Six months ago, the Saint Paul Public Library published a strategic vision report, considering its role in Saint Paul’s community future. I missed this completely. But, it’s not too late to correct for oversight or cluelessness.
I’m a Saint Paul resident, a library patron and a financial supporter of the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library. I am, admittedly, pro-library. I’m not a traditionalist. While I love rows upon rows of book-ladened shelves, my library’s potential reach is boundless. Computers, Wi-Fi, e-books, downloads, streaming, databases, digital interface; I’m for all of it. Same thing goes with the idea of the library as a community center. Bring on meetings, homework assistance centers, vermiculture compositing demonstrations and the like. I’m for it.
That’s pretty much where “Saint Paul Public Library: A Framework for the Future” comes down. The report’s research process captured Saint Paul’s dynamic needs. It correctly observes that the need for a strong, community-based, user-focused library system is essential to Saint Paul’s identity, cohesion and future growth.
The report’s “Four Stories” section outlines the library system’s four distinct missions: the community forum, the new learning network, the technology commons, and the mobile app. Saint Paul Public Library’s challenge-and by extension, all of Saint Paul’s challenge-is to chose all missions, not one or two.
The conservative public policy vision for Minnesota sees the library as government overreach and bloat. It shouldn’t. Traditional mainstream conservative perspective embraces the public library’s role of protector of democratic freedoms, recognizing the importance of well-educated, well-informed citizens as bulwarks against tyranny. But, Minnesota’s conservative movement has sacrificed that vision to shield Minnesota’s highest income earners from paying their fair share of taxes.
In this regard, I support that older conservative viewpoint. I believe in persuasion, not in someone telling me what I should think. I believe that libraries are essential elements in our democracy’s healthy function. An educated, engaged, and expressive free citizenry is rarely a neat, efficient experience but it is free. We only get there and stay there with libraries, strong schools, affordable healthcare, good roads and job-creating economic development. It’s a tall order but, as Minnesotans, we are up to it.