Library Board: many choices, much at stake

Community library cuts spur 19 candidates for six elected Library Board seats

When you look at your Library Board primary ballot on Sept. 13, you’ll find a long list of names; 19, to be exact. Voters can choose six candidates on the primary ballot; the top 12 finishers will survive to face off in the Nov. 8 general election.

The mayor and City Council will each appoint a trustee to fill out the eight-member independent board.

The Library Board oversees the management of the city’s 14 community libraries, along with the new five-story, $110 million Central Library due to open in May 2006. The board also has the authority to levy a tax for the support of the library system.

The current Board has struggled with state aid cuts, which meant reduced operating hours at all library branches.

The new Board will likely face similar challenges, even as it enjoys a big ribbon-cutting ceremony next May. That’s when the new Central Library, replete with an architectural flourish jutting out over Hennepin, and to be topped in fall 2007 by a $28 million Planetarium and Space Discovery Center, opens up downtown.

The Southwest Journal sent questionnaires to each candidate, asking which neighborhood they live in, their occupation, employer, political party affiliation, what the most pressing issue facing the system is today (and how they would fund their solution), how they would increase library hours and how they would fund the increase in hours. (There is some overlap in answers to the last two questions.) Here are excerpts from the 16 written responses we received. (Jae Bryson, Travis Lee and Timothy A. Davis, Sr. did not respond to our questions.)

Thomas P. Deyo

Neighborhood: Como

Occupation: Retired

Political party affiliation: Republican

Qualifications: "Business owner, served on many University of Minnesota Boards, BA degree from Metro State, contributed over $5,000 in books to several nonprofit libraries."

Most pressing problem: "There is not one particular problem that I see that is most crucial. There are several pressing problems, including, leadership, lack of library availability (hours) and finances. I would like to see new leadership infused into the library system."

He said he’d favor "joint partnerships, like the Ramsey County Library in Roseville, where they have a Dunn Bros as part of the library, making it a community center."

Anita S. Duckor

Neighborhood: Cedar-Isles-Dean

Occupation: Business consultant; owner of Duckor & Associates, Inc.

Party Affiliation: None

Qualifications: Duckor noted that she’s been on the Library Board for the past four years, and on the board of directors of the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library for the past seven. She has also served on several regional, state and national governing boards representing the arts, community and economic development, trade associations and businesses.

Most pressing problem: Duckor said she’ll "evaluate all options and help develop a multirevenue source plan to: restore the local government aid; improve technology and other operational improvements; increase fund-raising to enhance collections, help reach the underserved populations and fund capital projects, including an endowment to make MPL one of the best urban libraries in the country. Furthermore, I am willing to recommend increasing property taxes as an option to put before Minneapolis residents for a vote."

Mark ‘Sparky’ Elko

Neighborhood: Loring Park

Occupation: Customer service representative

Employer: HealthPartners Health Insurance

Political party affiliation: DFL

Qualifications: "From 1998 through 2003, I had the best job of my life – working for the Minneapolis Public Library."

Most pressing problem: "In spite of what you might hear from the other candidates, the most pressing problem is not the lack of library hours. The fact that all libraries are open fewer hours is just a symptom, and not the actual illness. What is ailing our library system is the lack of money. "

Elko said that from 1984 to the present, the lowest-paid library workers’ pay was doubled, while Library Board trustees’ compensation had gone up 500 percent. He didn’t propose any specific cut to that pay, however. (Board members currently get $6,480 per year.)

He said that increasing funding to libraries would only take place when taxes are raised and "we elect candidates at every level of government who understand the importance of libraries. Let’s start by overthrowing the Axis of Eagan – a spiteful governor and a state auditor who had the audacity to say that libraries are not essential services. Continue with the state House, then the White House."

Victor Grambsch

Neighborhood: Nicollet Island/East Bank

Occupation: Owner of software development firm Eudaemonics, Inc.

Political party affiliation: None

Qualifications: Grambsch stated that he’s a longtime Minneapolitan with a commitment to the city’s institutions. He wrote that he’s the president of the Nicollet Island/East Bank Neighborhood Association and has experience in business with "bottom-line decision-making responsibility."

Increasing library hours: "This is the most important item on the agenda. Every new dollar that is available should be directed to this end."

He wrote that the library system must determine its role in the digital age or it risks obsolescence. "The size of the collection is no longer relevant, except for antique information.

"In a digital world, information is available to anyone anywhere anytime. The current Library Board is failing badly in this area. It remains committed to old technology and past ways of thinking – members speak with pride about the millions of volumes in the collection and are investing enormous sums in buildings and other facilities devoted to better handle books."

Eric Hinsdale

Neighborhood: Kingfield

Occupation: Library technology coordinator

Employer: Carleton College

Political Party Affiliation: DFL

Qualifications: Librarian since 1992. He wrote that he’s an "expert in federal and state library funding programs."

Most pressing problem: "The libraries must return to full staffing and normal business hours. Funding to restore staff and hours can come from these sources: Zero out the libraries’ collection budget except for children’s and foreign language materials. Pursue more state and federal grant funds. Partner with the private sector to fund programs; shift operating funds to hours and staff."

Virginia Holte

Neighborhood: Kenwood

Occupation: Retired

Political party affiliation: DFL

Qualifications: The former librarian said she worked in public, university and school library/media centers with duties ranging from operation of a bookmobile to computer instruction "and much in-between." Holte was also an administrator in the University of Minnesota’s College of Architecture.

Most pressing problem: This current Board member said that the library system faces financial difficulty arising from the $3 million in withheld state aid. She advocates a multifaceted solution: "continuing to lobby the State Legislature and governor, to work on finding new efficiencies in our system, and to consider partnering with other community agencies."

Alan Hooker

Neighborhood: Camden/Victory

Occupation: Human resources/Affirmative Action officer

Employer: Accessible Space, Inc.

Political party affiliation: DFL

Qualifications: "As a former library employee, writer and columnist, I understand the vital role of libraries, the literary arts and technology."

System’s most pressing problem: "Funding and budget cuts are endangering our library system."

He has proposed selling "naming rights of community rooms, art spaces, grounds and collections" and "auto license plates dedicated to libraries and literacy programs."

Hooker also proposes restructuring late fees for books based on "the popularity of items and the quantities available."

He also favors a "periodical tax," similar to one proposed in 2002 to help fund a proposed Twins stadium.

"Why not explore a similar idea for libraries and literacy divided up proportionally to the municipalities," he wrote.

Julie Iverson

Neighborhood: Marcy-Holmes

Occupation: Computer consultant

Employer: Self-employed

Political party affiliation: None

Qualifications: "Successful operation of a small business for 15 years. We support nonprofits, small businesses and individuals in making the most of information technology assets. This includes training and policy development.

She added that she can "type and wash the coffee cups, too."

Most pressing problem: She said that as far as she is concerned, "the library needs to demonstrate its relevance to the citizens of this city. I say this not because I believe it is irrelevant, but rather because the Board will not successfully lobby for more funds in isolation."

She said she would increase the Library Board’s visibility via public access TV, "big-name book signings" and partnerships with schools.

Increasing library hours: "Heck, I’d provide some substantial staffing myself if they’d give me a key and the unions wouldn’t gripe! Barring that, I would first need to educate myself. This would include a thorough examination of budgets with an eye toward redistribution of funds."

She said she envisions increasing citizen participation in the running of the libraries; she also favors online book sale links from the library Web site, and corporate sponsorships, though she noted that she does "not relish the idea of a ‘Corporation XYZ Library.’"

Lisa Kjellander

Neighborhood: Fulton

Occupation: Librarian

Employer: Hennepin County

Political party affiliation: Did not list on questionnaire.

Qualifications: Librarian, 1998 to present

Most pressing problem: "Funding, or a lack thereof. Funding affects every aspect of the library from daily operations to collections to quality of service. We need to do a better job of diversifying our funding sources.

"At current funding levels, it is unrealistic to think that library hours could increase. Staff is already covering the workload resulting from nearly a one-third reduction of employees. Volunteers, while a valuable asset to the library, cannot replace the work of a qualified librarian."

Rod Krueger

Neighborhood: Nokomis East

Occupation: Training and development consultant

Employer: Frontier Communications of Minnesota

Political party affiliation: DFL

Qualifications: Krueger, who is the current Library Board president, has been a Board member since 1998. He was co-chair of the Walker Library Task Force and a member of the East Lake Library Advisory Committee. He is also president of the Metronet Governing Board (and chair of its Finance Committee), and a member of the Hennepin Private Industry Council.

Most pressing problem: "The library will need to develop more community and business partnerships, create a long-term donor strategy, improve efforts to lobby for more Local Government Aid (LGA), and increase cooperation with the county, city, schools and parks."

He wrote that his goals include expanded "user-friendly" hours at the community libraries, as well as the restoration of state LGA funding.

Sheldon Mains

Neighborhood: Seward

Occupation: "I help nonprofits use technology to better serve their communities."

Employer: Technology consultant

Political party affiliation: DFL

Qualifications: "I know how to find money, improve efficiency, work with organizations and work with all of our communities."

Mains said he’s raised funds from corporations and governments for nonprofit organizations, worked with the City Council and State Legislature and built a consulting business that helps nonprofits use technology more efficiently.

Most pressing problem: "The major challenge to our library system is the current inadequate funding. We can improve efficiency and do a better job at fund-raising, but these solutions will only help around the edges. We need to restore adequate government funding – both from the state and from the city. I will work with other elected officials at the city and state and work to build an effective lobbying effort to restore adequate funding."

Laurie Savran

Neighborhood: Linden Hills

Occupation: Attorney

Employer: Self-employed

Political party affiliation: DFL

Qualifications: This current Library Board member and 20-year family law attorney said she’s developed important skills as a lawyer that are crucial to successful library management: negotiating skills, the ability to write and read budgets, and crisis management skills as well.

Most pressing problem: "Reduction of the local government aid of $3 million which resulted in having to reduce our library hours, collection budget and staff. The citizens want their libraries to be open like they were before the budget crashed. We need to build better partnerships with the legislators, as well as [with] private businesses such as Marshall Field’s that funded our summer reading program and the small businesses that helped fund interim library services at Franklin."

Samantha George Smart

Neighborhood: Nokomis

Occupation: Consultant in development, management development, community and political activist

Employer: Self-employed

Political party affiliation: None

Qualifications: Among her qualifications, Smart listed her work as a grassroots community activist for 25 years. She helped form a grassroots group that raised $30,000 to keep Nokomis Library open on Saturdays "when the Board refused to do so." She’s also a researcher, writer, fund-raiser, and founder of Speak Out Sisters! "an organization devoted to bringing women together to analyze and transform systems of oppression."

Most pressing problem: Smart wrote that the library system’s most pressing problem is financial. Her solution includes a dedicated property tax for libraries, as well as "Library Building Impact Fees, a property tax assessment placed on new building and significant renovations."

Smart also said the library system should be able to increase the amount of money it receives from grants.

"I am completely unsatisfied with the decisions of the current Board in regard to hour and staff cuts, and their apparent lack of action to restore and improve funding levels. Due to my personal experience as a grassroots library activist over the last several years, I also believe that the Board’s decisions show evidence of a lack of concern and sensitivity to poor people, communities of color and neighborhood library activists."

Ian Stade

Neighborhood: Whittier

Occupation: Librarian

Employer: Minneapolis Public Library

Political party affiliation: Green Party

Qualifications: Librarian, Minneapolis Public Library 2001-present; vice president, Professional Librarians Union of Minneapolis

Most pressing problem: "We need our library to be economically and environmentally sustainable. Due to rising health care costs and state aid cuts, we will be in a permanent fiscal crisis for the foreseeable future.

"Due to our dependence on fossil fuels for energy, we face a great energy crisis this century. We need to renovate and build library buildings that are extremely energy-efficient and capable of generating their own electricity. This can be funded by capital funds and corporate partnerships."

Gary Thaden

Neighborhood: Lowry Hill East

Occupation: Attorney

Employer: Pettersen and Associates, Inc.

Political party affiliation: DFL

Qualifications: Thaden wrote that he was on the 2000 Minneapolis Library Referendum Steering Committee, the Minneapolis Library Citizen Participation Group, vice chair of the Minneapolis Charter Commission, a member of the Minneapolis Capital Long-Range Improvement Committee, and is a former board member of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association.

Most pressing problem: "We need better relations with the Minneapolis City Council and mayor. We need to form coalitions with suburban libraries and library supporters when we go over to the Legislature and the governor. I have the knowledge and experience to accomplish this objective."

Laura Waterman Wittstock

Neighborhood: Como

Occupation: Small business owner; media and education consultation

Political party affiliation: DFL

Qualifications: This current Library Board member said as a member of the National Indian Education Association, she designed and developed a collection "by, for and about American Indians." She is founder and has been president for 16 years of MIGIZI, a local nonprofit; administrator of Heart of the Earth School; consultant to public education, tribes, organizations in the areas of media and education; as well as a writer and journalist.

Most pressing problem: "We must increase revenue so free libraries can function well. I pledge to restore and increase public source operating funds to the Minneapolis Library system.

"Unlike some of the other races, there is general agreement among Library Board candidates on the main issue. What will make the difference after the election is that experience and leadership will lead the way to solutions. There is no substitute for this and there can be no on-the-job training after the election."