Webber Library will reopen in January

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Dedication and persistence of neighborhood win out.

Something good is returning to our neighborhood and I’ve been anxiously waiting since December 28, 2006 to tell of its return. Webber Park Library is scheduled to reopen on January 2, 2008. It seems we shouldn’t have to wait so long, but as it turns out, reopening a library is a bit more complicated than closing one. Closing a library can take place in a few days, following votes and decision making on the part of our elected officials. Reopening is a bit more complex. It involves consolidated library systems, enabling legislation, guiding principles, labor negotiations, employee transfers, property transfers, hiring staff, and money. Reopening a library takes a year. If you’re lucky.

The Hennepin County Library and Minneapolis Library consolidation is moving ahead at a quick pace. By early spring it seemed all of the important players — at least the ones who get to make the decisions — were on board to consolidate the Minneapolis and Hennepin County libraries. The City Council, the Minneapolis Library Trustees, Mayor Rybak, the Friends of the Library and the Hennepin County Commissioners, all agreed that the best way to move our metro library services into the 21st Century was to consolidate the two systems. Our state legislators provided the legislation needed to enable the consolidation without a vote from Minneapolis citizens. This was necessary because the consolidation eliminates an elected board – the Minneapolis Library Trustees. If the enabling legislation had not passed and been signed by Governor Pawlenty, the consolidation question would have been put before the people of Minneapolis in the next election and would have delayed the reopening of the three libraries by at least one year.

The legislation that would have funded the consolidation did not go as well. Our state legislators passed it, but Governor Pawlenty vetoed it and for a quick minute it looked like the train was slipping backwards on the track. To insure that didn’t happen, Hennepin County Commissioner McLaughlin presented a resolution which enabled the County Administrator to assess and transfer property. It also set in motion the plan for the cost of the legal and real estate work. These costs will be shared equally between Minneapolis (the City and the Library) and Hennepin County. The legal and real estate costs are not to exceed $650,000. Hennepin County will pay for the cost of any consultants, not to exceed $100,000 each. The resolution passed on June 26, and this put the consolidation back on the fast track.

There are a few more issues to iron out before the consolidation is a guarantee. Labor issues have been a stumbling block along the way, but Minneapolis Library Director Kit Hadley seemed optimistic that all labor issues would be resolved by the end of August. The plan is to hire staff for Webber Park, Southeast and Roosevelt Libraries in September and October. All three libraries will be open three days a week, for eight hours; Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This will be four hours more per week than when Webber Park closed in 2006, but it is one less day. All three libraries will be open fewer hours than other Minneapolis branch libraries which are open 40 hours per week. The City of Minneapolis will fund the reopening and operations of the three libraries for three years. At that time Hennepin County will take over all expenses for operations. At any time after the consolidation is complete Hennepin County could decide to fund additional hours at the three libraries.

On January 2, 2008, when the consolidation is complete, Hennepin County will assume all of the assets of the Minneapolis Public Libraries. All of the Minneapolis Library staff will be officially transferred to Hennepin County as well. All outstanding debt liabilities will remain the responsibility of the original debtors, until retired, whether that be just Minneapolis residents or both suburban and Minneapolis residents. The library system will be named Hennepin County Libraries and individual libraries will retain their branch names. The governance will change as well. There will be a 10-member library board which will be advisory to the County Commissioners. The Hennepin County Library Board is appointed, not elected, as in Minneapolis. It is agreed that for three years only, three of those appointments would go to Minneapolis residents.
Residents of Minneapolis can still give input into the process and can ask questions about the consolidation at regularly scheduled Minneapolis Library Trustee meetings. The Trustees will meet only once in September and once in October. Those meeting dates will be September 19 and October 17 and the location will be posted on the Minneapolis Library website. They will resume twice monthly meetings in November and December.

Reopening of Webber Park Library is the right thing to do. It is a piece of the fabric of this community. It is an integral part of our community’s history. It is a piece of the social and educational infrastructure, which in turn insures the health and welfare of our community. When it opened in the old field house at Webber Park, I am sure that the original donors, Mary and Charles Webber had no idea what the City of Minneapolis would look like in 2008. However, they did plan for the future, because in their bequest they stated that it should remain within six blocks of the original site should it be rebuilt. I believe they would be pleased that their gift to our City is still valued. I bet they would be proud of the people in this community who fought to keep Webber Park Library.

Thanks to the 1000 people who signed the petition to save Webber Park Library. Thanks to Camden Coffee and Steamworks for your help in collecting signatures. Thanks to City Council Members Barb Johnson, Diane Hofstede Sandra Colvin-Roy, Elizabeth Glidden, Cam Gordon and Gary Schiff, and Library Trustees Alan Hooker and Laura Waterman Wittstock for opposing the closing of Webber Park Library in the first place. Thanks to Starla Krause for continually prompting her friends and neighbors to be engaged in democracy — including me. Thanks to Sam Sharp for your passion and for saving-libraries-in-minneapolis@ googlegroups.com. Thanks to Steve Campagnola for your inquiring and discerning mind. Thanks to Mary Martinson for your caring and level headed approach. Thanks to Nick Coleman for bringing this story to the people. Thanks to Mike Kazuba, Terry Collins and the StarTribune for keeping the story alive. Thanks to Camden Community News for believing it is a story worth covering. Thanks to our Southeast and Southside allies, especially Cheryl Luger, Kathy Reilly, Carol Roos, Karen Stauber and many more. Thanks to the countless others who wrote letters, sent emails, attended meetings, made phone calls and never gave up. Thanks to all of you, Webber Park Library will be open in 2008.