Published September 08 2012
Angry at library closure, volunteers build ownLAKE ELMO, Minn. – It’s the little library that pride built.
Lake Elmo’s new library stands as a 7,000-square-foot testament to civic spirit. The city-owned library was built by swarms of volunteers, angry at Washington County’s decision to close its Lake Elmo branch library in January.
“At first, we were wishing, hoping, believing we could take over the old library,” said volunteer Paul Ryberg. “And this is so much more.”
The new library has about 3,000 books on its shelves, cozy reading rooms, four computers and strong community support.
“This community has shown me that they want this to happen, and they will do what it takes,” said Olivia Moris, who works 20 hours a week as the library’s only paid employee.
The new library was born from controversy.
In the summer of 2011, Washington County officials announced plans to eliminate libraries in Lake Elmo, Newport and Marine on St. Croix to save money.
The libraries were tiny. Officials said Lake Elmo residents didn’t use their own library – nearly 80 percent of the materials checked out by residents came from other libraries in the system, and that the volume of materials checked out was just 3 percent of that of the library in Woodbury.
But the news was a shock to Lake Elmo.
“Lake Elmo decided, ‘No, you are not going to close our library. We are going to open our own,’ ” said volunteer Bernie Wilke, as he shelved books last week.
The work began in June, when the city bought the Clock Building on the town’s main street for $240,000.
Volunteers flooded in. “We have them from Woodbury, Scandia and Minneapolis,” said Judy Gibson, secretary of the Friends of the Lake Elmo Library. “Some are putting in 40 to 60 hours a week.”
A local Eagle Scout built bookshelves. Radio legend Garrison Keillor donated nine shelves from his St. Paul bookstore, Common Good Books.
A call went out for donated books – and they poured in. As of last week, about 14,000 had been given. “They are coming in faster than we can shelve them,” said Sarah Linder, vice president of the library board.
The library still needs more books for children and teenagers, and
What it does not need is old magazines. “ ‘Oh, I have People magazines – almost a complete set!’ ” said volunteer Ryberg, mimicking a phone call from a resident.
It doesn’t need old encyclopedias, either. Or VHS tapes. The library has some available, but it
doesn’t think they will be in demand.
“You can take a tape, and if you did not bring it back, I would not cry over it,” said librarian Moris.
The library is designed to be friendly. Coffee is available in the lobby area, and the building is bathed in Wi-Fi.
The space is divided into cozy rooms, most with natural lighting from glass blocks. One room is for young children, another for teens. In the lobby, anyone – even non-Lake Elmo residents – can get a free library card.
For a library, independence has some disadvantages.
The book collection depends on donations from individuals and other libraries. The library has no budget for books this year, and will be able to spend $2,000 on books next year.
That’s a tiny fraction of most libraries’ book budgets – which usually pay for current best-sellers. But volunteer Linder said there are already signs that buyers of new books will read them quickly and immediately donate them.
“We get new stuff dropped off here all the time,” she said.
The independent library can’t exchange materials with neighboring libraries.
That is a longer-term goal that will be possible if the library is accepted by the Metropolitan Library Service Agency.
Perhaps most critical will be the need for continuing volunteers. Moris estimates that about 20 shifts of volunteers will be needed every week.
But independence also has advantages.
One is control of library hours. Residents were upset when the county cut weekend and evening hours. Although the new library is open only 24 hours a week, that includes time during weekends and evenings.
An advantage of the new location is the rent income from the building’s other tenants.
A technology support center occupies an office by the street, and Serenity Hypnosis & Massage salon will be moving in soon, according to library board member Steve DeLapp.
But the biggest advantage of independence might be the civic pride it inspires.
Neil and Megan Lofgren checked out the library last week with their three children. They walked three blocks from their home – a trip they plan to be making regularly.
“It’s a good library,” said Neil Lofgren. “It’s good for the community.”
Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send a letter to the editor.
Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.