Minneapolis police are getting into the book business.
In a partnership with Little Free Library, the department will turn a pair of its police cruisers into bookmobiles with the hope of teaching the importance of reading.
Community policing officers will carry books while they are making their rounds on the city’s North and South sides. They’ll still respond to certain emergencies, but won’t be dispatched to calls for help, freeing them up to visit neighborhoods without libraries and give away books to anyone who wants them.
The program is the first of its kind in the country, organizers say.
Little Free Library officials said its free-standing libraries have been hits in other cities, like Los Angeles, where every police precinct has one and officers regularly host story times for children.
From a distance, the boxes could be mistaken for a birdhouse or an oversized mailbox. An unfinished dollhouse, even. But when they’re finished, officials say they’ll be stocked with dozens of all kinds books. People are encouraged to take a book or leave a book, without fear of overdue fines.
Dozens of the libraries already dot residential streets around the city, officials say. Many are extravagantly decorated, reflecting the flavor of the surrounding area.
On Tuesday, members of the department’s community engagement team, led by Cmdr. Charlie Adams, spent part of the morning at the Fourth Precinct headquarters assembling the miniature houses. The sound of hammers and smell of industrial glue filled the airy room where they worked.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo held a wooden panel as one of his officers pounded in a nail. He said in a statement that he was thrilled by the exercise in community building, “an incredible way to empower our youth and reach them in a positive way.”
One of the two new squad cars/bookmobiles was parked outside the police station on Tuesday with a decal on its door that boasts, “WE SHARE BOOKS!” “We encourage children out there, or parents, if they see the decals out there ... to flag down one of our officers,” Arradondo said.
Little Free Library Executive Director Todd Bol started the book exchange in his hometown of Hudson, Wis., in 2009, building the first mini-library out of an old garage door in honor of his late mother. Today, there are more than 60,000 libraries in all 50 states and more than 80 countries around the world. In recent years, the little book boxes have sprung up in far-flung places like Australia and Qatar.
“We’re excited for police and their communities to connect through reading and hope this program helps foster strong relationships,” Bol said in a statement announcing the new program.
The idea has drawn interest from police departments in Detroit, Cleveland and Los Angeles, he said.
“We hope that 20 years from now, when you think about police, you think those are the nice guys who gave me books,” Bol said.
His brother, Tony Bol, a producer for Minnesota Public Radio and one of the program’s stewards, said he believes the Little Library movement “changes the communication of the neighborhood” and presents an opportunity for people to come together.
And while the libraries have a negligible impact on crime, the boxes promote “literacy, community building and creative expression,” Tony Bol said.
For now, available titles to be given away range from children’s books like “Camp Wildhog” and “The Box Car Children: The Yellow House Mystery” to more adult fare, including a well-thumbed unauthorized biography of Martha Stewart.
Donations are always welcome, police said.