Libraries in laundromats

Minnesota State students see photos of Stomper everywhere on campus. However, Stomper’s knowledge extends beyond campus into Stadium Laundry, Laundry Max and The Washboard.

Crystal Watts, Interim Assistant Director for Community Engagement, had participated in the Little Red Bookshelf program that was run by the United Way back home in Marshall, Minnesota.

“They had forty locations where they had installed bookcases in laundromats, specifically, and then other small businesses. And it was just a recognition that children have to occupy the same spaces that grown-ups do, but there might not be anything in those spaces geared toward their needs,” Watts said.

When Watts moved down to Mankato to begin her graduate studies, she noticed a lack of material for kids to read at laundromats.

“I noticed that there wasn’t any intentional spaces. If there were spaces for children, they were very small or full of toys that had been loved on; and the books that were there, if there were any, were very well loved,” Watts said.

Watts approached this as a challenge for students at Minnesota State to recreate something similar to what she had done with the United Way back in Marshall. She proposed the idea to the Mavs in Action team, which oversees student volunteer opportunities. 

Joe Roeser, current Sigma Nu President, expressed interest in Watts’ idea. Watts and Sigma Nu started creating ideas for how Stomper’s Bookcase would work and asked for the support of the United Way.

“It took over a year to get it going, and so it was really intimidating at first. But bits and pieces at a time, we figured out what we wanted to do and slowly but truly got it going,” Roeser said.

Sigma Nu carefully sorts through the over 500 donated books, selecting the ones that they believe that kids would most appreciate and that caregivers would find most helpful for them.

“We’ll sanitize all the books, clean them off, check in the pages to make sure that there is nothing inappropriate at all in it, any profanity whatsoever,” Roeser said.

With so many different books, Roeser said they will change up books depending on the time of year.

“We do seasonal stuff too, like put some Christmas books in there, other holidays that we will throw in there around that holiday time,” Roeser said.

Sigma Nu currently oversees the bookcases at three laundromats, but it took various partnerships to get the project off the floor. Greater Mankato United Way oversaw the project. Lloyd Lumber donated the material for building the bookcases, as well as built the bookcases for free. Members of Sigma Nu painted the bookcases. 

A month after beginning their project, Sigma Nu was able to receive feedback from one mother at the laundromat as the fraternity members walked in the door.

“We saw about two or three kids around the bookshelf, and I remember talking with their mom as we were restocking them. She was like ‘this is a great idea. It’s better than them staring at tablets, iPhones, iPads, all that stuff.’ It’s getting them reading,” Roeser said.

Sigma Nu has requested books that fit the age range of the kids most likely to take advantage of these books: pre-K through third grade. Furthermore, the fraternity has sought to seek out books that are multi-culturally sensitive. As of now, they have been able to access many books in Spanish print.

Roeser went on to explain the significance of brand new books over used ones.

“You can put a brand new book and a torn up book next to each other, and your kid will probably take the new book. Right? The fact that they’re nice, they’re glossy, they’re super shiny. It makes it more attractive for the kids to look at,” Roeser said.

The vision for the future is to continue expanding Stomper’s Bookcase to more locations, branching out from the three laundromats that are currently serviced by Sigma Nu. To support expansion, Sigma Nu is eager to partner with other student groups, some of which have requirements of community service for their members.

“I think it is important to stress the importance of community partnerships. Sometimes it takes many hands and many minds to put something like this together, and for students that can be a really daunting task. You have a dream in mind that you want to pursue, but you don’t know who to start with… So, the partnerships is a huge stress for us on that,” Watts said.

Watts encouraged those interested in supporting Sigma Nu in its Stomper’s Bookcase project to reach out to her at with a request to sign up for the Community Engagement Office newsletter. 

Header photo: Members of Sigma Nu pose by one of the bookshelves that are a part of Stomper’s Bookcase. The project was spearheaded by Interim Assistant Director for Community Engagement Crystal Watts. (Courtesy Crystal Watts)

Write to Tracy Swartzendruber at

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