JCI’s goal is to bring a Little Free Library to all 13 Hopkins parks

Three new Little Free Libraries, which will be placed in three parks across Hopkins, were presented to the city by community volunteer group JCI Hopkins at the city council meeting Oct. 17.

Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization in which “stewards” can place a miniature bookshelf in their front yards to foster neighborhood book exchanges. These libraries will initially be stocked by donation, but as time goes on, readers can recycle a used book for others there and pick one up in return for no cost.

JCI’s goal is to place a Little Free Library in all 13 parks in Hopkins. So far, the group has donated five libraries – two of which have already been installed in Valley and Oakes parks, both of which were recently updated. City staff members are currently brainstorming on which parks to place the three newest additions.

The city also installed a Little Free Library at the newly renovated Cottageville Park.

Kim Rausch, current member and past president of JCI, said that the libraries have seen a lot of traction as the Little Free Library movement has picked up worldwide.

“They’re starting to catch on, and the more we get into the community the better,” Rausch said, noting its success with people of all ages. “It’s just kind of [people’s] fixture of their visit to the park.”

JCI, which has been in Hopkins since 1950, is a community institution with a rich history and thriving alumni network, including Councilmember Jason Gadd and Fire Chief Dale Sprecken. The organization assesses the needs of the community and sees how members can help address those needs and provide a solution.

Rausch said that the organization saw the Little Free Libraries as a way to supplement the current Hennepin County library in downtown Hopkins. For some residents, getting to the library during certain hours isn’t convenient.

“The population is really dynamic as far as their need and their mobility,” Rausch said. “The parks are really scattered across town, so the [Little Free Libraries] are in each little neighborhood. It offers an easier opportunity for some residents who maybe aren’t able to get across town to visit the library during their operating hours … There’s no barriers to entrance on a Little Free Library. Open the door and away you go.”

JCI recognized the potential for Little Free Libraries in parks, and, when they presented the idea to the city, were pleasantly surprised to hear that city staffers and council members had coincidentally been thinking of doing the same thing.

“It was a perfect match and great timing,” Rausch said.

From there, a partnership was born.

“It’s just a great collaboration and it offers so much to so many people in our city,” Mayor Molly Cummings raved. Rausch said that the Little Free Library initiative has been a “passion project” for Cummings.

But bringing these mini-libraries to the park hasn’t only involved JCI’s paint jobs and the city’s approval; it also comes down to the volunteers who design and build the physical structures. The builders have the freedom to be creative and, as a result, no two libraries look the same.

“It’s so fun that each one is unique. It isn’t just cookie-cutter where every one is the same. Every one is different,” said Cummings.

For these three most recent libraries, a volunteer’s father crafted a miniature house, a barn and aworking lighthouse with a spinning solar light.

“We are very grateful that he’s so handy,” Rausch said.

On top of JCI’s five libraries and the city’s one installation, there are nine more set up by individual residents, according to the Little Free Library website. This makes for a total of 15 Little Free Libraries in the city of Hopkins.

“You can hardly go down a street anymore in Hopkins or find a park that doesn’t have a Little Free Library, and I hear all the time from people who say how much they love them … We see libraries now all over and it’s just really great,” said Cummings.

There’s only more on the way.

“Our plan is to keep working our way through those city parks and refurbishing them, so there’s more libraries coming,” Rausch said.

Cummings also noted that the Little Free Libraries complements Hopkins’ Friendly Fronts program, an initiative funded by Hennepin County in June to create engaging storefronts on Mainstreet that lure passersby into businesses.

For more information on JCI, visit facebook.com/jcihopkins. New members aged 18-40 are welcome. The organization offers people within that age range an opportunity to build leadership skills and learn how to apply those skills in other community organizations or local government later in life.

The group currently has 18 members, which Rausch said “becomes your friend group.”

“It’s amazing to see what 18 like-minded people can get out and do and the impact you can make,” Rausch said of the tight-knit group, which also hosts Mainstreet Days, a street dance during Raspberry Festival and more events.

The public can attend meetings on the second Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. on the lower level of Elks Lodge, 30 Eighth Ave. S.

To learn more about Little Free Library, visit littlefreelibrary.org.

Contact Sabina Badola at sabina.badola@ecm-inc.com.

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