The Floating Library is a real library. It has books that can be checked out, and it has a librarian, and what more do you need? Well, for starters, you’ll need a canoe or a kayak or a paddleboat or water skis (on second thought, maybe not water skis) or some other floating device (an inner tube?) to get to the library, which is somewhere in the middle of Minneapolis’ Cedar Lake.
The library is a handmade wooden structure, 8 feet square, stocked with about 80 titles — primarily handmade artist books, not popular bestsellers. Please try not to drop the books in the water. (Some artists have waterproofed their books in creative ways, such as binding them in Tyvek.)
The library will be floating on Cedar Lake the last three weekends of August — Aug. 16-17, 23-24 and 30-31, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The artist behind the Floating Library is Sarah Peters, who makes books, works with the annual Northern Spark overnight arts festival, teaches at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and indulges her love of ephemeral art every winter with the art shanty installations on frozen White Bear Lake and sometimes Medicine Lake.
It was during her art shanty work that she realized how much she loved spending time on the water, “and I wanted to spend more time on the water — in a more temperate climate,” she said.
So she and a friend built a rowboat.
From there, it was a logical next step to making ice cream and selling it out of the rowboat while floating on Cedar Lake. (That might not be a logical next step for most people, but it was for Peters.)
And from there, it was a logical next step to building a raft, outfitting it with shelves and pontoons, and putting out a call to artists to donate books to the cause. “A floating library seemed like a juxtaposition of two things that don’t go together very well — books and water,” she said. And to her, that was part of its appeal.
She gave the Floating Library a trial run last summer and quickly realized that she had to announce herself to other boaters if she wanted any customers at all.
Other boaters had one of two reactions. They’d either “paddle over and be like, ‘This is amazing!’ Or they would just ignore you and not engage, not make eye contact, and just paddle away.”
Easy to picture. And those would probably not be the out-of-towners, I’m guessing.
This year the raft has been redesigned by architect Molly Reichert, but is the same as last year’s in the important ways: It has books, and it has a librarian — Peters herself. (Though she is quick to explain that she has no training in that field: “There’s no Dewey Decimals on the Floating Library!”)
She has also arranged for four return boxes on land for those who borrow books but don’t feel like paddling back out the next weekend.
“Art books are not a widely known art form,” Peters said. “And so there’s an element of delight and surprise. First of all, canoeing along and coming across a library. And then having it stocked with books that are totally unique. It’s like this double whammy of inventiveness. It can expand people’s ideas of what art is.”