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Jennifer Johnson, Forum News Service, Published October 20 2013

Fosston book collector starts library for public

FOSSTON, Minn. - As Dick Roue wandered through his home, he paused to identify the hundreds of books that have spilled over into his bedrooms, bathroom, garage and basement.

“This is kind of my reference materials, dictionary, word finders and stuff like that,” he said, pointing to one shelf. “This is all poetry, the whole shelf. And then subjects I’m particularly interested in, like presidents, Custer, Edmund Fitzgerald, the Old West.”

Roue, 68, has been collecting books for decades, amounting to what he says is around 30,000 titles including children’s books, history, mysteries and “just about everything imaginable except science fiction and romance.”

Sensing a need to reduce his collection, and not wanting his longtime passion to be sold “for a buck a box” at the end of his life, he’s decided to give the books away in communities around Fosston that don’t have libraries. One is currently operating in neighboring Gully.

“It was my idea to start it because I’ve been looking for years to find places to get rid of some of my books,” said Roue, the current publisher of the town’s newspaper, The Thirteen Towns. “They’re not junk books – they’re good quality stuff.”

Three weeks ago, Roue stocked a small bookshelf with 100 of his own books and set it up inside a central location in town. Within a few days, the number of books had reduced by half.

He doesn’t expect residents to return every book, but eventually wants them to participate in an exchange.

“I think it’s going to work out real well if we can keep it stocked,” he said. “With my own books, I could supply this for 10 years, easily.”

Roue has recruited the help of the local Rotary Club and the Winger (Minn.) Lions Club – he is a member of both – in the hopes of eventually installing similar shelves in towns nearby such as Winger, Erskine, Bijou and Lengby. Members of the service clubs will also donate their own books, he said.

But he differentiates his idea with the more commonly known “Free Little Library,” a literacy movement that began in 2009 at one man’s Wisconsin home, according to the organization’s website. A Free Little Library resembles a miniature house and is installed like a mailbox outside people’s homes, each holding books people are meant to borrow and replace with their own.

Roue wants to keep his books convenient for older residents, who typically don’t drive themselves into town. By setting up the shelves in common-need areas such as a post office or gas station, people can get easy access to books without fear of imposing the driver, he said.

“Older people don’t get up to town very often, and with this they don’t have to just take one at a time,” he said.

Walking through Roue’s home is similar to visiting a used book store, each stack the result of decades of finds at auction sales.

“I’ve got books here that are extremely valuable as far as the information that’s in them, and nobody gets to see them except for me,” he said. “But I don’t collect books for the sake of having a collector’s item. I collect them for the material.”

One stack of books included the work of modern comedians, National Geographic and Mark Twain, and elsewhere in the house Roue has kept some valuable finds, such as a 12-volume set on the Civil War and an 1899 Rudyard Kipling book bound in suede. He bought it at an auction for $30, he said.

“I very rarely buy new books, because later you can get them a lot cheaper,” he said.

He estimates he has read about 10 percent of his collection and has considered giving it away to local libraries, but some have refused his offer, he said.

Roue, who is most recognized as the man who found the body of Dru Sjodin, a University of North Dakota student who was kidnapped and killed in 2003, said he loves to read but doesn’t have as much time to anymore with his duties as publisher.

“I still collect books and collect too many of them, so it’s best to weed them out,” he said.