A new chapter for Southeast Library

Bob Graf of St. Paul reads “The Daddy Book” to his children, Nora, 6, and Maxwell, 3, at the Southeast Library reopening celebration Jan. 12. Graf’s wife volunteers for the library.

Photo by Matt Mead

Nearly 200 people turn out to celebrate library’s reopening

As 8-year-old Alden Pierson Smela filled out paperwork for a library card Jan. 12 at Southeast Library, his mother stood beside him smiling.

While Alden signed his new card and joined his book-reading brethren, nearly 200 community members and library lovers gathered at Southeast to celebrate its Jan. 3 reopening — more than a year after its funding-based closure. “This library opens for kids a life of reading,” Alden’s mother, Cordelia Pierson said. “It feels like a home base.”

Southeast Library, 1222 SE Fourth St., was one of three libraries, along with Roosevelt and Webber Park, shuttered in 2006 when the City of Minneapolis faced budgetary problems concerning its library system. Since then, the city has joined its library system with the county’s to form one new body, Hennepin County Library.

Anita Duckor was chairwoman of the former Library Board, which disbanded due to the consolidation. As a member of the board, Duckor was forced to choose between her job security and the security of the libraries’ futures. “It wasn’t what I signed up for, but it was the right thing to do,” she said. “It was never about us.”

Duckor said budget cuts three years ago leading to major staff lay-offs and more restricted operational hours didn’t do enough to raise public concern. The closures, she said, did the trick and now the libraries are looking toward a stable future.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said the merger was the best choice for both parties. He said a hundred years ago, more than 90 percent of Hennepin County residents lived within Minneapolis city limits. Now, suburbs have flourished and the county’s landscape has changed. “The prospect was that more libraries would be closed in the near future,” he said. “This was an effort to create a new structure that reflected the economics and demographics of the whole county.”

The consolidation could ultimately lead to greater funding for the system’s libraries, which could mean increased staffing and hours, McLaughlin said. Currently, Southeast is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon–6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m.–6 p.m. “These mergers are not easy; there are issues that have to be worked out,” McLaughlin said.

Eric Heideman is the head librarian for Southeast, and the only returning staff member since the closure. Over the past year, he’s been a “roving librarian,” and is optimistic about the current partnership. The city’s libraries offer a “deeply archival” selection, Heideman said, whereas the county’s libraries have a more contemporary collection.

Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon was the lone dissenter on the City Council, which approved the merger Dec. 18. He said the measure should’ve been taken to the voters in a referendum, and that the proposal decentralized the library system too much. Gordon also raised concerns about the ownership of land housing libraries should the facilities be converted to other uses. He said Hennepin County could sell off local libraries without Minneapolis recapturing any assets.

But Hennepin County Library Director Amy Ryan said the city-county partnership is a typical model for many highly regarded systems throughout the country. “We had two strong, excellent library systems,” she said. “It’s almost like one and one makes three.”
Lifelong Minneapolis resident Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, attended the reopening event with his children, ages 4 and 7. “There’s something about the tactile nature of reading books,” he said. “And this [library] brings a sense of community, a place where people can gather.”

And the man who designed that gathering place was also in attendance, though he hails from Prospect Park. Architect Ralph Rapson sat quietly listening to the three-piece jazz band at the celebration as he reminisced. “It’s a fun place, and it has stood up over the years,” he said. “I hated [the closure]. It was all very sad.”

Patrons were forced to alter routes and schedules to compensate for the shutting of Southeast’s doors, but that all seems to be water under the bridge as long as there’s a librarian in-house now.

Gail Linnerson, a library aide who serves different locations as she’s needed, requested to work Southeast on Saturdays. The Marcy-Holmes resident of 35 years wanted to be sure she was there to see the community turn out to celebrate the reopening of her home library’s doors. “People think of this as a transient community because of the university,” she said. “But people that do stay here stay here for a long time.”

Linnerson said through her grown daughters’ youth, she probably read half the library’s selection of children’s books. “This library is such a contact point of this community,” she said.

Harriet Johnson, a member of the Southeast Library Task Force, said she’s been a patron since 1959. She helped organize Saturday’s festivities, and said the community support has been evident. “It’s interesting to me how strong the feeling is in the neighborhood,” she said. “The response has been overwhelmingly joyful.”

last revised: February 4, 2008