A day in the life of a library

A reporter’s account of a day’s activities at the Linden Hills Library

With budget problems threatening to close branches and shrink hours, how to funding neighborhood libraries is among the most debated questions facing the city. Much attention has focused on dealings at City Hall, but meanwhile what goes on at a neighborhood library? Who uses them, and why are they important?

The Southwest Journal spent a day asking those questions at the Linden Hills Library on a recent Friday. The branch was never a candidate for closing, but the hours it is be open have been discussed. Here is a minute-by-minute account of a typical day in the life of a Minneapolis library.

9:57 a.m. Lee Ladd of Edina pulls off his chopper gloves and lifts his green jacket sleeve to check the time. The retired tech worker walks by the library just about everyday on his morning walk to the lakes. “I prefer ordering them to buying them at Barnes & Noble, even if I have to wait,” he says as he waits on the sidewalk for the doors to unlock.

10:14 a.m. A flutter of traffic comes and goes in the minutes after the library opens. Regulars drop returns on the check-in counter and immediately go to the reserve shelf, where orange and white tags stick from the tops of titles.

Kathleen Peippo, 53, of Linden Hills, arrives armed with a seat cushion she made to help ease her back while sitting on the hard, wooden table chairs. She writes for a business reference book and uses the library to research. “It’s also a great place to run into neighbors,” she says.

10:33 a.m. “STORYTIME!” scream half a dozen infants and toddlers gathered in the children’s section. Children’s Librarian Hilary Moon Murphy sits on the floor and starts reading from “Baker, Baker, Cookie Maker.” As she turns the pages, the audience responds to her exaggerated inflection with a variety of squeals and stone-faced baby stares.

“Anything that involves getting out in the community with the kids” is what makes the library essential to her, says Sarah Wilkinson. Her 13-month-old daughter wanders from the circle, pulls a square, glossy book called “Cool Cars” from the shelf and plops it on the floor next to a brown teddy bear.

10:56 a.m. With quick, short blips, Library clerk Jerome Cain scans returned materials that have accumulated on the front counter. “You do it constantly, all day long,” Cain says. “It’s something that never stops.” He pops open a DVD case to make sure the discs are inside. Someone’s returned “The Incredibles” but only included one of the two discs in the set. Cain gets on the phone to leave a calm, polite message. “Hi. This is the Linden Hills LibraryŠ.”

11:22 a.m. “Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up”

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1994

“This is going to bum me out because it’s on a really crowded shelf down here,” Librarian Lois Porfiri says. She squats down and wedges the Dave Barry hardcover horizontally on top of a row of other books filed under “PN.”

Porfiri wheels a shelving cart around the second floor while also keeping an eye on the reference desk. The library staffers are multi-taskers by necessity, always doing one thing and keeping an eye on another.

At the computers across the room, Jim Egge, 64, has just closed a stock trade online. The retired Roseville teacher lives near Lake Harriet and stops in the library a couple times a week to check e-mail, trade stocks and manage his fantasy football team. “We’re in the semifinals right now,” he says.

11:38 a.m. Gordon Anderson also comes for the free, public Internet access, even though he worries about privacy. A self-proclaimed “mad scientist,” the Edina musician says he designed a fleet of planes and spacecraft that run on alternative fuels and produce no emissions. Now he thinks the government might be spying on him for pursuing ideas that go against oil interests.

“If I am under surveillance, I worry that I might be making it too easy for them, logging in to use the Internet here,” he says, just having set aside the latest issue of Utne magazine, clasped in a stiff, blue protective binder. (Head Librarian Deb Reierson said a user’s Internet history is erased when they log off from a computer.)

On the morning of President Bush’s last visit to the Twin Cities, Anderson said he was unable to access his personal website. “There’s something going on.” Also, he’s got a theory involving brain implants on how the U.S. government was secretly behind John Lennon’s murder.

12:15 p.m. Senior library clerk Darlene Nordos is on mending duty, taping up periodicals that have come back ragged and tattered. Comic books and children’s magazines “just go out and they’re shredded,” Nordos says. She centers a strip of tape over the open seam of a Sesame Street magazine. Kids aren’t the only ones who overuse materials, though. Her next task is a major spine reconstruction on an issue of Runner’s World.

12:28 p.m. Betty Sigurdson, 85, of Edina, grew up in Linden Hills and visits about once a month. “I’m a library maven,” she says as she browses the mystery section. “If I would have had to buy all of the books I checked out from 1928 to 2006 I would have had to be a millionaire.” She’s wedged about eight books into her cloth bag. “I spend a lot of time reading. What else have I got to do? I’m 85.”

12:55 p.m. University of Minnesota student Abby Dirks, 28, is paging through a cookbook called “Spices of Life” in the second-floor periodicals room. Winter break is coming up, and she’ll finally have time to try something new, probably the gingery scallops with maple syrup glaze. “I was just looking through and thought, ‘Oh, I have all those ingredients at home. I should make that.’”

1:19 p.m. “Rock ‘n’ roll to scare the hell out of your neighbors,” reads the website in front of Neal Bauer. The 24-year-old recent University of Minnesota graduate came to use the computer for job hunting, but the effort’s been sidetracked by his interest in obscure record labels. “I like the layout of this library,” Bauer says. “It’s quaint, and you can get on the computer fairly easy.”

1:45 p.m. Singer/songwriter Mason Jennings is slouched in a cushy chair in the second-floor fiction section with a black winter cap pulled over his forehead. “I’m just taking a breather,” Jennings says, setting down a copy of “Slow Man” by J.M. Coetzee. “I try to take a break in the middle of the day.”

2:08 p.m. A post-lunch rush has buried the return counter again. The books hit the counter with a soft thump, sometimes gliding a centimeter or two on their slick, plastic covers. Cain is at work again, zapping barcodes with a fluttering red line from his check-in wand.

The mounds of materials suggest the people who use this library come with wide, varying tastes and interests: A Hold Steady CD, a Hardy Boys book, a Mary-Kate & Ashley video, “Cooking Light” cookbook, and DVDs that include the “Ali G Show” and “Sister Act.”

“Many of our patrons are total omnivores,” Murphy says. “It’s nice seeing how people can experiment with us.”

2:49 p.m. Joe Nelson, 48, of Linden Hills, is helping his kids stock children’s books in the back of a stroller. So far, the stash for checkout includes some Curious George and a book about hippos. The stay-at-home dad says they’re here at least once a week, and that they always find about 10 books.

“Books are books, and they’ve got more than enough for us,” he says. Other patrons have said they prefer the smallness of a neighborhood library, even if it means less selection.

“They feel like they can find more, even though we have less on the shelf,” Murphy says.

3:08 p.m. Mary Dow Ryerse of Linden Hills is celebrating her 53rd birthday doing things she likes to do. At the moment, she’s flipping through the recent cartoon issue of The New Yorker. “I’ve already got a stack of library books at home, so I didn’t bring my library card on purpose so I couldn’t check out any more out.”

4:00 p.m. Activity is picking up, with most of the Internet terminals in use and all the seats taken near the newspaper stacks. “It’s quieter than reading it at a coffee shop,” says an Edina man after folding up a Star Tribune section. “This one is especially quiet.” A woman waiting to meet a friend is breezing through Elle magazine. “Oh, I’m just looking at these silly magazines,” she says. “Just a little eye candy.”

4:07 p.m. Earlier in the day, Amy Ferris, 25, of St. Louis Park, successfully sewed together a pair of mittens made from shrunken sweater scraps. She wants to make more and was at the library on a hunt for pattern ideas to attach to the mittens.

She sat down at a table with a book about old airplanes, but as she looked up, she spotted a vintage fashion book. “I kind of like the idea of umbrellas,” she says, pausing to dwell on a drawing of a proper, Victorian woman holding an umbrella.

4:35 p.m. Nordos uses a green marker to scratch the barcode off a book called “Drawing and Learning About Dogs.” “It just didn’t move,” she says. It’s one in a pile of dozens in front of her that are rarely checked out and need to go to make room for more books. After scribbling over all the barcodes, she smacks them with the wet end of a WITHDRAWN stamp. Those in good enough condition will be sold by Friends of the Library.

4:50 p.m. “The last hour is almost always busy” no matter the day or closing time, Reierson says. A list of closing tasks hangs in the office, more duties for the multitasking employees.

5:25 p.m. Erin Kubly, 29, who lives in Uptown, works in the neighborhood. As closing time nears, she’s one of a few people standing in line to check-out materials.

“I get all my DVDs at the library,” she says, showing a copy of “Swingers.” “I saw it a long time ago.”

5:40 p.m. Reierson passes through the periodicals room and scoops up last Sunday’s papers and any other not still in use. She drops them on a cart nearby. An announcement alerts patrons that the branch will be closing soon.

5:53 p.m. The staff starts to shut down computers. The pace of shelving picks up a bit as patrons continue to browse. Another announcement is made that the library is about to close.

5:59 p.m. Keychain in hand, Cain shuts off a computer at the front desk. Then he goes to the elevator, opens it at the first floor and uses the key to shut it off for the weekend.

6:00 p.m. Cain peers onto the second floor, looking for patrons who might be straggling. He clicks a lock on the front door and turns an Open sign to Closed.

 

Dan Haugen can be reached at [email protected] or 436-5088.