After 14 years on the job at Northeast Community Library, Senior Librarian Lois Porfiri will soon move to the Maple Grove Community Library.
Porfiri started working for the Minneapolis Public Library (MPL) system in 1987. She weathered the 2008 MPL/Hennepin County merger—which turned the Northeast Library from a city into a county library—and, more recently was displaced, along with staff and patrons, from the building during an 18-month long renovation project. (She spent part of that time working at the St. Anthony Village library.)
When Hennepin County library officials decided to transfer her, Porfiri said, “They told me that they wanted me to use my skills of networking and connecting with the community at Maple Grove.” She describes Maple Grove as a “retail nirvana,” adding that the library is on the main street where small shops are located. Her new job is farther from home and in a suburb, which will be quite a change. “I live in St. Paul. I’m a city person. I like the grid. I know how to connect to organizations in the city.”
Some Northeast community members, such as Friends of the Library member Sarah Stonich, say they were surprised and unhappy to hear about the transfer. “This will be a tough transition for us all—no one wants to see Lois go, but much as we’ll miss her, we wish her the very best in her new position, and secretly hope she’ll be back. It’s hard to find words to thank Lois properly for her fantastic service.”
Porfiri said, “I really liked working here. I bonded with Northeast. It feels like a village here; people allowed me to connect with them. I learned their names and I learned what they like to read. Some of the children who originally came to my story times are now 14 years older and getting ready to graduate from high school.”
The area reminds her of the Iron Range, where she grew up. “It feels a bit like northern Minnesota, the way the houses look and the streets are organized, and the way people work together for the benefit of all,” she said.
She said she enjoyed going to Northeast’s schools—Pillsbury and Waite Park elementary schools and Northeast Middle School (and, before they closed, Holland and Putnam elementary schools as well)—for book talks. “I packed my bag and geared up for spring school visits. I talked about library cards and what the library is for. I brought a bag of books and talked about different reading levels and the importance of finding books they liked.”
She said she was always interested in matching up kids with books at their reading level. “I told them that if something like Harry Potter was too big of a struggle, there are many other books out there that they would probably enjoy.” She also enjoyed choosing books for homebound residents, and finding out whether or not they agreed with her selections.
Porfiri’s favorite library events included author talks. Recent visiting writers included Peter Geye (The Lighthouse Road) from the North Shore and Thomas Maltman (Little Wolves) from southeast Minnesota. Both write books for adults. “It was interesting to talk to them; they both said they chose their settings first,” she said. Another popular program featured writer Will Weaver, whose short story was the basis for the movie “Sweet Land.” People from the movie came with him as part of the presentation, Porfiri said.
After the Northeast Community Library re-opened March 31, 2012, what changes did library users see? “We had nine computers in here before we remodeled and there was always a group of waiters. Now we have 35. They are the most used thing in the building.” Staffing remained the same, she added, with four full time staff people and two librarians. The other librarian is Ernie Batson, an Edison graduate who grew up in Northeast. Other staff includes a senior support services supervisor who comes to Northeast roughly once a week.
The library gained 2,400 square feet. It now has fewer books and more CDs and DVDs. “We still get asked for VHS audio books. We don’t have books on tape anymore. Those are on CDs. The teen collection is larger and we have a dedicated teen area for the first time ever.”
In recent years she said she has noticed that reference questions are decreasing. “People just Google things now.” Their magazine archives have decreased and there is no microfiche or microfilm in Northeast anymore. “They still have the microfiche readers at the downtown library for old newspapers. Some people want to see the whole newspaper; they will be looking for something like an old advertisement, for instance.”
She said that in the future, she would like to see more people talking about reading. Retired head librarian Connie Hill—who hired Porfiri—still leads a book club at the Northeast library.
Joan Mitchell, vice president of the Friends of Northeast Library, said that the local Friends group got organized about two years ago. “Lois has been at every meeting and facilitated everything. She let us know what the library needed and what the community needed. It’s been a great relationship. She has made it possible to have our author events and our annual book sale.
“We were very sad to hear she was leaving,” Mitchell added. “She’s been a great community liaison. She was on the President’s Walk community group. She also attended all the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association meetings. People will miss her take on things. She had her thumb on the pulse of Northeast.”
Adelheid Koski, president of Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association, said, “I cannot remember a time when Lois was not a fixture at the library. Not only is Lois helpful to library patrons, she has gone out of her way to engage with individual residents, library users, and other community partners. I will miss seeing her walking the streets of our neighborhood. I will miss her personally delivered updates at the Holland neighborhood meetings. As a community leader I appreciate how willing she has been to work with community partners whenever there were challenges with youth or crime in or around the library. She got the library security help so that the librarians could do their jobs as librarians. Everyone involved in the library’s long renovation process has remarked time and again how great Lois was at keeping all parties up to date. To be honest I don’t know if I have ever met a public servant with both the tenacity and patience Lois seems to have. She’s a gem.”
Porfiri’s last day in Northeast is Saturday, Nov. 17. The Friends of Northeast Library and HNIA co-hosted a going away party for her Wednesday, Nov. 14. Librarian Laurie Simonson, who currently works at Augsburg Park Library, will be Northeast’s new senior librarian. Her first official day on the job is Nov. 20.