calling all bookish makers

The Floating Library’s inuagural collection, 2013

The 2018 Open Call for Books is Open!

Calling book artists, zinesters, bookish graphic designers, comics drawers, chapbook-penning poets, and printed matter-makers of all stripes… 

When you are a maker of multiples, extras tend to pile up after a project. Maybe you have 1 or 100 copies leftover from an ambitious edition, or maybe just 2 or 3 copies laying around, but you’re so tired of looking at them. Or perhaps you are taking advantage of the fresh energy of spring and cranking the letterpress (or riso, or xerox, or squeegee) right now, soon to be holding a new brilliant bookish creation that you want to get out into the world.

No matter your situation, the Floating Library is here to help.

Each year we’re on the water, the Library conducts an Open Call for Books to refresh the shelves and give new artists an opportunity to have their works presented at the lake. Nearly all the materials in the Library’s collection come in through the Open Call and are donated by artists. This generosity is the backbone of this project. Without artists near and far who are willing to risk sand, lake spray and sunscreen to their printed matter, we’d have thrown in the (beach) towel years ago!

Take a read through the Open Call to see what we are and aren’t looking for, and mark your calendar for the May 25 deadline to submit.

We’re excited to see your books!




Ship Ahoy! The Floating Library returns

It is National Library Week so no better time than the present to announce, finally, that the Floating Library returns this summer to Lake Phalen on the east side of St. Paul. Hooray! We’ll take up residence on the water for three weekends: July 21-22, 28-29 and August 4-5.  Mark your calendars now. 

Our return to Lake Phalen is for several reasons, foremost that it was easy and pleasant last time, and if we’ve learned anything over the course of this public art project on water experiment, it is to repeat what works. So we’re happy to be working again with St. Paul Parks and Recreation on raft and book storage. Their fleet of canoes, kayaks and paddleboats* will be ready for you as soon as it stops being winter.

We are also excited to continue our partnership with the East Side Freedom Library, who will be hosting a paper boat folding workshop with Floating Artist-in-Residence Anh-Hoa Thi Nguyen on Sunday, May 20 from 1-4 pm. Stay tuned for more information on Anh-Hoa’s project.

For now, start dreaming of summer and preparing your submission for the call for books!


*A superior watercraft for reading while paddling, it turns out.






We’ve had a fine time on the calm(ish) waters of Lake Phalen so far. It’s hard to believe there is only one weekend left* of this season’s on-water reading. We’ve been joined by hundreds of patrons and dozens of floating volunteers, we’ve paddled against some mighty winds, and luckily had only one day of epic rain during which we were smart enough to stay home.

Here are some highlights from the Captain’s Log thus far:

  • We’ve read aloud and dissolved 5 pages of Paul Ramsay’s tingFloa tingsWri
  • Jessica David’s felted The Deep Murky Green-Brown Lake has delighted nearly every patron.
  • Ditto with our trio of Prince-related books, two of which were commissioned this year.
  • Utopias of Southern California sought to relieve its drought by going for a swim.
  • We had our first ever sailboat patron.
  • A sailboat race took place on the lake as we set up shop on the 3rd weekend, dotting our view with lovely striped sails. We made friends with Jim, the motor boat driver assisting the sailors. He was impressed that one of the librarians was also a pirate, and he pulled a still-in-the-package pirate eyepatch out of his bag for Elle to wear. He also towed the Floating Library with his boat, and dropped us near a buoy.
  • Floating Librarian Elle dressed up as a pirate. Nuf said.
  • People returned their library books!
  • Many families arrived by paddle wheeler, perhaps the best watercraft for reading and the worst for steering and speed.
  • Sarah Stengle kayaked out with a handmade, waterproof Finnish harp and played “Happy Birthday” for a library patron during two afternoons of serenade.
  • A sailboat collided with the Library during the sailboat race, but the collection and the raft held fast. 
  • Another patron impressed us all by flipping his kayak not once but twice. 
  • The clouds in the sky have been astounding.
  • Our canoe escaped and it was heroically saved by our guardian poet angel, Molly Van Avery. And the next day, when this happened again, it was saved by another pair of heroic paddlers in a canoe. 
  • We welcomed a kid sitting in a canoe inside a strawberry-sprinkle donut-with-a-bite-taken-out-of-it pool floaty. 

Overall, Floating Library patrons never cease to amaze, impress, and make great conversation on the water.

Visit the 2016 photo album to witness some but not all of these incidents. Of course, the only way to really experience it is to paddle out yourself! There’s only one more weekend of boating around a lovely lake and reading artists’ books. *Make a plan now to visit during our final open hours, 1-7 pm, Saturday, August 6 and Sunday, August 7.  Boat rentals are 50% off thanks to support from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. 

Come see the dissolvable book disappear before your eyes!  Learn animal words in Hmong! Practice tying knots with our waterproof instructional manual! Discover the mathematical mysteries of a hexaflexagon!


Floating Music at this weekend’s Floating Library, July 30 & 31

floating kantele

This weekend while the sun is high in the sky and the water is cool you’ll find an additional element to your bookish experience on Lake Phalen: harp music. Of course!

This weekend only, Sarah Stengle joins us in a kayak with her kantele, a small handmade harp based on those of Finnish origin.  She has been making inventive kanteles from materials such as found furniture, wooden tools and metal. She’s played them in uncommon concert venues, such as a frozen lake during the Art Shanty Projects.

Sarah is a St. Paul-based artist (West Side!) whose laminated books have been read at the Floating Library by boaters and swimmers since our beginnings in 2013.

Paddle out between 1 and 3 pm this Saturday and Sunday to catch the music. The Floating Library is open from 1-7 pm.

Stentle_Kantele_Jorgensen15_2016Lo Res Stengle_Blue Kantele 2016LOREs

the floating library opens today! saturday, july 16, 1-7 pm


Yesterday we assembled the Library’s raft shoreside at Lake Phalen and the set-up crew paddled it like champions from the boat launch down to it’s overnight resting spot at the dock.

By 1 pm today we’ll be open for business! Paddle out and read!

A few notes:

  • don’t forget sunscreen!
  • boat rental takes place at the Phalen Beach House, 1400 Phalen Blvd, St Paul, MN 55106 for your GPS.
  • the weather today looks good, but should it turn sour at any point, check the FL’s social media for real-time updates: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

See you on the water!


warm up for the floating library. free zine-making workshop, sunday, july 10, 1-4 pm

Zines donated to the Floating Library created by youth at Kulture Klub Collaborative.

Zines created by youth at Kulture Klub Collaborative donated to the Floating Library in 2013 .

Zines are simple books with images and text, typically produced via photocopying or other quick printing techniques, and are often used by activists and community artists to convey ideas and stories through this inexpensive medium.

The Floating Library’s collection is full of them, from the all-time favorite Prince Food by Martine Workman to Dogs and Puppys by Astrid, age 9.

At this free workshop, use simple tools like a photocopier, paper, scissors, thread, linoleum blocks and ink to design and print your own zine.  We’re inviting people to bring family photographs, photos of places you have visited, cultural imagery that you relate to, or any other relevant imagery to photocopy and add to your story.

Our host for this endeavor is the East Side Freedom Library, a historic Carnegie library building in St. Paul’s Payne-Phalen neighborhood that now houses a non-circulating collection of books about labor and working class history, Asian, Asian American, African, African American and disaporic histories and much more. Their mission is to inspire solidarity, advocate for justice and work toward equity for all.

A selection of books from ESFL will be on hand for inspiration, images and information about immigrant history in St. Paul’s East Side. Use the photocopier to borrow images from these books, then cut and paste them to tell your own story.

If you wish, your zine can join the collection of the Floating Library and be read by people on Lake Phalen!

Big thanks to Peter Rachleff and Beth Cleary of ESFL and to FL 2016 Commissioned Artist Aaron Johnson-Ortiz for teaching!

Family History Zine Making Workshop
Sunday, July 10, 1-4 pm
East Side Freedom Library, 1105 Greenbrier Street St. Paul, MN 55106
FREE, all ages welcome

RSVP and invite others on the Facebook event page.

Zines by Astrid, age 9.

Zines by Astrid, age 9.

Sizing up the situation at the lake

We took a holiday trip over to Phalen this weekend to finalize some logistics for the big launch in a few weeks. How long does it take to paddle from the boat launch to the dock? Where are the canoe racks? How long does it take to paddle from the dock to the beach? Where are the bathrooms?

We enjoyed a wide blue sky while making these assessments, introduced ourselves to the boat rental staff and lifeguards and learned a critical piece of information: there is no snack stand at Lake Phalen!

Bring sustenance, dear boaters.


Also, there are still shifts left if you’d like to volunteer as a Floating Librarian. Sign up here, and come to Volunteer Orientation on July 12th.


One of the true joys of working on the Floating Library project, aside from cleaning lake mud off the anchor and applying sunscreen every 15 minutes, is working directly with artists to help them realize new work based on the context of a lake-based library.

Grants from the Knight Foundation and MRAC provide funds for commissioned works this year, and I’m excited to announce that the Floating Library is providing support to four stellar artists to create new books for the Library’s collection.
Here they are!

Tou Yia Xiong's Animal Flash Cards

Tou Yia Xiong’s Animal Flash Cards

Tou Yia Xiong is an illustrator and designer working across multiple creative disciplines. He has experience in graphic design, game development, and product design. By day he is an award-winning children’s toy designer. By night, he is a creative force, doing freelance work, exploring art community engagements, and tinkering on personal and collaborative projects.

Caitlin Warner, Mirror Book

Caitlin Warner, Mirror Book

Caitlin Warner is an artist working in the realms of sculpture, printmaking and bookish things.  Her work has been supported by a MSAB Artist Initiative Grant, the Made Here showcase and Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Some of Caitlin’s artist books are among the favorites of Floating Library visitors: Untitled (Love Letter) – text message conversation books, Untitled (Mirror Book) – the book made entirely of mylar, and A Manual for Modest Living – a palm-sized piece that reminds us of all we need to get through each day (inhale, exhale…).

Martine Workman's All The Trees

Martine Workman’s All The Trees

Martine Workman is a DC-based artist making books, drawings and animation. She has been participating in small press fairs across the country since 2004. She is a graduate of California College of the Arts. In 2013, she was a VCCA fellow and exhibitor at the New York Art Book Fair. In 2014, she was a Sondheim Artscape Prize semi-finalist, 3rd place Trawick Prize recipient and was awarded the DCCAH Artist Fellowship Grant for 2015.  Martine’s fanzine Prince Food is an all time Floating Library favorite, and one that may need an honorary shelf this year.

Aaron Johnson-Ortiz

Aaron Johnson-Ortiz

Aaron Johnson-Ortiz became an artist and organizer shuttling between southern Mexico, where he worked as a volunteer artist with Zapatista cooperatives, and the American Midwest, where he has worked with unions, immigrant rights organizations, and other social justice causes.  In his personal art practice, he probes the liminal spaces in between history and fiction, as well as racial and national identities through narration and abstraction, using both visual and literary devices.

For his Floating Library commission, Aaron is creating a his-story book that explores issues of exile, solidarity, and oblivion through the vehicles of water, light, and walking.

Aaron is also the Artist-in-Residence at the East Side Freedom Library, one of the FL’s community partners for this summer’s programming.  ESFL is a historic library building on St. Paul’s East Side with the mission to make St. Paul’s labor and immigrant histories accessible to everyone. Go visit them sometime!


Stay tuned for in-process images and descriptions as they get into the studio and start designing, printing, folding, imagining.