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.