March 29, 2017

Minneapolis library services extend way beyond book lending


Minneapolis Central Library

In her statement in response to Trump’s proposal to slash funding for public libraries earlier this month, the American Library Association’s president, Julie Todaro, stressed that libraries are not simply “piles of archived books,” but “trusted centers for education, employment, entrepreneurship and free inquiry at the core of communities in every state in the country.”

This characterization is readily apparent at the Minneapolis Central Library in Hennepin County, Minnesota, which has seen such a demand for services beyond access to books that in 2015 they hired a full-time social worker. The Star Tribune’s Haley Hansen reports that in the past year, the social worker, Kate Coleman, has worked with nearly 500 homeless people who come to the library looking for housing, employment, and mental health treatment resources — resources that regular librarians aren’t equipped to handle. Her position, which is funded by the county’s human services and public health department and the Minneapolis Downtown council, was created as “part of a yearslong effort” by the library system to “better help the homeless connect with tools and resources in the area.”

“This is a place where people come looking for answers,” Lois Langer Thompson, director of the library system, told Hansen. As anyone who’s ever been in a public library knows, there are few community spaces that offer the sense of stability and refuge that libraries do. There’s less stigma attached to visiting a library than a homeless shelter, and libraries often provide resources for those most in need that can’t be found anywhere else. Which makes the president’s proposal to eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the agency that provides federal funding for libraries and museums across the country, all the more distressing. If recent developments are any indication, though, libraries across the country will be fighting hard to remain “inclusive and accepting spaces for all.”



Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.