Across from the bustling Varsity Theater and near the Library Bar and Grill, the Southeast Library sits on the edge of Dinkytown, quietly carrying a rocky past and potentially better future.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs are partnering with Hennepin County officials to find ways the library can better serve the area, ultimately hoping to bring more people through its doors.
“Our primary goal is understanding the needs of the users and potential users of the library,” said Steve Kelley, one of the Humphrey School professors conducting the research.
Hennepin County officials assessed the Southeast Library’s shortcomings in the past, but the new research will provide more information about how the library can improve its services to attract more residents.
Last spring, Hennepin County Property Services partnered with Hennepin County Library Services to assess the facility and identify its needs and deficiencies.
Prior to the study, it was unclear whether the library would have to move or undergo repairs. But after the assessment, county officials concluded that the facility was worth saving and should undergo renovations.
These improvements could reach beyond physical upgrades.
In keeping with the assessment’s recommendations, the Humphrey researchers plan to work with community members and observe library patrons to assess how the facility can improve with new programs and resources. They plan to start the research sometime this month and continue until the end of the year.
Kelley said he plans to include University students on the research team.
Hennepin County Fourth District Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said he’s excited for the project. The study’s results could potentially impact other libraries in the county, he said, by changing how Hennepin County improves libraries for years to come.
Laurie Simenson, a head librarian at the Southeast Library, said the facility currently provides programs for community members of all ages, but she would like to see more people taking advantage of what the library has to offer.
Simenson said the library is unique because it’s close to campus, serving both students and the families and seniors living in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“I think the library is serving the community better than the community knows,” she said. “I think we have a lot of services that the community knows nothing about.”
Librarian Eric Heideman said the library is a valuable resource for the community, but there are ways it can improve to better serve residents.
“We can always do a better job of letting people know we’re here,” he said.