On this sunny Friday, unseasonably gorgeous even for Los Angeles, I headed to Echo Park Lake to visit the new Floating Library. You don’t need a card to borrow books from the Floating Library, but you do have to reach it.
You can only get there by boat -- a pedal boat, specifically -- which luckily you may rent at the Echo Park boathouse.
Designed by Minnesota artist Sarah Peters and set loose in the Great Lakes region during the recent summers, the Floating Library is making its first visit to the West Coast. It’s a raft filled with art books and zines, presented by the Machine Project gallery as part of the L.A. Art Book Fair.
It’s adrift in Echo Park Lake, just northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The lake was first created as a drinking reservoir in 1870. In his history of the lake on KCET, Nathan Masters (who reviews the book “The Road Taken” for us this week) writes that after some failed commercial attempts, the reservoir became part of a public park, officially named Echo Park in 1892.
During its long history, Echo Park Lake was a site for shooting silent films, the destination for fans of church leader Aimee Semple McPherson (who built her temple at its northwest corner), bohemians, a volunteer colony of lotuses, and drug dealers and buyers who littered the lake floor with hypodermics and guns. The lake was drained and dredged for a major rehabilitation that was completed in 2013. The east side (above) is overlooked by vintage apartments and lined with palm trees.
We rented a pedal boat for an hour ($10 per adult, $5 per child). Most of the pedal boats are two-seaters, but we got a candy-apple red one big enough for three adults. We signed a release form and dutifully donned the mandated life jackets.
The library hours are from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Sunday. It wasn’t much after 11 when we got on the water, but the Floating Library was already crowded with patrons.
The library is staffed by volunteers. When we were there, Summer and Ryan offered people lines to tie to paddle boats so people could stay securely attached while surveying the offerings.
Many of the books are housed in plastic sleeves and facing out on slanted, brightly-colored shelves, held in place with a band.
The Floating Library volunteers answered questions and doled out the reading materials. They handed us one book, then another, then a whole waterproof bin.
As we tooled around the lake, Carrie read from the books we’d borrowed. Some were more art than text, as art books tend to be. We saw others in pedal boats who drifted, noses in books, not really pedaling at all.
Our books felt fairly secure, but we saw one get dropped in the water during its handoff. We all agreed that, like the patina on an antique, a dousing in the lake brings a special and unique quality to a Floating Library book (also, it would dry quickly in the sun and 80-degree heat).
Eventually we had to head back. We returned what we’d borrowed and worried about the list the library had developed, but it remained afloat. As long as it does, it definitely remains the best temporary library on a lake in Los Angeles this weekend, if not the best floating library on a lake in Los Angeles, ever.
Then we followed a duck back to the boathouse, admitting our Floating Library visit was over.
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