Hennepin, Minneapolis libraries should merge

Along with funding stability, the collections complement each other well.

Minneapolis consistently polls as one of the most literate cities in the country. In fact, only Seattle has been ranked higher in the last two years. We like our books here, but, unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to check them out from the Minneapolis Public Library system. Because of a funding crisis, hours have been reduced by 35 percent, a quarter of the staff has been laid off, and three of the 12 branches in the system have closed – at least for the time being. Even the crown jewel of the system, the sparkling new Central Library downtown, is closed all day on Sundays and Mondays.

The city deserves better, and we believe that a merger between the Hennepin County Library system and the Minneapolis Public Library will accomplish this. On Wednesday, the Star Tribune reported that such a merger – with Hennepin County absorbing the Minneapolis system – is likely to be approved by the Hennepin County Board, the Minneapolis City Council and the City Library Board, and then passed on to the legislature for approval.

Right now, most of the funding for the Hennepin County Library system comes from the property taxes in suburban areas, whereas the Minneapolis system is dependent on both property taxes and especially state funding in the form of Local Government Aid. The cuts to this aid in the past legislative sessions have crippled the Minneapolis system, and now it is time for the two to merge.

The collections of these two systems complement each other well. Hennepin County has many copies of popular, high circulation books, but only about 300,000 volumes total, while the Minneapolis system, particularly the central branch, has over 1.15 million volumes, including rare books, documents and research materials. The funding stability of the Hennepin County system will allow current Minneapolis branches to stay open longer hours and make interlibrary borrowing more efficient.

Minneapolis Public Library officials deserve kudos for their willingness to sacrifice some of their autonomy for the benefit of the city. The transition from two systems to one won’t be easy, and experts say it would likely take a decade to complete, but the city will be better for it, and we encourage this move wholeheartedly.