Monday, November 7, 2016

436. Houston Public Library, Houston, MN

 Libraries of Minnesota

The Houston (Minnesota) library has been on my "must visit" list ever since I spotted this book, published in 2011. Hey, how many libraries are featured on book jackets, hmm? This weekend I made it happen with a trip to southeastern Minnesota on a beautiful, warm (!), November day.

I learned from the librarian that this clever paint job was inspired about 11 years ago by some gift wrap. Talented patrons of the library created the plan, and many people spent a summer executing it. Paint, I believe, was donated by Valspar. It is just plain fun when something I've been wanting to see looks just as I expect it to!

Inside, non-fiction is shelved along the walls, fiction in stacks. Fiction books have large yellow spine labels with the first three letters of the author's last name, highly visible for easy selection. There are DVDs to circulate and at least five computers for patron use.

A corner with a bay window by the non-fiction shelves holds a round table with four chairs, ample cushions for those who would like to curl up with a book by the window, and a globe. On the walls are a number of posters from the set I saw at Spring Valley, with sets of pictures illustrating "We All Need Water," "We All Dress," and so forth. This is a great series of posters, and I was glad to see some of them here.

I'm always drawn to children's areas, and this one is a delight. It fills a corner of the library, with a door placed diagonally in one corner. One of the "We All..." posters is to the left of the window. The framed pictures to the right show kids "Reading to Lexi," a reading dog.

As a one-time builder of dollhouses and a long-ago builder of model planes, I was pleased with the displays here.

A mural brightens one wall above the shelves. Many picture books are grouped by topics, like Counting, Grandparents, Illness, Shapes, and so on. Others are alphabetical by author. I spotted several "book bundles" of related titles, with the helpful notice that the books in a bundle must be checked out separately, but do not have to be returned as a set. I've seen book bundles before and hadn't thought about the logistics involved.

Skinny "easy readers" that can so easily get lost on regular shelves are placed face-front in colorful box-shelves. They are divided by level and series, and must make it easy and fun for new readers to make their selections.

If you find yourself in this corner of Minnesota, there are many libraries to choose from--one in almost every town, in fact! But for some unusual interior and exterior designs, permit me to suggest Houston!


435. Rushford Public Library, Rushford, MN

This building has a resemblance to a Carnegie library, but it is not. It dates to 1922 and is "in honor of"-- I took a picture of the informational plaque, but unfortunately it is partly in shadow and not legible. And I cannot find historical information on the library's home page or its FaceBook page. Nonetheless, let's continue.

I was impressed with this handsome library sign!

Here is the picture of the plaque.

The children's area is to the right of the entrance, and the first thing I noticed was a barrier, maybe six inches high, at the entrance to this area. It has a sign reading "Watch your step. Emerson the tortoise is out cruisin'." Later, the librarian introduced me to Emerson, after locating her under a bookshelf near a heat source. The heat was not on, on this unseasonably warm day, but I guess Emerson has her habits! She is a desert tortoise and recently had her fifth birthday. She was au naturel when I was there, but wears seasonal costumes. Check her out on the Rushford Public Library FaceBook page.

Emerson is quite an athletic tortoise. She is able to climb onto the lowest bookshelf (three or four inches high) and tuck herself among the books. She has also been known to move the barriers that are designed to confine her to the children's area, although each of them is weighted with 10 pounds of rice! I learned that kids enjoy lying on the floor next to her, and she sometimes will climb onto a kid for cozy warmth.

OK, there is more to this library than a tortoise. Let's move on.

To the left of the entrance, near the front, is a large table holding some art supplies. Not sure whether they are left from a morning activity, ready for a later activity, or simply ready for "passive programming."

Adult fiction is shelved along the walls, with non-fiction in several stacks. The library's collection has outgrown its space: there are three full two-sided book carts at the back of the fiction area. Signs on the carts indicating which authors are shelved here are proof that the carts are being used as permanent shelving. The wooden shelves for non-fiction are designed with clever "saw-tooth" uprights that allow the shelf height to be adjusted. I don't recall ever seeing shelves quite like this. In another area, wooden boxes have been placed on top of shelves to provide more space.

Next to the librarian's "office" and service desk are seven computers for public use, plus one specially designed for little kids. Most of the computers were being used by a group of tween boys, owners of the bikes I saw outside.

I mentioned the bulging shelves. Not a bad thing, you understand; it's good to have a large collection. I learned that the library outgrew its space in 1998, and at that time plans were made for a new library. An architect's rendering of the proposed new building is on display. Sadly, funding was not available, and in 2012 the plans were officially shelved.

As have I visited libraries around Minnesota and from northwestern Montana to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to Bar Harbor, Maine, I have seen libraries of all sizes and conditions. What always strikes me is the loyalty of residents and staff, especially in the smaller libraries. There are those who think that libraries are the dinosaurs of the day, but I don't see it. Libraries support literacy through preschool and other programs, give people of all ages access to on-line resources (research databases, e-books and e-periodicals) that many could not afford on their own, serve as places to meet and socialize, and provide computers for public use. In addition, library staff are not only trained to recommend books for individual tastes, they can also guide users through the intricacies of on-line search, finding reliable sources and helping users become Internet-literate. And they even develop skills needed to help patrons use their personal electronics. Libraries are changing in their focus, at least on the surface. But if you look beneath the surface, you'll see that they are changing with the times, offering the same services in new forms. It's still true that communities thrive with healthy public libraries.

Learn more about the Rushford Public Library on their website at, and on their FaceBook page. You really should see Emerson in her "birthday shirt"!


Sunday, November 6, 2016

434. Lanesboro Public Library, Lanesboro, MN

I had never been to Lanesboro, but I associate it with bicycle riding. In fact, I think that all four of the libraries I visited on this trip are connected by bike paths.

The library is part of a community center, and that center is located in a large park, a very nice combination. One feature in the picture that I'm sure is related to all the bike riding, is the gray door to the left in the picture below: it leads to restrooms and showers for men. Matching facilities for women are located at the other end of the building

Benches are plentiful, including this one near the library entrance.

Sometimes I think I should do a post totally about book return locations. This one, in the Lanesboro lobby, is surely one of a kind!

If you go straight ahead past the book drop, you enter down four steps to an inner lobby with bulletin boards and some Friends of the Library books for sale. But do yourself a favor and take the door on your right. That way, you can walk in down a ramp past a mural that will give you a good overview of the town.

If you walk all the way through the library you come to a tiny room on the left that holds the recorded books, a small Norwegian-American Heritage collection, and the staff refrigerator and microwave. Turn right and you'll enter the children's area. I thought I had taken a picture of a great READ wall sign, but apparently I did not. You can see the "D" at the left of the picture, and that will give you the scale. The whole sign is created from Little Golden Book covers. Next time I'm down this way, I really must stop in for a better picture!

Shelves on the left hold easy readers and non-fiction picture books. Fiction picture books are straight ahead and the shelves on the right are for junior non-fiction. On the wall above the shelves on the right are two narrower shelves that are being used to display children's audio books.

As you head back into the main part of the library, J and Y fiction are shelved along the wall to your right. Generally, non-fiction is on the five-high wall shelves to the left and fiction on the stacks--which are four shelves high but the bottom shelves are not in use. Well, except for storing wire book-display racks. I like the idea of placing a chair at the end of each stack, right where a patron might want one while making selections.

Just to demonstrate that Lanesboro is down in a valley, I took this picture from the park . Yes, those buildings are way up there!

Look for Lanesboro Public Library on Facebook for more pictures and program information. Be sure you specify Minnesota! And if it is still there, enjoy the picture of the yard sign that says "A Super Reader Lives Here." What a neat idea; the boy in the picture certainly likes it!


433. Chatfield Public Library, Chatfield, MN

Foliage season is past, but still it was a beautiful day to head back to southeast Minnesota and visit a few libraries. I started the day in Chatfield, where I discovered a Carnegie library that celebrated its centennial last year. A 32-page booklet is replete with articles by many of those connected with the library over the years. It gives details and insights about every aspect of the library's long life, and augurs well for its future.

In the picture below, you see mainly the original Carnegie library. Chatfield was granted $6,000 to build the Prairie School building. In 1996, a very generous gift enabled an addition to the back of the library. This artfully increased space and modernized the building without compromising its status in the National Register of Historic Places.

The accessible entrance to the library is at the left as you face the building. A patio area outside the door provides seating and umbrellas, a pleasant place even on this November day, with its record-setting temperatures in the 70s. I laugh now when I look at this picture; until I put it in here, I had not noticed the "face" on the brick wall! Perhaps someone will leave a comment and explain those four white rectangles.

The welcoming children's area is in the new part of the building. When I glance at the picture, I worry that I have inadvertently included a child; then I realize that I am looking at the tall stuffed penguin! There are plenty of picture books and readers, of course. I did not see "J" (junior or juvenile) books, but "Y" books are plentiful on wall shelves nearby. I meant to ask about this, as some of the "Y" (youth or young adult) books looked like those that are usually intended for younger readers. I'll hazard a guess that with the increased maturity of content in books typically classified as "Y," those books are shelved with the general fiction collection, and younger fiction is given the "Youth" label. If someone will confirm or explain, I'll make any needed revisions here.

Near the librarian's office and service desk there are eight computers for public use, and most of them were in use when I was there. Thus, no picture.

The Carnegie space is large--after all, it was once the entire library. The picture below shows one end of the room, with the non-fiction collection on the wall shelves and the periodicals just out of sight to the right of the picture. Floor and table lamps in a style that matches the architecture are turned on when the library is open, creating a warm and welcoming ambiance.

When the library was remodeled, the original pressed-tin ceiling was discovered beneath a more modern dropped ceiling at the height of the brown trim in the picture below. The Carnegie library had stained-glass windows. In that spirit, modern stained glass panels were created for the new wall between the old and new spaces. These were designed by a high school art teacher, and some of them were created by high school art students. There is a card catalog, still full of cards but not maintained. There is also a larger cabinet, shown below, origin and purpose unknown to me. [When I get home from a "collecting trip," no matter how careful my notes there are always questions I wish I had thought to ask....]

Early in my library visits I thought I had deteected a regional pattern: grandfather clocks in the northeast, quilts in the midwest. I have been disabused of this notion after finding either artifact, in either location. Not shown in the middle of the Carnegie space is a large table, once the circulation desk. When I was there, it was being used for the construction of a large jigsaw puzzle. As I write this, I realize that one thing seems to be missing: every Carnegie library I can recall has had at least one fireplace! Could I have missed it? I don't think so, but please let me know.

The librarian, who has been here 22 years, was a delight to talk to. From her I learned all sorts of tidbits that I haven't fit in here, like the plans for the entrance way, to make it fit better with the Prairie School design. I also learned that there is a large meeting and program room in the basement, typical of Carnegie libraries. A history museum is also housed in the basement.

I strongly recommend looking at the Chatfield Public Library page on FaceBook for many pictures and programs.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

432 Harmony Public Library, Harmony, MN

The Harmony Public Library is one of many organizations housed in this building which appears to be a former elementary school. I think I chose the wrong place to park, as the library is at the far end to the right.

Other occupants of the building range from a Senior Citizens Center to an Early Childhood and Family Education program. Entering the building where I did brought me into a lobby with a courtesy phone and a telephone directory, two features that are useful and increasingly rare. The hall to the right is lined with pictures of high school graduating classes from 1919 through 1993, plus 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1912.

The library entrance is down the hall all the way on the left. The area for little kids, shown below, has plenty of scope for imaginative play and a cute toddler-sized couch. Beyond this is the area for school-aged kids, with a sign on the wall indicating that "This corner is brought to you by the American Legion of Harmony, Lions Club of Harmony, and Torgerson's Paint and Flooring. It's always great to see such community support for literacy.

One window at the rear looks out on a reading patio with a mural on a nearby wall.

To the right of the door to the patio is an area full of light from large windows, with casual seating and a study table. In general, fiction is shelved along the walls, with non-fiction on diagonally-oriented stacks. One feature is an especially large collection of Western fiction. Many libraries, especially in small towns, have such collections, but if you are looking for something along this line, I suggest you visit Harmony!

I didn't have a chance to talk to the librarian here, as she was busy on the phone. As I left, I chanced to see that a former classroom across the hall serves as a program center for the library, which is great for hosting programs without having to rearrange or clean up the general library space.


431. Mabel Public Library, Mabel, MN

Here's the Mabel Public Library...take a good look at the ramp up to the door, because by the time I'm writing this, it's no longer there. The town is replacing it, which is very nice. Fortunately there is another entrance that doesn't require a ramp, so the library remains accessible.

I had an interesting conversation with the librarian about how this space has grown, thanks to the town. The library started in the space to the right, inside the window shown above, an area now housing the junior and teen library and the large print collection. I noticed on the fiction shelves a large set of "New Tom Swift Junior" books from the 50s, which I rarely see. I also spotted a set of "Real Life Math" books, that look interesting. [I found a series with this title in Hennepin County; I don't think it's the same series, but I have requested one to have a look.]

The space behind this was once the town public restroom; now it hold the five public computers! No picture, because several of the computers were being used.

The cheerful children's space shown below is up a short ramp. I think the colorful valance is just right to soften the lines of the window. All told, I saw about two dozen child-sized chairs, suggesting that children's programs are probably well-attended.

The back of the library is up three steps, made accessible with a lift that is large enough for a wheelchair. As you can see, there is a small table with craft supplies overlooking the main level. But the largest area holds a very long conference table, the non-fiction collection, and periodicals. An exit to a parking lot from this level will provide accessibility while the ramp out front is replaced.

I forget exactly where these were, but my notes reference an unusually large collection of VHS tapes, with no mention of DVDs, and what looks like a complete set of Louis L'Amour westerns in matching brown bindings.

The librarian I talked to is a delightful woman with a background in elementary school teaching and school librarianship. She told me that kids do not trick-or-treat for Halloween in Mabel (they have a party instead)--so she keeps candy treats on the circulation desk for the whole month. Lucky kids!

With staff like her, and the support of the town, the Mabel Public Library patrons are indeed fortunate.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

430 Spring Grove Public Library, Spring Grove, MN

Far down in the southeast corner of Minnesota, I visited the Spring Grove library. Spring Grove was one of the first Norwegian settlements in Minnesota, and there are a number of framed documents displayed to remind you of this fact. I became aware of the Norwegian roots when I was here in the early 1980s for a couple of Volksmarch hiking events, but I haven't been here since then, and at that time I was not looking for libraries.

Well, let's get inside. The library shares space with a number of organizations in this building:

Before heading down the ramp to the entrance, I noticed an addition to the universal library symbol on the bookdrop. I forgot to ask inside, but I think that is a Pokemon figure, indicating perhaps that this library, like many others, is involved in Pokemon Go. [And at this point, I really don't know what I'm talking about, so I will stop...!]

Two ramps lead to the entrance, one from the main sidewalk, and the other from the parking lot. I always like seeing a bench by a library entrance.

It should be no surprise that in addition to the displayed documents (mentioned above), there are many old photographs displayed in the entrance hall. A number of these go back to the days when an "old home day" involved getting everyone together for a town picture. I also enjoyed the photos of brass bands, since my grandfather once led such a band back in the same era.

Inside the library proper, to the left, is an area for teens. Beyond that there are two offices and a sign on the wall with some good advice: "Feelings are just visitors, let them come and go." To the right of the entrance is the service desk with generous counter space and work space. I chatted with the person working there and we agreed that library work requires lots of "stacking space"-- there always seems to be the need for more piles!

There are ten computers for public use. Non-fiction is shelved along the back wall in unusual built-in shelves, seen in the last picture below. A rather large collection of "local authors," which seems to mean Minnesota authors, fills one section of stacks. Given how close to Wisconsin and Iowa this town is located, I wouldn't be surprised to see authors from those states also, but I didn't spot any.

The children's area features the large painted tree you see below. I was glad to see the pictures posted representing participants in "1000 Book Before Kindergarten." Some junior fiction has spine stickers indicating animal stories, realistic fiction, and so forth. Two tables have an interesting design with slight cutouts; you can see this if you look closely at the table in the foreground below.

The final corner, with two windows, features a Keurig coffee set up (free coffee!), a stuffed otter (oh?), newspapers hanging across (not mounted on) old newspaper sticks, and those framed documents mentioned in the first paragraph.

In the final picture you see a corner of the bookshelves built into the wall. I don't think I've ever seen shelves quite like these before. And I'm sure I've never seen one of those bulbous gray stools! There are two; I thought they were seating, but the library director explained to me that they are stools to ease shelving books on the lowest shelves. I totally appreciate that; I thought I would like to have wheels on one of these, but on second thought, with wheels I'd probably go feet-over-head as soon as I sat down!

I think this is the first time I've sought out the Director of the library, since she was available in her office. I had a great time talking to her, and I want to let her know that I thought I had a personal copy of the book about Minnesota libraries, but I can't find I have ordered one from Better World Books. Past experience suggests that as soon as the parcel arrives, the book will pop up on one of my bookshelves!


Sunday, September 4, 2016

429. Spring Valley Public Library, Spring Valley, MN

I had a picture in my mind of Spring Grove, a southeast Minnesota town I've visited a couple of times. What I put in my GPS was Spring Valley. And when I got here, it didn't bother me at all that it wasn't what I expected, because I found a truly wonderful library. [And I'll catch Spring Grove on my next road trip!]

Supporters of the library are recognized with polished stone plaques in the lobby, very handsome.

On entering from the lobby, I first saw the very convenient service disk...then my eyes were quickly drawn to the circle of book shelves that define the children's area. And what an area it is, with a genuine tree trunk up to the ceiling--with fake leaves attached to each branch. Brilliant: the ambiance of outdoors, with no watering or fallen leaves to deal with! And beneath the tree, two colorful, kid-sized pup tents to provide "hiding places" for readers, or perhaps for pretend campers.

By the window, a cozy chair large enough for an adult and a kid (or two) to share, plus a colorful rug and a selection of toddler toys.

This being a Summer Olympics year, sports and gold medals are a popular theme for summer reading programs. The program is over, but the motivation lingers on. I think it's very clever to cut the rims from paper plates and paint them to create the Olympic rings.

Beyond the kids area are stacks for the J books, DVDs, Large Print books, and the YA collection. Teens have a section of the library with a large bean bag chair, a tall table, a bench and a bright rug. There are a few carrels for studying. On a shelf nearby I saw an interesting collection of "Table Talk" cards, with provocative questions to use as conversation starters. Two that I noted were "If you could shop for free in one store, which story would it be, and why?" and "What's not being taught in school that should be?" I like the second question especially. I'd love to hear teens, or even younger kids, discuss that.

Paperbacks are shelved by themselves, which makes very good use of space. I spotted westerns, science fiction, romance, mystery, and general interest books.

An alcove for local history holds an unusual, rather old , wooden desk, some old photos, and a collection of books.

At the end of the building there is a semi-circular space with tall windows, the periodical collection, and "living room" seating. US and Minnesota flags in stands might suggest that civic meetings are held in this space.

There are six public computers near the service desk.

I was tempted to sit down and work on the puzzle. I see jigsaw puzzles quite often in my library travels, but this is the first time I've come across one that didn't have the outside pieces all put together, my favorite stage in puzzle construction. But I moved on.

A surprising alcove holds this kitchenette with tables and chairs that look ready for a cup of coffee or a snack, perhaps a good place to visit with friends.

Two things about the picture below: First, I like how the utilitarian metal shelves are softened and jazzed up with the handsome wooden ends. They are a real touch of class. These are the non-fiction stacks, but fiction stacks have the same feature.

Second, notice the row of posters along the wall. There are others throughout the library. They are from a series with titles like "We all use energy..." "We all need good health..." and "We all need a home." Each poster has a group of pictures from various cultures illustrating the theme. Hanging by each poster, in page protectors, is a set of pages providing information about each picture. This suggests a community with a broad world outlook, which is very nice to see.

Finally, I took a picture of this chair because I like the design. At first glance, it looks like a rocker, but in fact it has three positions: slightly forward, straight up, and slightly back. A chair like this allows restless students to change position a little bit, but not too much.

After I had made the rounds with my camera, I chatted with a librarian for a bit. We got on the subject of programming for children, and I learned that they had recently done a "stuffed animal overnight" program, where kids bring a favorite stuffed animal, which stays overnight and has adventures. Those adventures are captured in photographs. Here in Spring Valley, each child got four or five pictures; the logistics of getting the right number of different pictures of each animal are awe-inspiring. The library website shows a picture of all the animals (or it did, the last time I looked). Look for the post about the library in Arnprior, Ontario (where the critters are called "stuffies") for more about this kind of program.


371a Kasson Public Library, Kasson, Minnesota

I first visited Kasson Public Library on November 9, 2015. [To see that entry, put "Kasson" or "371" in the search field.] At that time, the library was located in a downtown building, a former store, I think. But they had just broken ground on a brand new building. In fact, I was able to get a picture of the early earth-moving stage. I've been following construction news on line, and now it was time to go see the results. It's amazing!

Start with the overall shape, the shallow dome. Pretty neat, isn't it? I forgot to ask, but I'm guessing that this shape contributes to the building's secondary role as a storm shelter for the community. It also allows for a spacious uninterrupted interior design

The lobby has a strikingly blue floor (that's a compliment). There are a couple of storage closets, restrooms, and a "hydration station" -- a drinking fountain that encourages the use of reusable water bottles by a) making it easy to refill them, and b) showing the count of how many have been filled. These are starting to be common in newer construction, and I think they are a great concept.

A sign informs us that shoes are a must, no Rollerblades, no running, and children must be supervised at all times. [That small red Porsche by the door? I watched a couple of preschoolers arrive in that and deftly back into an unmarked parking space. They were supervised, from a distance.]

As is my custom, I walked all through the library and took notes before asking permission to take pictures. When I got back to the service desk, ready to make my request, I discovered that I was not the only person taking pictures that day. This local gentleman with his well-traveled horse had just returned from the Grand Canyon, and was preparing to pose the horse for pictures throughout the library. (I'm sorry, I did not get his name; would someone please tell me in a comment, so I can add it?) UPDATE: I've just had an email from Don Vaughn from Kasson and his horse, Virgil. I've asked him for the story of his travels with Virgil, and will update further with his information or a link.

In the picture above, you see a corner of the service desk, the windows into the Library Director's office and other offices, and at the far right a window into what will soon become Maker Space, with a 3-D printer and other goodies.

Below, the bright yellow corner is part of the Teen area, with a "diner booth" and a tall counter with stools.

I'd been fascinated by the ceiling since seeing it in pictures on the library's website. The lighted rectangular panels are referred to as"clouds" by Art Tiff, the Director. He showed me a small control panel on the wall that controls a whole light show that is available with these panels. They are very cool. In the center, an 8-bladed fan turns slowly and quietly. This modern design and technology is a wonderful surprise in such a small town!

The curved walls are lined with shallow adjustable-height shelves. In the first picture below, they hold DVDs in a way that makes excellent use of space. Various seating is available. To the right of these shelves is a fireplace and a very nice "living room" area, which I can't show here because people were using it. Two study rooms are located nearby. I spotted a small quilted wall hanging that I remember from the old library: Ten Ladies, Ten Books, Kasson Public Library 1899-1999. As is true everywhere I have visited, libraries are not new to the scene, and they are always proud of their early roots.

After the fireplace area, there are more wall shelves. Here they are used cleverly for recorded books on the top three shelves, a good height for adult browsing, and children's DVDs on the bottom three. Looking at the furniture one might guess that some tables are in the future, but the "conversation circles" seem just fine without them.

I never got a picture of the fiction and non-fiction stacks, but they certainly are present. Another feature not pictured is a conference table with seating for ten, right behind the service desk. There are also six public computers; several of them were being used by school-age young people. These youngsters are apparently attracted by the new building, as I was told they rarely showed up at the older library.

KidSpace is in one corner, the mirror image of the Teen area, with a couple of computers, rocking chairs, shelves of books, puzzles, and toys, and a Little Tykes computer. A quotation from Dr.Seuss is on the wall: "Why fit in when you were born to stand out?" Why, indeed?

In the spirit of the "Corridor" in the Arnprior, Ontario, library, the hallway from the entrance to the library proper is used as an art gallery which will have changing displays.

So there you have it, the new Kasson Public Library. From the entrance with its bright blue floor, through the short hallway and art gallery, to the service desk right where you can't miss it, and on to the spacious interior: treats for the eye and the mind, friendly staff, comfortable seating of many types. Kasson has built a treasure.