A Little Free Library in Merriam Park, St. Paul

Our Little Free Library and Us

Editor’s note: This is the sixth story in our ongoing series that immerses readers in neighborhoods through the community-building power of Little Free Libraries. Other installments have featured the LFL “Read in Color” initiative as well as libraries in RondoMacalester-Groveland and the North End in St. Paul and Linden Hills in Minneapolis.

My husband, Patrick Plonski, and I are bibliophiles. We love books, and we love to read.

Patrick tells the story of getting special permission in elementary school to skip recess so he could go to the local library to read and check out books. I was an avid reader starting in fifth grade when a friend introduced me to Nancy Drew mysteries. Our children grew up with books that we read to them and then picked out to read themselves. Our local branch of the Saint Paul Public Library, in the Merriam Park neighborhood of St. Paul, was a weekly excursion, an anticipated event, and we could walk there and walk home with our 10 books each week.

Every Christmas, each of our three children would receive three gifts, and one of the gifts was always, without fail, a book that we had chosen. Reading is our hobby, our ticket to faraway places and our pathway into the lives of people we will never meet.

Ten years ago, my parents hired a local craftsman, Tom Gonsior, to build us our very own Little Free Library for the front yard of our home in Merriam Park. We were ready to share the books we loved with our community, and we were inspired by Todd Bol, founder of the Little Free Library organization and an enthusiastic supporter of Books For Africa, a nonprofit organization my husband has been leading for 20 years.

Illustration of people using a Little Free Library.
Illustration courtesy of Little Free Library, now based in St. Paul.

Together, Todd and Patrick shipped little libraries and books to nine different African countries, including Egypt, where the Alexandria Library received a large, unique and handmade small library filled with books. We placed our own handmade library on our fence, registered it with the Little Free Library nonprofit, filled it with books, and watched neighbors walk by, open the door and pick out books to take.

With three children, we also had a supply of children’s books that we were able to add, and it was most fun for us to watch parents hoist up their children to choose their own books. Giving was receiving.

After nine years of hard work, our Little Free Library started falling apart along with the fence. We had the fence removed, and the person we hired to help with this task placed the library on our front porch, where it languished for more than a year. I missed curating books for my neighbors. I missed looking out at the yard and seeing families standing at the library, children lifted to their hips to see the picture books. I missed giving books away.

I am associate executive director of the American Craft Council, a national nonprofit that champions the handmade and that finds ways to support the livelihoods of craft artists, including woodworkers, metalsmiths, fabric artists and more. I wanted to share books with my neighbors, but just as importantly, I wanted to hire an artist — a cabinetmaker or woodworker — to make us a new Little Free Library.

A Little Free Library that matches the style of a house in Merriam Park, St. Paul
This Little Free Library, which shares space in the front yard with a sign honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and another celebrating Ukraine, was built to match the house. Photo by author

Both goals have been accomplished: Our new Little Free Library, made by a local artist, is up and filled with books. We are open for business! And best of all? Our new Little Free Library matches our house, about a block south of the oak savannah in Merriam Park.

Stop by. Take a book and share a book. And when the days are longer and warmer, let’s sit on my porch and talk about books.

I’ll even serve you some tea.