When she was a kid, Vesta native Audrey Kletscher Helbling longed to have a library in her hometown.
She had learned about a project a Wisconsin man, Todd Bol, is doing - Little Free Libraries. His goal, according to the Little Free Libraries website, is to build more than 2,510 libraries around the world and to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
Kletscher Helbling said she heard about the Little Free Library project in news stories she read on the same day last fall.
"One of those libraries was built in Faribault, where I live, and the other in Detroit Lakes," she said. "The idea intrigued me and I decided to contact Dale and Joan Smith of Faribault and write a post about their LFL on my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog. A second LFL has since opened in Faribault."
So Kletscher Helbling started the ball rolling to get a Little Free Library in Vesta. The LFL was placed in front of the Vesta Cafe at the beginning of this month.
Because Kletscher Helbling has had a lifelong love of reading, she believes everyone should have close and easy access to a library. She grew up on a dairy and crop farm outside of Vesta and didn't have that easy access.
"I always wished for a library in my hometown," she said. "I saw a Little Free Library as an opportunity to make this happen. The LFL project seems to me an affordable and easy way to get books into rural communities which are without libraries."
Kletscher Helbling challenged her hometown to get an LFL on the premise of community interest, involvement and ownership.
"I hoped that someone who felt the same as I do about the real need for a library in Vesta would step forward and make a LFL happen," Kletscher Helbling said. "Shortly after I issued the challenge in a November 2011 blog post, Todd offered an LFL to Vesta. After that, we worked with representatives of the Vesta Commercial Club, who embraced the idea."
Bol started the LFL project in 2009, which is basically a smaller version of a library that is accessible anytime. The Little Free Libraries are small, and different models and styles are available. When people borrow a book, there is no fee. But they are encouraged to return either the book or another book in its place.
There are Little Free Libraries in 48 states and 30 countries around the world.
When Bol chose Vesta as the seed plant site for the Small Towns Minnesota movement of the LFL project, Kletscher Helbling said she was elated.
"He made my dream, which has continued into adulthood, come true," Kletscher Helbling said. "The people of the Vesta area have been gifted with something special, to be first in this endeavor, and that is an honor."
Bol came to Vesta at the beginning of the month to install the LFL in front of the cafe. Kletscher Helbling said it started with 18 books.
Bol brought 11 books donated by Coffee House Press and has been working with several metro-based book publishers to donate to the project. Kletscher Helbling brought seven books, including books of historical fiction, an anthology of Minnesota writing, two poetry books and a personal favorite of hers, "Prairie Perpendicular" by Marston Moore.
Karen Lemcke, a member of the Vesta Commercial Club, said the city of Vesta did have a bookmobile come to town, but service recently ended this past spring.
"So I think the timing was perfect for the LFL," Lemcke said.
Lemcke said the city plans on adding more bookshelves inside the cafe itself and they already recycle magazines.
"It's all positive, I think it will be wonderful," Lemcke said.
Dorothy Marquardt of Vesta said the Little Free Library is good for the community and thinks it's really nice to have.
"I think a lot of people will use it once they get used to it," Marquardt said. "I'm all for it."
When Bol brought the LFL to Vesta, he brought a couple of extra ones. One of those was installed in Belview, and the other will be placed in a location yet to be determined.
Kletscher Helbling said people in Vesta have appreciated the effort.
"The morning after the library was installed outside the Vesta Community Cafe, I was dining there and talking to diners about the LFL and how it works," Kletscher Helbling said. "The response was positive and enthusiastic."
A Little Free Library doesn't have to cost much, Kletscher Helbling said, especially with donated materials and labor. There is a required $25 fee to register the library as an official LFL. She also encourages other small towns in southwestern Minnesota, especially those without libraries, to embrace the Little Free Library concept.
"Make it a community project, perhaps that of a 4-H club, or a church youth group, or Jaycees, or a senior citizens organization," Kletscher Helbling said. "I firmly believe that every child living in a small town deserves to have books available at a local library, preferably, or through a bookmobile."