RED WING -- When schools were shut down in mid-March, a “Giving Back to the Community” project undertaken by Tower View Alternative School students came to an abrupt halt.

But not for long. Teachers Ben Slagle and Greg Grinager decided to complete the project on their own after it was determined that the students would not be back this school year.

The result: A collection of new Little Free Libraries is going up around town.

About 18 Tower View students opted to participate in the project during their student advisory period, the teachers explained.

They researched Little Free Libraries and formed eight teams to design unique little buildings.

Anyone is welcome to take books, then trade books and donate books they have finished reading. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor
Anyone is welcome to take books, then trade books and donate books they have finished reading. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor

The class and teachers got a start collecting books and reaching out within the school district to identify locations and library “managers” – people willing to make sure the little libraries are kept full of reading material for all ages.

The Red Wing Public Schools Foundation supplied a grant to purchase the wood, and the Red Wing Lions Club contributed funds and books in exchange for identifying two of the Little Free Libraries as Lion-sponsored.

Students were almost as excited about the project as the teachers were. According to Slagle, who teaches work-based learning at Tower View, the young people were adamant that books should be made available at no cost to kids who don’t have ready access to books.

Signs on official Free Little Libraries read “Take a book. Share a book.” Anyone is welcome to take books, trade books, or donate books they have finished reading.

The concept of “a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand” was the brainchild of the late Todd Bol of Hudson, Wis., who built the first one as a tribute to his mother in 2009.

 Ben Slagle runs a bead of glue down before placing a piece of trim on a future Free Little Library. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor
Ben Slagle runs a bead of glue down before placing a piece of trim on a future Free Little Library. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor

The Tower View project “has the potential to be a really good thing for neighborhoods, for communities, for kids,” agreed Grinager, who teaches social studies at the alternative school.

Only one student team was able to cut wood in preparation for assembling a library before the shutdown. Not realizing they would be gone for the rest of the school year, most of the students did not submit their final designs to the teachers.

Since their workforce had dwindled to just the two of them, Grinager and Slagle decided to build one basic shape and invite the people who will manage them to give them a bit of personality.

The plywood libraries are 14 inches wide, 16 inches high and 10 inches deep. Each has a Plexiglas front window/door and a shingled roof with flashing.

Slagle and Grinager applied a primer and put a base coat of bright blue on five of them. The other three will be painted by the new managers, and the blue ones likely will get additional decorations.

In addition to the eight student Little Free Libraries, Grinager built a few prototypes that also are going up around town.

Tower View teacher Greg Granger erected one of the prototype libraries in front of his home on Central Avenue on June 1, 2020. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor
Tower View teacher Greg Granger erected one of the prototype libraries in front of his home on Central Avenue on June 1, 2020. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor

Lions Club members will help provide books, in addition to being project sponsors and managing and paying the registration fee for two of them. The individual managers are expected to register the others.

The libraries are being placed on West Fifth Street; East and West Seventh streets; Central Avenue; Mount Hood Lane; Aspen Avenue; the corner of Audrey and Linda avenues; Cannon View Drive; Harrison Street, and Hallstrom Drive. Two more sites will be announced shortly. As they are registered, the locations will be added to a map on the littlefreelibrary.org website.

“Greg and I would like to do it again next year,” Slagle said. “They’re easy enough to build,” and students can help. With a full work crew, they’ll look at more adventurous designs.

“We’d like to fill Red Wing with them,” Grinager said. As of this year, there are more than 100,000 registered libraries this year in 100 countries worldwide.

The Red Wing sponsors have enough books to get started; word will be put out in the community if more donations are needed later.

As the pandemic eases, the Tower View crew and the Lions Club also plan to partner with the United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce counties.

That agency, which has headquarters in Red Wing, was in the process of building and finding sponsors for bookshelves when the pandemic hit. Their attention was diverted to more critical needs.

The bookshelves will be filled with free children’s and young adult literature. They will be placed at indoor locations such as waiting rooms and laundromats. There is a sponsor fee to cover the cost of construction materials.

The Tower View program hopes to assist in construction of the United Way shelves next school year; the Lions will sponsor one and will help fill the shelves with books.