‘We just want our library’

South St. Paul residents petition city to keep library 

 

A petition presented Aug. 5 to the South St. Paul City Council contained more than 300 signatures from residents and other visitors who stopped by the Save Our Library booth at this year’s Kaposia Days. 

The library, located at 106 Third Ave. N., is currently owned and run by the city and consists of the original 1927 building plus an addition that dates to 1965. A 2016 study said it would cost millions of dollars to upgrade and renovate — if work could be carried out in 2021 it would come with a $5.4 million price tag.

Earlier this year, the city approached Dakota County to request a study of what would need to be done and the costs associated with the county taking over operation and ownership of the South St. Paul Library.

The county declined to do so, and since then South St. Paul has been looking into what to do with its library. 

The purpose of the petition was to ask city officials to let the library remain and to reinvest in it.

 

Making voices heard

Chris Robinson, a member of Save Our Library, explained the petition at the Aug. 5 meeting.

“We were really, really taken aback about so many citizens who were not even aware there were issues with the library, so we took that advantage and just explained everything that we possibly knew to everyone,” she said. 

Robinson said children who came to the booth with their families were “upset they couldn’t sign the petition also,” since the group was keeping the signers to those 18 and older. 

However, children could leave comments, which Robinson read at the council meeting. “Where would we go to use the computers?” said one. Another: “Can I sign my name 100 times?” An adult commented, “If there’s one tax I paid for, it would be the library.”

Robinson said she’s aware the petition carries no legal weight but that it was something people could do to feel like their voices were heard.

“Our library, in every aspect, is very much used and it remains current and prominent, not [just] in the lives of South St. Paul citizens, but for many people around our wonderful city,” she said.

Nikki Laliberte, a resident and school board member, said she’d been thinking about South St. Paul’s mission as a community and what moving on from the library could signal.

“What kind of message are we sending to our children about books and reading if we eliminate the library?” Laliberte asked.

She said the community can help raise money to support the library — “I’m willing to dig in and do what I need to do as a citizen of this community.”

 

No decision made

Council member Lori Hansen said the council doesn’t want to give up on the library.

“What we are working on as a council and a city is how we can make it a viable place, sustainable, and we don’t want to lose the library,” she said.

She asked residents and community members to work with the council and city to come up with a solution to make it a better library for the future.

Mayor Jimmy Francis said there is an action plan that has been laid out — the council will determine its next steps in the process by Sept. 23, with the council and city staffers working to evaluate the possibility of long-term operation of the library. 

He added the Sept. 23 date is not a conclusion to the discussion.

One resident asked how much of the decision-making process will be done in open meetings, like the council meeting that night.

Council member Tom Seaberg said the council carries out all of its discussions in public.

“This isn’t the state Legislature where you get four people and the governor locked behind closed doors and they determine our budget ... we don’t do that,” he said.

Seaberg said the process is everyone working together to figure out “how to keep the library in the best shape possible for the future.”

The action plan for the library, which includes a timeline, can be viewed at www.southstpaul.org/481/Future-of-SSP-Library.

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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