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Paddle out to The Floating Library

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Reading at the Floating Library
Sisters Ella and Leah Fatzinger, ages 7 and 5, and their mother, Erin Fatzinger, read artist-made books while visiting the Floating Library Sunday.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

This month, Silverwood Park in St. Anthony, Minn., is playing host to a library unlike any other.

It's filled with one-of-a-kind books crafted by artists from all over the world. You can browse the reference collection or check out a book for the afternoon.

You don't need a library card — but you do need a boat.

The books are stored on The Floating Library, a pop-up art project devised by Sarah Peters.

The Floating Library on Silver Lake
Artist Sarah Peters, left, and volunteers Jenny Jenkins and Clarence White, center, staff the Floating Library and pass out artist-made books to visitors Sunday on Silver Lake.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

Last Sunday, the library was drifting about 300 yards offshore from the park's canoe rentals. Its white flag flapped in the wind, showing off its coat of arms: two paddles and a book.

The library itself is housed on a simple wooden raft, no bigger than 10 feet on each side. The built-in bookshelves face outward, so visitors can paddle up and peruse the collection. Each book is stored inside a plastic sleeve to ward off splash marks.

On Sunday morning, the library was staffed by two volunteers and Peters herself. The staffers are on hand to pass out the books to patrons in the canoes, kayaks and other small watercraft that tie up at the library.  (The raft isn't big enough for visitors to climb aboard.)

Book shelves on the Floating Library
Artist-made books enclosed in plastic bags line the shelves of the Floating Library.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

A bookmaker by training, Peters first dreamed up The Floating Library while on a lake — but a frozen one. She was working with the Art Shanty project, which installs artist-designed structures on frozen lakes around the Twin Cities.

"A friend and I decided that we wanted to build a boat so we could continue to spend time on the water, but in a more temperate climate," Peters said. The two friends printed out instructions  for how to build a rowboat from the Internet and set to work.

Surprisingly, Peters said, their first hand-built boat floated.

"It was empowering, being out on the water in a boat we'd made ourselves."

Artist Sarah Peters visits with library patrons
Sarah Peters, left, who created the Floating Library, visited with and passed out books to Jessica Knight, background, Steve Healey, not pictured, and their two children, Ramona and Nico Healey Sunday. Steve Healey is a poet who is this year's artist-in-residence. He sometimes reads poetry from the library on a rowboat.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

From there, the ideas flowed: "What if you had a way to get reading materials while on the water?"

Peters launched the first incarnation of The Floating Library on Cedar Lake in Minneapolis two years ago. She built the first raft in her backyard with friends and $200 worth of lumber. She decided to stock it with artist-made books, she said, because "artists can respond to and evoke the lake in interesting ways."

In 2014, she received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant that allowed her to build a new raft, designed by architect Molly Reichert. She was also able to commission book artists to create more original works for the library.

The library's collection now totals more than 100 artist-made books, though there's only space on the raft for about half of that. The titles range from poetry collections to zines about Prince. The contributing artists toyed with size, shape and material.

Books protected in plastic
The artist-made books on the Floating Library are kept in plastic boxes or bags to keep them dry.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

"Some of these books don't even seem like books!" one canoer said Sunday.

One book is miniature — only two inches square — and another is made from metallic paper so bright you need sunglasses to read it.

Last year, Peters said, an artist contributed a book made from seaweed paper and other materials that dissolved in the water — boaters could toss the pages into the lake as they read them.

This year, the library paired up with Coffee House Press to add a poet-in-residence, Steve Healey. Healey is the author two collections of poetry, both published by Coffee House.

He paddled up around noon on Sunday and planned to spend a few hours rowing around in The Sea Clamp — that first rowboat Peters built.

"Now we call it 'The Poet Boat,'" Peters said.

Showing library visitors the books
Artist Sarah Peters showed Kyle Fatzinger, left, one of the Floating Library's most popular books Sunday. Fatzinger and his wife, Erin, canoed to the library with their daughters, Ella and Leah.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

Healey is gathering inspiration from the lake and the library's collection to compose new poems over the next two weeks. He'll read his new work at a moonlit poetry reading on the night of Aug. 1, which will also mark the closing of the library.

The Floating Library's time on Silver Lake is short this summer — just two July weekends plus the closing ceremony — but Peters is already thinking about next summer.

"I can imagine it happening on many different lakes in Minnesota. I would love to be able to commission more artists," she said. "More books, more places — that's always a good thing."

Flag flying from the Floating Library
The flag flying from the Floating Library helps visitors identify the raft.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

If you go: The Floating Library

The Floating Library will be open on Silver Lake in Silverwood Park on July 25 and 26, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The library's closing ceremony is on Aug. 1 at 8:30 p.m. It includes a moonlit paddle and poetry reading.

To access the library, you will need a canoe, kayak or other watercraft. Swimming to the library is not allowed.

Looking at 3D photographs
Eight-year-old Kemaya Riester looked at three-dimensional photographs that are part of an artist-made book on the Floating Library Sunday.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News