The Floating Libraries of Minnesota and New York

Margret Aldrich

Staff Writer

Margret Aldrich is a writer and recovering book editor who has worked with authors from American Indian activist Winona LaDuke to punk-rock guitar legend Cheetah Chrome. (They were equally intense and equally fantastic.) She is also a former editor, blogger, and librarian at Utne Reader, a magazine celebrating the best of the alternative press. Based in Minneapolis, Margret is a devoted Little Free Library owner who wonders what to do when a Sarah Palin biography shows up in one's LFL. Her book about Little Free Libraries—and how they spark community, literacy, and creativity around the world—came out from Coffee House Press in April. Twitter: mmaldrich

IMG_9668To check out books at most libraries, all you need is a library card — but this isn’t any ordinary library. You’ll need a canoe, kayak, paddle board, or inner tube to visit the Floating Library, which sits in the middle of Cedar Lake in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The hand-built wooden raft holds about 80 artists’ books and is staffed by friendly librarians to guide you. Visitors can read while bobbing alongside the Floating Library, or they can actually check out the books, zines, and chapbooks, then return them at one of the designated boxes around the city.

Don’t worry — the librarians will give you a plastic bag to protect the pages from getting wet on your way back to shore.

unnamed (7)The wonderfully quirky project was conceived by artist Sarah Peters, with the raft designed by architect Molly Reichert. “I wanted to give people a chance to engage in my favorite boating activity — drifting and reading — and to make that happen through the availability of beautiful, thoughtful, clever, and uncommon books by artists,” Peters says. “While books + water might not seem to make sense, the juxtaposition of these two things is what makes the project exciting to me.”

The books were submitted by local and national artists, with the farthest-flung contribution coming from the UK. And the selection is diverse: Martine Workman’s Prince Food outlines all of the food mentioned in Prince songs; Caitlin Warner’s Untitled (Mirror Book) is made entirely out of reflective Mylar; and Ady Olson’s (quite useful) contribution is a waterproof instructional manual on how to tie sailing knots.

IMG_9683One of the biggest crowd-pleasers? A book that the lake’s fish can eat. Real Fake Fish by Molly Balcom Raleigh is printed with soy ink on potato-starch paper and has a cover made from nori, bonito flakes, and turmeric. When you’re done reading it, tear it into pieces, scatter them in the water, and feed the fish.

The Floating Library has been a well-received — if unexpected — addition to one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. “It’s fun to listen to the responses from paddlers when we yell out ‘This is a library! Come check out some books!’” says Peters. “Watching people respond with excitement and curiosity to a raft full of artist-made books they stumbled upon during their boat outing is a joy every time.”

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The Floating Library will spend one more weekend anchored in Cedar Lake (August 30–31) before it travels to Lake Winona in Winona, Minnesota (September 13).

In New York, a different kind of floating library is coming to the Hudson River: The Lilac Museum Steamship will be home to a pop-up library from September 6 to October 3. It’s sure be well received, too — those of us who love reading in the bathtub know that books and lapping water are a natural match.


Photos 1 & 3 courtesy of Sarah Peters; photos 2 & 4 by Margret Aldrich.