Logo from Mac-Groveland's Little Free Livrary tour

Reading a Neighborhood: Macalester-Groveland’s Little Free Library Tour

Editor’s note: This is the first in what we hope will become an ongoing series of exploring Twin Cities neighborhoods by walking or biking among Little Free Libraries. This story focuses on the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul, whose all-ages Little Free Library tour complete with games and prizes — runs through Saturday, June 4.

The Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, much like the rest of Minnesota, is being reawakened as flowers begin to bloom, birds begin to chirp and the sun begins to shine more brightly. Throughout the neighborhood you can see people walking their dogs, planting and tending gardens or sipping coffee on the patios of local coffee shops.

Anticipating the spring reemergence after a long winter, the Macalester-Groveland Community Council — one of 17 district councils in the City of St. Paul — aimed to provide an all-ages outdoor event that allows residents to connect again with their community.

The Little Free Library Tour is an all-ages book search event touring the Little Free Libraries of the neighborhood. Our goal is to inspire individuals to get out into the neighborhood, connect with fellow neighbors, celebrate the novel character that Mac-Grove has to offer and, with luck, pick up a good book or two.

Little Free Library Tour logo, designed by Kensey Lipstreuer, community member and freelance graphic designer (www.lovely-betty.com)
Little Free Library Tour logo, designed by Kensey Lipstreuer, community member and freelance graphic designer (www.lovely-betty.com)

The idea of the Little Free Library Tour stemmed from last December’s Community Building Team (CBT) meeting. Community member Kensey Lipstreuer and CBT co-chair Dave Gries came up with the idea. Given Mac-Groveland’s proximity to private colleges and the plethora of local bookstores, Lipstreuer suggested a book-related event in collaboration with neighborhood businesses.

Other ideas in the meeting had focused on gardening and other environmental issues, such as pollinator gardens. Lipstreuer began to imagine opportunities that might attract those who don’t have a green thumb or a yard to plant a garden.

“I would be personally interested in the bookstore opportunities and the education and the learning because I’m not so much a gardener,” Lipstreuer said. “And I won’t lie: If there’s a bee around me, I am heading in the other direction!”

Gries proposed creating an event around the numerous Little Free Libraries in Mac-Groveland, helping to celebrate not only the sharing of free books but the broader mission of the nonprofit Little Free Library organization, which began in 2012 in Hudson, Wisconsin. The organization aims to be a catalyst for building community, inspiring readers and expanding book access through a global network of volunteer-led Little Free Libraries. Their vision is a Little Free Library in every community and a book for every reader.

One of the participating Little Free Libraries in the tour. The design is whimsical and in part inspired by the Wild Rumpus Bookstore in Linden Hills, MN.
One of the participating Little Free Libraries in the tour. The design is whimsical and inspired in part by the Wild Rumpus Bookstore in the Minneapolis neighborhood of Linden Hills.

“The uniqueness of these Little Free Libraries is something I geek out about. Somebody is installing art!” says Gries. “My wife stops at every one of those Little Free Libraries and we have to tell ourselves, ‘You cannot take another book.’”

Take a book, share a book” is the Little Free Library organization’s mantra, inspiring both the generosity and sense of discovery that we wanted for our own tour.

The Art of Reading

We set forth to create a fun and engaging outdoor event for all community members to enjoy at their leisure. Gries and I traversed the entirety of Mac-Grove to jot down every Little Free Library that exists in the neighborhood. We tallied 94! A prosperous, walkable community dominated by well-maintained houses and tree-lined streets, the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood encompasses the area north of Randolph, east of Ayd Mill Road, west of the Mississippi River and south of Summit. Since we could not feature all 94 Little Free Libraries in the tour, our goal was to find ones that were unique in design and reflected the character of the neighborhood.

Little Free Library located in Mac-Grove, designed as a mini replica of the steward's house.
This Little Free Library in Mac-Grove is designed as a mini replica of the steward’s house.

In a manner that most would consider old-fashioned — but we thought of as neighborly — Dave and I went door-to-door across Mac-Grove to ask 12 to 15 stewards (a term for people who register their book box with the Little Free Library organization) if we could feature their Little Free Library on our tour. Our pitch was simple: We wanted to showcase how the stewards contribute to community engagement through their Little Free Library. The primary ask was to allow us to post their address and a photo of their library on our website and social media, create a bio for the library that community members could read on the tour and post a crossword puzzle clue on their library throughout the duration of the tour, which concludes on Saturday, June 4.

Although a few turned us down, ultimately we were met with overwhelming enthusiasm to participate in the event. “The library has been a wonderful way to meet the community,” says Amy Clark, Mac-Grove resident and a Little Free Library steward. “I am a Montessori teacher, artist, mom and huge reader so the Little Free Library is a perfect outlet for me.”

A hand-painted Little Free Library in Mac-Grove, consisting of characters and graphics from the steward, Amy Clark's, favorite books.
A hand-painted Little Free Library in Mac-Grove consists of characters and graphics from homeowner Amy Clark’s favorite books.

One way we are aiming to build community through this two-week event is to include the backstory behind each Little Free Library. We posted a bio on each participating book box, and we encourage participants on the tour to take time to read the often moving stories.

“My late husband built the library, and we both got such joy watching people come by and take and bring books,” says Mac-Grove resident and Little Free Library steward Julie Brovold. “Little kids plopped on the grass reading to a sibling, or the paper delivery person at 5 a.m. picking out a book, or the person walking to the Little Free Library at 10 p.m. needing a book to read before she went to bed. We met people we otherwise would not have encountered if we had not built the Little Free Library.”

Mac-Grove Resident, Julie Brovold's Little Free Library designed by her late husband.
Mac-Grove resident Julie Brovold’s Little Free Library designed by her late husband.

Anyone who has spent time in Macalester-Groveland knows that a variety of local businesses — restaurants and coffee shops, bookstores and gift shops, hardware stores and one of St. Paul’s classic movie theaters — help define the character of our community. In an effort to celebrate those local businesses, we reached out to nearby bookstores and bike shops to sponsor this event, including Against the Current, Next Chapter Booksellers, Red Balloon Bookshop and Freewheel Bike on Grand. Each is offering a mixture of financial contributions, prize donations and in-store discounts throughout the duration of the event.

Take the Tour!

So how can you participate in the Little Free Library Tour? Visit the Macalester-Groveland Community Council website (macgrove.org/littlefreelibrarytour), where you will find a map of the participating libraries. Walk or bike to all 14 and answer the crossword clue at each one. Then submit your answers for the chance to win prizes from our generous sponsors!

Whether you live in Mac-Groveland or are venturing into the neighborhood to find the Little Free Libraries, reflect upon what community means to you:

  • Supporting your local bookstores and coffee shops?
  • Waving to neighbors you pass by as they plant a garden?
  • Greeting a dog walker?
  • Taking the time to appreciate the character and quality of the environment around you?

To Marty Rossman, longtime Mac-Grove resident, community means this: “All of us know our neighbors. All of us are pleased to be living here and show that by taking care of and advocating for our part of the community. All of us are kind to one another and encourage and support change and diversity.”

Photos by author Alyssa Mitchell; graphic at top of story by Kensey Lipstreuer

Alyssa Mitchell

About Alyssa Mitchell

Pronouns: She/her

Alyssa Mitchell is the Program and Events Specialist for the City of Vadnais Heights Parks and Recreation Department.