“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” Andrew Carnegie
Born into meagre circumstances, Andrew Carnegie built a massive steel empire with hard work and diligence. Wanting to give back, Carnegie began funding public libraries with the intent that they be “Free to All ”. There are still two Carnegie branches in Winnipeg — St. John’s and Cornish. The Carnegie Library on William closed in 1994.
Inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,509 free public libraries, Todd Bol erected a small red wooden box in the shape of a schoolhouse in his front yard in Hudson, Wisconsin. Bol mounted a sign that invited passersby to “take one and return one” of the two dozen books shelved within. Soon neighbours were meeting not only to browse his book trading post, but to chat.
His library proved to be such a success that Todd contacted Rick Brooks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the two decided to promote tiny libraries on a larger scale. It mushroomed into the Little Free Library grassroots organization and as of January 2014 there are more than 12,000 LFLs worldwide, including a handful in Winnipeg.
The newest LFL in Winnipeg is a warming hut on the Red River Mutual Trail (which set the Guinness World Record in 2008 for longest naturally frozen skating trail in the world). Despite temperatures colder than Mars, walkers, skaters, and skiers embrace the winter on this “Champs-Élysées of the prairies”.
The river trail is also the setting for an international competition that invites architects to submit designs for warming huts. Last year local architect David Penner was involved in the Little Free Library design competition, a partnership of StorefrontMB, Culture Days, and Winnipeg Public Library. Thrilled by the unique and creative submissions, he was spurred on to design his own Little Free Library. With a vision of the traditional Manitoba ice fishing shack in mind, his team created a minimalist expression of a shanty, what he calls “a miniature environment of the fantastical”. Penner likens the ice fishing shack to a reading room and imagines the fisherman leafing through a Field and Stream magazine while waiting for that elusive tug on the line.
Constructed out of a red membrane on a metal frame and housing a simple white book case, the Little Red Library is stocked with books from garage sales and donations from book lovers. Like the books it houses, the library kindles thought, sparks the imagination, and is a catalyst for community involvement. Winnipeggers can swap a title or two from their own collection, meet to share their favourite books, and discuss ideas after a skate or ski on the river trail.
Stocked with everything from Anna Karenina to Curious George, the collection changes daily according to the serendipity of the day’s trades. It’s open 24 /7, so bring a flashlight if you plan to browse at midnight. No library card is required. But hurry – this pop up library located on the Assiniboine River at the foot of Hugo Avenue will last only as long as the ice beneath it.