need a flag, they can have it. I’ve also laminated a little list of all my favorite librarians, from growing up in Bigfork, Minn., my college roommate, school librarians, people I’ve worked with over the years. They have been an inspiration to me to have my own library.“

She painted the Little Free Library to match her newly-painted house, including the trim, as well as painting trees on one side. “It was late autumn so I didn’t put leaves on the trees, figuring I could wait until our grandchildren came and helped paint the leaves.”

During the summer she adds a pair of plastic chairs on each side of the Little Free Library so people can browse and relax in comfort. “They also call more attention to the Little Free Library too, because sometimes it fits so well into the corner that you hardly see it.”

She also plants hostas, impatiens, and daylilies in the area, as well as decorating it for Halloween, or Christmas.

A Plan

At first she filled the Little Free Library with all kinds of books. “Just ‘Here’s something interesting.’ The first winter I stuck in different books every couple of weeks when it looked like the pile had thinned down.”

But that didn’t satisfy her, so the former ESL/ELL teacher began looking through her teaching library of books, adding classics in March and “really good books for adults and kids.”

That led her to monthly topics: April, nonfiction, things that were real, people’s lives or stories. “May became mom’s month. My mom liked to read Jane Austen books. A friend offered me a set of Jane Austen spinoffs. June was dad’s month, so I inserted things dad liked or was interested in–Minnesota history.”

July, U.S. history, veterans, patriotism, and so on. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s day, presidents for February. A topic each month.

“Using themes makes it easier. I can look up things like national pickle day or crepe day or national something else. Or the birthday of a particular author, so I put in a stack of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beverly Cleary, and other writings that I enjoy.”

In addition to books, she sometimes adds DVDs, and over Christmas, puzzles, games and toys, “Even something to make a nice little gift if you had nothing to give their mom or brother or sister. All kinds of things besides books can go in the Little Free Library. Most aren‘t coming back, but I don‘t feel bad about that. I love books and want people to have them if they love them.”

Nikki’s books for the Little Free Library come from a variety of places. Their own home library, her teaching library, friends, a couple of women she works with who have been especially generous, trading with other Little Free Libraries, or buying books at book shops or the public library book sale. “You can get a lot of books at the library for $10 dollars. plus that money goes to a good cause.”

Joys and Successes

She enjoys being outside for tea or lunch on nice summer days and seeing people walk up to the library, or a group of kids stopping for significant amounts of time, and taking books away. “That cheers me,” she said. “I’m not always around to see that, but when I drive by I can tell if somebody has been visiting it recently.”

The librarian at the John Clark School just north of Nikki’s residence walked her classes down to the Little Free Library and invited her to talk about it to 4th and 5th graders.

“Kids walk past it every day coming to school, so I was glad to show it to them and see how excited they were about it. It was fun to hear their questions.”

She also looks for Spanish books for her Little Free Library. “We have a number of Hispanic families in the community, walking with babies and kids. I wanted them to stop, too, so I tried to find books in Spanish that they might be interested in, as well.”

As soon as Nikki erected her Little Free Library, she began to see them all over St. Cloud. “I used the official map to find those that have been registered, and visited most of them, trading books with some of them. But only if I had something to share.”

A Few Challenges

One day the school librarian called to say the door was stuck, and her kids couldn’t get it open. “So my husband shaved off some wood so the door would open again. Every now and then I find a little moisture collecting inside, so I add a couple of those little desiccant packages to take care of that.”

Sometimes the door has been left wide open, and twice someone threw books into the snow, tore up a picture, or other minor vandalism. “While I tidy up the area I wonder why that might have happened. Then I try to find funny books and easy graphic novels. What would make them happy?”

The most fun is seeing somebody walk by, stop, and leave with a book, she said. “You can tell when people are going to take a look. With about 60 books to chose from, people will look at them and say, ‘These aren’t for me.’ It’s just exciting to see a group of people where several of them take books. That’s my absolute favorite part, hands down.”

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