The Floating Library wins Knight Arts Challenge grant. St. Paul, here we come!

Lake Phalen circa 1940's. Postcard from

Lake Phalen in St. Paul, MN circa 1940’s. Postcard from

Last week the Knight Foundation announced the winners of the 2015 Knight Arts Challenge, a matching grant that supports individual artists, arts orgs and really anyone who can get it together to make art happen in the City of St. Paul. The Floating Library is among these winners!  I attended the fancy awards ceremony where in addition to being gifted a glass plaque I met many of the other awardees who are cooking up fascinating projects for our state’s capital city. 

My grant proposes to bring the Library to Lake Phalen, one of St. Paul’s largest lakes. Phalen is of interest because it has a history of boating, once playing host to many hundreds of canoes on its shores.

"Lake Phalen canoe docks.” Photographer: Sweet, date: ca. 1905. Minnesota Historical Society Photograph Collection, Location No. GV3.61C

“Lake Phalen canoe docks.” Photographer: Sweet, date: ca. 1905. Minnesota Historical Society Photograph Collection, Location No. GV3.61C

These days at Phalen you’ll find Dragon Boat races, sculling lessons, and a lot of people fishing. Of course, our goal will be to bring back those 880 canoes, all headed out to read on the water.

There is a lot of planning and organizing to be done, including raising the matching funds. If you have ideas for artists, partners, or connections in St. Paul, be in touch. For instance, who lives near Phalen and has a motor boat? We’ll need of a tow or two.



Find the Floating Library on land in Philadelphia through Nov. 1st

People in reading room

For those Floating Library fans who’d rather peruse the shelves from the stability of solid ground, make your way to Philadelphia this month where a selection of FL books are on view. They’re part of a reading room at Vox Populi gallery, one of several sites to host exhibitions and programming as part of a city-wide project called Alternative Currencies. 

Our friends at Possible Press invited the FL to contribute a selection of books that now have the special designation in the catalog of being “drowned and rescued.”  Wrinkled and mildly faded with their taped spines and we’re gonna survive attitude, these books were packed into a Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum box and shipped off to Philly right before the Pope landed ashore there in mid-September.

Reading Room at Vox

In the gallery the shelves mimic laundry drying racks and the FL flag flies windless while pinned to the wall. You’ll find favorites such as Areca Roe’s 3-D viewfinder set, Jess Zeglin’s Friendly Microbe Coloring Book, and the two books that were dipped twice: A Book Dipped in Two Lakes (intentionally), Flood Music (unintentionally).

Alternative Currencies is a gathering of independent contemporary arts groups from around the U.S. to talk about what it means to stay “alternative.”  I’m sad to not be there for the discussions, as this question didn’t get as much play at last month’s otherwise overwhelmingly enriching Hand-in-Glove conference.

It’s certainly on the brain of the Floating Library now, as the cold, dark creeps in and we try to find a wood-burning stove around which to write grants, dream and plan for the future. (Some exciting news coming soon…). ‘Til then, give us a report from Philly if you happen to stop by!

Sailor Jerry


Let’s end with the moon and some poems.

From Stephanie Rohlfs' "First Artist-in-Residence on The Moon", Lunar Artists' Residency Vol. 1

From Stephanie Rohlfs’ “First Artist-in-Residence on The Moon”, Lunar Artists’ Residency Vol. 1

The Library was short and sweet and sweaty this year. We’re ending on a cool note, or with a lack of blazing sunshine anyway. Join us for a Moonlight* Paddle and Poetry Reading this Saturday, August 1, beginning at 8:30 pm.

Docked just off the tip of Silverwood’s Picnic Island, the raft will serve as a floating stage shared by three writers. Poet-in-residence Steve Healey will share some of the “floating poems” contributed by Library visitors as well as his own words; Kathryn Kysar will read from her collection Dark Lake, which graced the Library shelves and narrowly avoided drowning by being checked out, and Library volunteer, actual librarian and writer Clarence White will share his work. Come and listen from sea or from shore.

Some details, should you be curious:
Canoes, kayaks and some inflatable rafts are available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis courtesy of Three Rivers Park District beginning at 8:30 pm.

The reading will begin around 9 pm.

All Silverwood boats will be adorned with lights and ropes for tying up into a flotilla for listening

All paddlers, including those bringing their own boats, will be asked to wear glow bracelets for safety.

The reading can be heard from land.

Because this event is at dusk into darkness, the Library’s collection will not be on view.

After the reading join us for a camp fire on Picnic Island.

This event is presented in collaboration with the incredible Coffee House Press and CHP In the Stacks. Many thanks to Chris Fischbach, Jay Peterson and everyone at Coffee House for their support.  (CHP wins the award for Most Staff Members Participating as Volunteer Floating Librarians, 2015)


*Technically the full moon is on Friday, but that night is the Boat Ballet on the Mississippi River with which we’d be fools to compete!  Choreographed by Patrick Scully, organized by Scully and Kalen Keir and “danced” by 99 paddlers in canoes, kayaks and paddle boards, this is a dream summer time water happening. I’m proud to say that the Library’s own Sea Clamp will provide on-water technical transport to the ballet’s musicians.  See you there too!

Kayaks paddle in a geese-like V-formation during Patrick Scully's boat ballet on the Havel River at Potsdam, Germany in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Scully, cribbed from

Kayaks paddle in a geese-like V-formation during Patrick Scully’s boat ballet on the Havel River at Potsdam, Germany in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Scully, cribbed from

Weekend #1 Report: Everything Went Swimming(ly)

IMG_4336Over the course of the first weekend several small things went awry:

  • Lake weeds and strong winds foiled our efforts to tow the Library raft with Silverwood’s trolling motor and we had to paddle it via canoe (something I was so excited to not do)
  • The vicious storm that caused the wind that troubled the transport also caused a power outage in the cafe so there was no cream for anyone’s coffee
  • A large, very furry, very wet dog jumped onto the raft and shook itself dry all over the materials
  • A zine called All The Lakes I’ve Swam In fell into the water and floated away

These things amounted to minor annoyances, in between which many wonderful things happened:

Two legit librarians were our first patrons; many boaters found us by surprise; some lake residents came and checked out books (and returned them!); I met one of the 2014 artists with whom I’d only corresponded with via Facebook; some New Yorkers who’d never been in a canoe before paddled out; Scout the dog came with a fancy dog lifejacket; Steve the floating poet read every book in the collection and got a funny sunburn from one of those woven straw hats; Steve and I also signed and dipped the 6 copies of A Book Dipped in Two Lakes to complete the edition; the photographer’s camera was not lost when he fell out of a canoe trying to get a good shot; lovely reporters from MPR came to visit and wrote up a nice piece; some artists from Chicago canoe-delivered a book that includes a head of cabbage.

All-in-all, we were sunburned and smiling having shared beautiful objects with so many visitors.


And then at the very end of the day on Sunday the canoe transporting the entire collection back to shore capsized.

The Library canoe was not alone in this drama, as four canoes turned over that day due to the intense wind. Mostly importantly, the humans in the boat were fine — Silver Lake is thankfully not so deep — but all of the books in all of the tubs went into the water.

What ensued from there was an important lesson in resiliency, both of paper products and of spirit. Amazingly, the volunteers in the canoe rescued every single tub and all of the books.  A Silverwood staff person swam around the lake in their work clothes to collect all of the stray Ziploc bags. The park director drove over in the golf cart to bring all the soggy books up to the Visitor Center. Another staffer set up tables in the Great Hall as a make shift triage center and found us loads of cloth towels. Two Library volunteers stayed until 9 pm to help lay out the books for drying. Another Library volunteer took several of the one-of-a-kind books back to her studio where she spent hours leafing in waxed paper between pages and even re-binding a couple of books.

Triage table in the Great Hall.

Triage table in the Great Hall.

Triage cart in the sun, day 2.

Triage cart in the sun, day 2.

Sarah Stengle's studio saving the day.

Sarah Stengle’s studio saving the day.

Dolly gets a face lift.

Dolly gets a face lift.

Over the past five days I’ve used countless paper towels and rolls of waxed paper as I’ve tended to books drying on my dining room table. It is a pretty profound act of care and intimacy to save a drowned book. You have to turn the fragile pages over and over. You see the book as a whole object – a structure, but also as fragments of a collection of letters, words, images, paper, thread.  Sometimes I would lose attention for the task and sit and read poems on damp pages.

I’m humbled by this material called paper that can become completely drenched and then reform itself, the same but different.

I’m so grateful for the volunteers for all of their help, for the Silverwood staff for going along with this madness in the first place and all of the artists for understanding the risks of such an endeavor.

Come see the new collection! It’s been transformed.






















Photos one and two by David Eberhardt, a photographer with a mostly perfect sense of balance in a boat.

Who’s that in the orange boat?


poet and photog in boatA floating poet, of course.

This year the Floating Library is honored to be working with Coffee House Press to host a poet-in-residence through the esteemed In the Stacks program. This ongoing project places writers into various area institutional and community libraries to read and be inspired by what they discover on the shelves.

Being on land is apparently not a requirement of library participation in this program, so CHP put the word out and Steve Healey, Twin Cities poet and professor, signed on. We assigned him the Library’s small, orange row boat, the Sea Clamp, as his transport vessel. This seemed most appropriate given the word play that is its name.

For the first weekend of the Library, Steve spent his time reading nearly every book in the collection; a significant effort.  He also assisted with the dipping of the books to complete Paul Ramsay’s contribution, A Book Dipped in Two Lakes.

Poet-in-residence Steve Healey and Floating Library founder Sarah Peters witness and dunk the 6 editions of "A Book Dipped in Two Lakes."

Poet-in-residence Steve Healey and Floating Library founder Sarah Peters witness and dunk the 6 editions of “A Book Dipped in Two Lakes.”

Books drying out in the Sea Clamp after their dip in Silver Lake.

Books drying out in the Sea Clamp after their dip in Silver Lake.

In the week in between, he has compiled a poetic “Abridged Floating Library 2015,” a collection of text passages from the many pieces he read. For the Library’s second and final weekend (July 25-26), Steve will be back on the water engaging boaters and patrons in a poetry writing activity based on this sampling. Here are a few:

Surveillance portrait of a beached whale while mom makes fires
–Michael Sikkema & Elisabeth Workman, Terrorism is What Whale

She chased the chickens. She loved me.
–Astrid Wick, Dogs and Puppys
Dance a swan dance along the shore
–Nicole Antebl, Bookmark/Landmark


To participate, find the guy in the little orange boat.

Steve Healey is the author of two books of poetry, 10 Mississippi and Earthling, both published by Coffee House Press. His poems have been published in magazines such as American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Fence, and Jubilat. He teaches creative writing and English at Minneapolis Community & Technical College.

Steve and Sarah conducted an interview about the Floating Library; find it in two parts here and here.


Reading and sunburning on the Floating Library.





okay shelf shot

Book artists, zinesters, small press publishers, graphic designers, chapbook-penning poets, and printed matter-makers of all stripes are invited to submit materials for circulation at the Floating Library.


The Floating Library is an experimental public art project that introduces the creative genre of artists’ books and printed matter to people recreating on an urban lake in Minnesota.

Proposals due: JUNE 30
Notification: JULY 6 (Due to considerations of space, not all entries may be accepted.)
Materials due: JULY 10 (Address for mailing materials will be sent via email.)

Floating Library 2015 dates on Silver Lake at Silverwood Park:
Saturday, July 18 & Sunday, July 19
Saturday, July 25 & Sunday, August 26
Moonlight paddle and poetry, Saturday, August 1 at 8:30 pm
Materials returned (what of them remain): SEPTEMBER 30

To submit a proposal, please use this handy form here.
Questions? Email:

How does it work?
The Floating Library is a custom-designed raft with bookshelves that hold printed matter for perusal on the water. Folks in canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, skiffs, rowboats, or even inner tubes are invited to paddle up and browse from inside their watercraft. Protective covers on the shelves do their best to keep materials dry.

The Library is staffed by friendly floating librarians who facilitate the check out system and make reading suggestions.

The check-out and return system is honor-based, but it’s Minnesota (land of volunteerism and participatory civic engagement) so we hope for the best in this regard. Patrons return materials to the Floating Library or at book deposit boxes scattered around Silverwood Park.

What are we looking for?
Artists’ books and printed matter addressing any themes. Multiple copies are welcome but not necessary. Works designed especially for a lake-based library are encouraged (waterproof pages, designed to get wet, etc.)!

Because of space constraints on the Library’s raft, some submissions may not be accepted. Works that are truly inappropriate for a library on a public lake that serves everyone will not be accepted.

PLEASE NOTE that by submitting your materials for access on the Floating Library you acknowledge that any of these things may happen to your printed matter:

  • extensive water damage
  • stepped on at the bottom of a canoe
  • sand between the pages
  • borrowed and never returned
  • returned in mint condition after being enjoyed by many people

In other words, we don’t recommend sending the only copy of your most precious fine press book for inclusion in this project.

Questions? Email

The Floating Library returns! July 2015

edge of FL 2014

We’re excited to announce that the Floating Library will enjoy some time in the sun this summer at Silverwood Park in St. Anthony, MN.  We’re happy to be hosted by this beautiful, art-themed nature park and to share space with resources such as a poetry-walk, an island on which one can read books, an art gallery, a coffee shop, restored prairie, cheap canoe and kayak rentals, nearby bathrooms with real plumbing, and a motorized boat for towing! (Those who volunteered to paddle the Library last year will understand the significance of this support.) Thank you, Silverwood!

The Library open hours will be:
Saturday, July 18 & Sunday, July 19
Saturday, July 25 & Sunday, August 26
11 am – 5 pm

Moonlight paddle and poetry on Saturday, August 1 at 8 pm

Stay tuned for more details.

A belated report from weekend #1 on the eve of weekend #2

ukeleles on the lake

Ukelele Librarians

Despite some logistical snags and a downpour, the first weekend of the Floating Library went off fairly well.

On the logistical side of things, I made a public art mistake of assuming that permission to tie up to the swimming area buoy granted to me last year by a teenaged summer employee of the parks system would stand this year. Not so. After being alternatively tied up to a weedy submerged dock for part of the afternoon, we finally moved into open waters for better visibility.  Luckily the wind blew us in the right direction to find the Library’s overnight docking spot. On Sunday we brought an anchor.

On the rain side of things, we learned that the Library’s rain plan is top notch. We got soaking wet but all the books stayed safe and dry in their plastic tubs.

Due to the rain, the patronage of the Library was slow overall, but we did greet several unexpecting boaters and checked out a few books.

A slew of excellent set-up crew and floating librarians, several of whom are actual librarians, were the key to the success of the first weekend.  Thank you Zvie, Molly B.R., Valentine, Sarah S., Timo, Ian, Kelly, Ally, Alicia, Molly P., and Caroline!

Here’s a tour in images of our first two days on the water.


FL2014_canoe reader FL2014_rabbitducks IMG_1193FL2014_shelf  FL2014_shelf2 IMG_1220