Little Free Library in Linden Hills Builds Community for Readers and Dog Lovers

Editor’s note: This is the second story in an ongoing series that helps pedestrians and cyclists immerse themselves in neighborhoods by touring their Little Free Libraries. Our first installment looked at a Little Free Library tour organized by the Macalester-Groveland Community Council in St. Paul.

The Little Free Library with the red roof in Linden Hills is pretty famous, as far as Little Free Libraries go. It’s been featured on KARE 11 news, was visited and praised by Little Free Library founder and creator Todd Bol, before his untimely passing in 2018, and has had thousands of visitors.

Little Free Library creator Todd Bol visited the Little Free Library with the red roof in Linden Hills before his death in 2018 (pictured with homeowner Heather Merk).

Our house is simple in its 1903 design with an eye-catching twist — a bright red metal roof. Passengers on flights coming and going over the city lakes can spot our small, 1,200-square-foot red-roofed home from the sky. So naturally, our 7-year-old Little Free Library — purchased as a gift for my wife, Heather Merk, at Settergren’s hardware (five generations strong!) a block from our house — was painted to also have a red roof.

While outside tending to the garden behind Little Free Library charter #4194, Heather and I have been complimented many times over on the well-curated book selection. We don’t take these compliments for granted. We are a part of the world’s largest book-sharing movement, with over 150,000 Little Free Libraries in 100-plus countries. In fact, a dozen Little Free Libraries sit within a two-block radius of our home at 42nd Street and Sheridan in southwest Minneapolis!

In the early days Heather kept track of how many books we contributed to our book box. Over the course of three months, she put out more than 100 books and then stopped counting. We both scour public library sales and purchase hundreds of books for the Little Free Library. Two IKEA Billy bookcases in our basement are dedicated to books for the Little Free Library. Each book is lovingly stamped saying it is a gift that passed through the Little Free Library with the red roof. (We do this both to advertise our neighborhood resource and to prevent books from being sold at used bookstores.)

Hundreds of books have passed through the Little Free Library with the Red Roof in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis. Local book sales are a good way for book-box owners to find inventory.

In addition to watching folks walk and bike to our Little Free Library, we have seen people in company trucks stop on their break to find a new read, adults pull their cars over to take a gander, and children in the preschool down the street pause on their daily walks (kids on a rope!) to look for literary treasures. It’s particularly delightful to hear the squeals of excitement from children looking at books.

Going to the Dogs

The Little Free Library with the red roof has had thousands of books go through its little door; we also have puzzles, periodic small items like note pads, sidewalk chalk, chocolate and coffee samples, candles and more. Just the other day I saw a decoder ring!  

But the most popular item isn’t a book. It’s not even chocolate. The most popular item is a container full of dog biscuits.

The Little Free Library with the red roof has a very loyal canine following.

Dogs from around the neighborhood drag their people to our Little Free Library. Some dogs demand a visit on every walk, some dogs have a two-treat per visit requirement, and other dogs insist on a treat on the way to and from the Little Free Library. Our use of demand, require and insist may seem like strong words for the bestest boys and girls.

Neighbors left a card at the Little Free Library after their dog, a frequent visitor, died. Dog treats are often as popular as the books.

But we have seen large dogs be picked up and carried away by owners when the treat container has been empty or (strangely) stolen. I saw a dog walking obediently across the street until it was directly across from our house — at which time it sat down and refused to move until the owner crossed the street toward the Little Free Library. I have seen dogs who are new to the Little Free Library have to convince their owners to open the Little Free Library door for them.

We estimate that we have handed out over 100 pounds of dog treats. Not only are the dogs happy, but I am pretty sure that several of my neighbors think it is the best part of our neighborhood block — watching dogs convince their owners to stop and get a treat. Of course, it helps build relationships in our community, too. While I may have trouble remembering Gus the Beagle’s or Carlos the Golden Retriever’s parents’ names, we stop and chit chat and happily wave when seeing them on the street. People passing the Little Free Library stop to pet Clover the fluffy puppy and chat with her person as Clover gets a treat.

Periodically someone places a box of treats on our porch with a thank you note. Sometimes these notes are written on construction paper with crayon with the help of a young human sibling, and sometimes they are from human parents telling on the dog for eating more than its fair share.

During one period, we noticed that the treat container was staying full on its own. One day we happened to “catch” a woman who lived several doors down in the act of filling the container; it turned out she was unable to have a dog in her home but loved watching the dogs stop at the Little Free Library so much that she refilled the container to keep the pups happy. Boxes of treats are also left in honor of the goodest girls and boys. On more than one occasion a box of treats was left in memory of a doggo who passed over the Rainbow Bridge

Yes, the Little Free Library with the red roof is a small box that holds books and dog cookies, but it’s more than the sum of its parts. Not only have we met the parents of Artie, Buster, Lacey, Lola, Ole, Charlie and countless others because of it, but in the past 30 minutes we waved at three people we don’t yet know — all because their dogs stopped at the Little Free Library with the red roof. 

Stamping the giveaways at Little Free Libraries allows owners to ensure that the books will be shared rather than resold.

Ninety-two percent of people feel their neighborhood is a friendlier place because of a Little Free Library, and 72 percent of Little Free Library stewards have met more neighbors because of their book box, according to the organization’s website. That is certainly true for us. Passers-by may stop because of a book or dog treat, but if we are outside, they wave or engage in conversations about the garden, reading or the weather.

Our commitment to steward a little box of books may have started as a desire to share a love of reading and provide others with the joy of finding an interesting new read. Our commitment has deepened, however, since witnessing the community it builds.

K. Elizabeth McDonald

About K. Elizabeth McDonald

K. Elizabeth is a transplant who arrived in MN via Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. She lives, works, and plays on ancestral and contemporary lands of Indigenous people; she is presently on Dakota land ceded in the Treaties of 1837 and 1851.