One Lakeside couple's Little Free Library aims to give more to the community than just books.
The library, dubbed "Henrietta's Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access Little Free Library," houses up to 50 books about diverse topics, written by diverse authors. Since it launched in late July, the library located near the intersection of Gladstone Street and 45th Avenue East has seen climbing interest.
Partners Tiffany Sprague and Samantha Smingler have two goals for their library. One is to share stories from underrepresented communities and voices "so you're learning a perspective that isn't yours," Sprague said.
The second is to ensure all young people have the opportunity to see characters similar to themselves in literature and stories. "I feel like there's a lot of impact there so you don't feel so alone," Sprague said.
The couple has always wanted a Little Free Library for their home in the Lakeside neighborhood. Neither are overwhelmingly handy nor did they want to buy a prebuilt library at a lofty price. But when they found a chicken-coop-themed library for sale at a reasonable price on the app NextDoor, Sprague and Smingler knew it was perfect for their home.
They bought it and agreed to maintain it in honor of the buyer's mother, who grew up on a chicken farm in southern Minnesota and loved reading.
But the library then sat in the couple's garage for several years, awaiting a hole that would allow it to be placed in their front yard.
The pandemic left the couple with more time on their hands, so they began fixing and painting the library. This collided with recent civil unrest stemming from the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, prompting Sprague and Smingler to examine their privilege.
"We do live in a predominantly white neighborhood. We do have a lot of privileges. So how do we best utilize those to make change and impact in our community?" Sprague said.
They decided to capitalize on heavy foot traffic near their house and finally brought out their Little Free Library, Sprague said.
To stock the library, they used the additional $600 from one of Smingler's unemployment payments and purchased books by and about people of color and the LGBTQ community, or have characters with disabilities, as well as books that feature large fonts or no words to ensure many people can enjoy them.
Initially, Sprague was concerned that people would target their library. But the response has been "amazing," she said. People have donated books, money and gift cards to their library, and the library recently began partnering with Zenith Bookstore.
The West Duluth bookstore put out a list of books about inclusion, diversity, equity and access, which people can buy for personal use or donate to the library, she said.
With help from book subscription boxes and donations, they plan to add new books to the library every month. Smingler also created postcards that people can use to "send love" and bookmarks, while a neighbor made face masks for the library.
"We're trying to be a happy place. We want you to walk by and just grin, that makes our day. And then if you can also educate yourself a little on the side — even better," Sprague said.