Library needs help, study says

A professor identified areas of improvement for the University neighborhood’s only public library located on Fourth Street.

A visitor at the Southeast Library searches the online database on Saturday evening.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

A visitor at the Southeast Library searches the online database on Saturday evening.

Barry Lytton

Much-needed improvements to the only public library in the University of Minnesota area will get some consideration  after a report was released Thursday.

The study outlines 12 possible improvements the Southeast Library can make to better serve the surrounding neighborhoods, propelling the county library into a more contemporary version of itself.

The outlined improvements include a more advanced computer system, a new role for the librarian and a push past the traditional system of book lending.

The report was based on the research of Humphrey School of Public Affairs professor Steve Kelley, with help from 25
community members and researchers who spent about six months talking to people to find out what they wanted and needed from the library.

Among their requests were longer library hours — the library is only open 24 hours a week — interactive video services, more services for children and mini libraries across the area that branch out from the Southeast Library.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said the survey is a strong first step in addressing the future of Southeast Library — which has been unclear for years.

“It’s our job to define just what that library should look like and what kind of services it should provide and how it should do that,” he said.

But McLaughlin couldn’t say how much money will go into the improvements or which of them they would choose to make, though a $12 million budget has been previously reported.

One of the soundest suggestions Kelley said his research revealed was to create mini libraries across the four neighborhoods it serves.

Because the library serves all of the University’s surrounding neighborhoods, Kelley said, placing hubs where community members could access the library’s resources in multiple locations without having to travel to Dinkytown would help the library better serve the area.

The report also suggests that the library should expand its current selection.

Recent University graduate Priya Bansal said she was in the library for the first time on Saturday and thought the collection was too small.

“I’d like a bigger selection, but I can always order from a different library,” she said.

McLaughlin said the library is one of many the county is addressing since Minneapolis handed the library system over to Hennepin County in 2008.

Southeast Library was shuttered from 2006-08 because the city couldn’t afford to keep it going.

In 2007, the Southeast Library librarian, Eric Heideman, was working on a freelance basis for Hennepin County.

Heideman, now back at Southeast Library, says it stands out among the other Hennepin County branches that he has worked at in his nearly 17 years as a librarian.

“It’s a very diverse neighborhood,” he said. “It’s a special library for me.”

As improvements are made to the library, McLaughlin said the report is the first step in what would be a lengthy process.

“The trick now is to see how we meld all these things together,” he said. “This was a good starting point, and that was what it’s meant to be.”