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Minnesota Community Living 2013-03-04 Building Community Through Books
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Building Community Through Books

One townhome association member’s effort to bring a book exchange to his community

By Joel Starks, President, Sharper Management

Joel StarksThis is not a story about maintenance, how to prepare your home for fall inspections, or how to choose a vendor for your summer roofing project.

This is a story about the spirit of community and the importance of giving back, even if things don’t turn out as planned.

A New Chapter

It started the way many neighborly acts start: as a chat with friends over a bagel and coffee.

John Forney, a member of the Lake Forest Townhouses Association in Minnetonka, had read an article in the Star Tribune about the Little Free Library program, which builds free neighborhood book exchanges to promote literacy and to foster a sense of community.

Little Free LibraryThis worldwide program encourages citizens to buy or build small book houses that stand on 4-foot poles. There are thousands around the world.

"The idea is to fill them up with books and take one and leave one at the same time,” said Forney.

Forney made a trip to an open woodshop at the community center in Edina, Minn. He decided to build a Little Free Library while spending his summer on Gull Lake in northern Minnesota. In fact, he decided to build two.

"When I called [Little Free Library founder] Todd Bol and talked to him and told him what I was doing, he sent me all the materials.” That included a "take one, leave one” sign and a wooden piece on which to attach the unique number assigned to each library.

Forney even had help in building the libraries. A friend’s daughter lent a hand. "She got all excited about doing woodworking, which I love to do. While she was up last summer, she’d come over and we’d work on them together. She got a kick out of using the nail gun.”

A Twist in the Plot

Forney donated one of the libraries to Camp Knutson, a Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota summer camp for kids with special needs. That library was sold in a fundraising auction that raised money for the camp.

What to do with the other library? Forney thought of his townhouse association.

"We’ve all got books sitting on our shelves,” he said. "It’s a great way to build neighborhoods and to get reading back in to people’s lives.”

Forney discussed the idea with a few board members, and at the annual meeting, the board discussed implementing the Little Free Library in their association. Forney couldn’t attend the annual meeting, but his proposal didn’t get a good review.

Some thought it was a good idea, but others were concerned about privacy. "Each of these libraries are given a number, and you can use the website to find the closest one to where you are,” Forney explained. Some speculated that the library would increase traffic to the association and bring unwanted visitors.

Forney maintained a good attitude. "You can’t trust those readers. Those readers are so dangerous!” he laughed.

Curious, he researched Little Free Library vandalism. An area in North Minneapolis hosts five of the libraries, so Forney called the nearby hardware store to ask how the little buildings fare. "They told me ‘We’ve had people put graffiti on our building but never on the libraries.’”

Not the End of the Story

So what will Forney do with the remaining library he built? He’s looking at two options.

"I may talk to our church to see if they want to put it on their property. The other option is put it up at our lake place.” Even though the traffic is seasonal, it’s "still a good way to find a book!”

Forney didn’t stay disappointed for long. "We’ll find some place for it. I’m not worried about that at all. I’ve got other friends who say they’ll put it up in their neighborhood. It’ll find a home.”

Published by Community Associations Institute — Minnesota Chapter, copyright 2013. All articles and paid advertising represent the opinions of authors and advertisers and not necessarily the opinion of either Minnesota Community Living or CAI–Minnesota Chapter. The information contained within should not be construed as a recommendation for any course of action regarding financial, legal, accounting, or other professional services by the CAI–Minnesota Chapter, or by Minnesota Community Living, or its authors. Articles, letters to the editor, and advertising may be sent to Chapter Staff Editor Joe Flannigan at joef@cai-mn.com, or at CAI–Minnesota Chapter, 1000 Westgate Dr., Suite 252, St. Paul, MN 55114.

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