Little Free Library lands at Coon Rapids Middle School

A Coon Rapids Middle School student – struggling to read but eager to share his love of books with his little sister – chose a board book to read to her.

Perusing the selection of books offered at Coon Rapids Middle School’s Little Free Library, Jessica Strand, grade eight, considers a John Grisham book. Photo by Sue Austreng

Perusing the selection of books offered at Coon Rapids Middle School’s Little Free Library, Jessica Strand, grade eight, considers a John Grisham book. Photo by Sue Austreng

Another student – a high-achieving eighth-grader fascinated with legal thrillers – chose John Grisham’s “The Street Lawyer.”

A lady out walking her dog – and a lover of all things poetic – picked up a collection of poems by D.H. Lawrence.

The book lovers didn’t check books out of the county library. No, they chose books housed in the Little Free Library set up just outside Coon Rapids Middle School’s (CRMS) main entrance on the east side of the building.

Taking the books home requires no library card, no book deposit, no pre-order or reservation.

Returning the books requires no due date, no promise of timely return, no threat of overdue fines.

No, the books are offered as part of an international movement called Little Free Library, and the Little Free Library at CRMS is registered with Little Free Library, Ltd., a grassroots movement with a goal of building 2,510 libraries – as many as Andrew Carnegie built.

“This is about building literacy and building community,” said Gretchen Wibben, CRMS reading teacher and reading specialist. “The students are really excited about this and it’s really fun to watch the kids choose books. They’ve really latched on to it and really take care of it.”

The Little Free Library at CRMS was designed and built by technical education teacher Brian Ross and painted by art teacher Angie Haider.

The library holds about three dozen books and features everything from toddler board books, to early chapter books, to adult books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, adventure and more.

The first books for CRMS’s Little Free Library were donated by teachers and staff at the school and since the library’s opening in February, students and families, neighbors and friends have brought books by for the library.

Recently, members of CRMS student council donated money to be used to purchase new books for middle school readers.

CRMS Principal Tom Shaw expressed his support of the Little Free Library.

“This is really about increasing literacy in our building, increasing literacy in the community, increasing the joy of reading,” Shaw said.

The challenge, the principal said, is convincing the students that the books are free to take, free to read, free to keep if they’d like.

Wibben described the value of the Little Free Library for the school’s low income families.

“Some of these kids don’t have any books at home. With the poverty we’re seeing, this is a way they can have books for free. This way they can own their very own book,” Wibben said, emphasizing the fact that people are welcome to take a book, return a book, donate a book or keep a book.

It’s a concept that may take some getting used to, as Principal Shaw said.

“The kids have a little trouble wrapping their head around it,” said Shaw. “‘You mean I don’t have to check it out?’ ‘You mean there’s no due date?’ I see them taking books out of the Little Free Library after they get off the bus, and they have these guilty looks on their faces. But, no – it’s OK. You can take a book.”

Since the Little Free Library has only been at CRMS for a couple of months, Wibben and Shaw are still letting people know it’s there.

“We’re just trying to get word out that this is here and it’s not just for our school. It’s for everyone,” said Wibben.

Stop by the school and check it out yourself. CRMS is located at 11600 Raven St. N.W., Coon Rapids, and the Little Free Library is located just outside Door #1, on the east side of the building.

To learn more about Little Free Library, visit www.LittleFreeLibrary.org.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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