June 1, 2022 at 4:16 p.m.

Building for books

Building for books
Building for books

By Ben Sonnek- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Kittelsons place small library at their home

Tom and Molly Kittelson of Sauk Centre have lived in their house at 524 Pine Street South for over 40 years. When they first arrived, their front yard had an elm tree, eventually replaced by a large wooden turtle. Now, the turtle has made way for one of Tom’s woodworking creations: a small library that anyone is welcome to use, whether or not they contribute a book of their own.

“When you walk by, stop and look,” Molly said. “We’re hoping it gets used.”

Tom’s background in carpentry started when he was part of the justice system; he worked at Sauk Centre’s Home School until it closed; for his next job at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud, he supervised about 10 inmates at a wood shop.

“We did mostly furniture and Tender Loving Care toys, refurbishing about 10,000 toys a year for 10-year-olds,” Tom said. “The Department of Corrections, in their infinite wisdom, decided to discontinue that program as well as the other educational programs, but I learned there from carpenters how to do some woodworking. I’m not good at it, but I can do stuff.”

However, Tom’s family seems to disagree with his low estimation of his skills. For years, his granddaughters have given him suggestions for the rocking animals he makes for the auctions at Holy Family School in Sauk Centre; so far, Tom’s creations have included a cow, a goat, a bull, an elephant, a camel and – while not technically an animal – a motorcycle.

The small library idea came from Molly. She is a member of Sauk Centre’s Friends of the Library, and one of her fellow members, Barb Carlson, showed her a picture of a unique book exchange structure; Molly took it home and asked Tom if he could make it, and he agreed.

“It was all Molly’s idea,” Tom said. “I just do as I’m told.”

Tom built the red-and-white little library in 2020 but waited to set it up until the threat of COVID-19 declined. One of the trickiest parts of the project was making the curved roof, but he managed to complete it and decorate it with shingles made from cedar shims. Tom also added magnets on the door and frame to keep the library’s door closed on windy days.

The library, a heavy structure in itself, is held up by a post that is set into a rock-covered metal base.

“I just realized the other day that we can’t take it out for the winter because it’s really in there,” Tom said. “We’ll have to use it through the winter or cover it up, one of the two. We’ll decide that when winter comes.”

Unlike some of the other small libraries throughout town, the Kittelsons’ library is not registered through an organization like Little Free Library.

“To be registered, they have a specific design they want you to stick with,” Molly said.

The Kittelsons’ library went operational May 25, when Tom and Molly put some of the books from their collection, featuring a range from children’s books to novels. Four of those books are by American novelist and short story writer Louis L’Amour, and the reason Tom had those books in the first place is his family’s involvement with a system similar to today’s little libraries.

“At one point, I had every book Louis L’Amour had ever written, which is hundreds,” Tom said. “I got that from my dad and my older brother who used to go to the Blue Goose Bar in Zumbrota; that’s where they had a book exchange, and I’ll bet that was 50 years ago. They’d exchange books there, and eventually every Louis L’Amour book ever written came through it. They’re both gone, so I got most of their books.”

The Kittelsons emphasize that anyone interested in taking a book from their library does not necessarily have to bring a book of their own in exchange. The Kittelsons trust their community with their books and welcome anyone to stop by and check out what may be their new favorite read.

“It’s a nice neighborhood,” Tom said. “People are casually walking through all the time, so we’ll see what happens.”



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