#330. I Reluctantly Revisited This Place for the First Time in A Decade

Books I've paid money for. 
Books I’ve paid money for.

I grew up in Mayberry, basically.

Except it was called Stillwater, Minnesota– an idyllic, historical town along the St. Croix River. There’s a quintessential American main street, a diner with waitresses who’ve worked there since the Reagan administration, townie bars where everyone knows your name and all your business. Literally.

The Stillwater Public Library is one of the most beautiful places in town.

Ye Olde Stillwater Public Library | Photo by McGhiever 
Ye Olde Stillwater Public Library | Photo by McGhiever

Built in 1902 (and funded mostly by Andrew Carnegie), the stunning Beaux Arts building looks old-timey fancy and overlooks the Saint Croix River.

As a kid, I remember loving trips to the library, digging through shelves to find books from the Sleepover Friends series (not Babysitters Club, which I only liked because I wanted to have Stacey’s handwriting) and creepy R.L. Stine thrillers.

The librarians were so librarian-y (except one who always looked more like a cocktail waitress). At any rate, I loved the public library as a kid.

Fast-forward to my sophomore year of college.

University of Wisconsin, circa 2003. I enjoyed studying at coffee shops and the college’s libraries. It was nice to get out of my crappy apartment. One day, I walked by the Madison Public Library and thought, “Hmmm… why have I never studied there?”

So I popped in.

Pardon my honesty, but I immediately noticed a distinct funk in the air.

The building was old (in a bad way), filthy and reeked of body odor. Hrmm. I wasn’t just going to walk out, so I continued on and looked for a place to sit.

The entire library was full of homeless people, including this one guy John who regularly slept in the stairwell of my duplex (another weird story for another day).

I sat down and tried to be cool about it. Shortly thereafter, some creepy guy started talking at me. I escaped to the bathroom, which was littered with toilet paper. Next to the sink sat two empty 40s. People drink in a library? Are you kiddin’ me?!

Smell ya later, scary library!

I told a few friends about my library experience and they were all like, “Yeah, that’s the library for ya!” WHAT?! I thought the libraries are all puppies and rainbows and old people checking out large print books. What a sheltered life I’d lived!

I was so turned off, I did not enter another public library until a month ago.

I’d joined my first book club. Instead of buying the book, I decided I would borrow from the brand new Hennepin County Library, which just opened a mile from my house.

The scary library. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library 
The scary library. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library

I was nervous about a few things.

One, parking. Street parking is impossible near the library. I’d normally walk, but it was two degrees. Two, the rigmarole of obtaining a card. Three, finding my book. And lastly, creepy people.

When I pulled up to the library, I realized they have heated, underground parking for $1 an hour. Not only that, but it was nearly empty and well-lit.

Welcome to the cleanest parking lot in Minneapolis!
Welcome to the cleanest parking lot in Minneapolis!

Well, that was easier than expected.

As I entered the library, I immediately noticed the abundance of natural light flooding through the south-facing, floor-to-ceiling windows.

No funky smell. Incredibly clean. Quiet.

Next, I told the librarian I needed a library card. I expected her to be all judgmental (why don’t you already have one?! I’ll bet you don’t even take public transportation!), but she wasn’t. I showed her my driver’s license and within minutes, I had my card.

Now onto finding the book.

I realized I didn’t even know what I was looking for: Fiction or non-fiction? No idea. Author name? You got me. I knew the book title, and hoped the computer sitting at a nearby kiosk was available for folks to search.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Non-fiction. I wrote down the author’s name and walked toward the non-fiction section.

Larson, Larson, Larson. Where were the Ls? I finally found them and lo-and behold, Erik Larson was not in the LA section. In fact, I couldn’t find any Larsons or Larsens or La-anything. Then it hit me:

Remember the Dewey Decimal System?!

Is that still a thing? Turns out, it IS still a thing, so back to the kiosk I went to find the number associated with my book, which was actually E748.D6 L37 2011. Of course!

Found it.

In the Garden of Beasts = highly recommended!
In the Garden of Beasts = highly recommended!

I walked to a different computer, which looked like one of those self-check lanes at a grocery store. I didn’t want to ask, “how do I use this do-hickey.” I am a millennial and we know how to use technology. It was actually pretty easy: scan my library card, scan the book’s barcode, print receipt. It’s kind of crazy that in my lifetime, we’ve gone from card catalogues and check out cards to a totally computerized system.

Welcome to the future, y’all!

Thirty minutes and fifty cents on parking. That’s all this trip cost.

People were friendly, not drinking malt liquor or shouting at me and it was clean, clean, clean! And the best part: the library is like Barnes and Noble or Amazon or Half-priced Books… but FREE!

What a concept! Have you guys heard of libraries yet? They are the next big thing.

I’ll be back soon, library. And I’ll bring along the 90 cents I owe you for this two-day overdo book.

* * *

Sometimes overcoming the mundane things are the scariest… but most rewarding! For example, the time I rode the bus home from work, the time I bought houseplants (they are all still alive, by the way!), and the time I made a rack of lamb at home.

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Comments (18)

  • Jessica Russell 2 years ago Reply

    Librarians/library people are just so excited when you get a library card and become an official patron. Seriously excited! You’re justifying their existence! They live to help! Hennepin Library has a great reputation in the library world. Be sure to check out their e-reources–most library systems offer e-book services and/or e-music checkout or downloads. Hennepin has Freegal, which will get you a set number of free song downloads a month and Zinio, an e-magazine resource. Professional pride compels me to share that that is Library of Congress classification, but really, it’s all about being able to find the stuff again after you shelve it.
    –A delighted Hey Eleanor reader and librarian 🙂

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I definitely need to check out the free ebooks! My eReader is a dinosaur and am looking to get a new one at some point. I really don’t understand how to share ebooks, so I’m always reluctant to buy them because they seem like a waste of money. Borrowing obviously seems smarter.

    Thanks for your encouragement!

  • Tyler Patterson 2 years ago Reply

    I’ve always loved libraries. I grew up just south of Stillwater and I remember going to it’s library one time as a kid (my aunt lived there). I always grabbed way too many books, more than I could possibly read. I’ve also been meaning to read In the Garden of Beasts! I’m a huge WWII literature fan and that’s on my near future list. Go libraries!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    The book was so good! Just finished it over the weekend. I just started Devil in the White City last night. Erik Larson is one crazy researcher. I am so impressed.

    PS I’m a huge WWII "fan." Probably not exactly what you meant, but I know what you mean. Ha!

  • Meg 2 years ago Reply

    Hahaha, Jessica, I guess Molly has a larger librarian following than she anticipated because I was about to make the exact same points as you. Professional pride all the way! I’m also compelled to say that libraries and librarians run the spectrum from smelly and judgmental to beautiful and excited. I like to think that my work is more on the beautiful and excited end of things.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Jessica & Meg– this totally makes my day! It just goes to show that your perception is your reality. Here I was, thinking I was being judged by the library staff, when in reality, they may have been excited. I’ve already been back twice and plan on going again before my honeymoon.

    Very excited to get reacquainted with the Dewey decimal system 😉

  • Ashley 2 years ago Reply

    I have also always loved libraries…but I have never experienced one that was a gathering place for the homeless!

    I love books and can easily blow a lot of money on them. I live less than a mile from our local library, and I have a goal to utilize it more often. I live in Connecticut, and we have a really awesome library system where every location in the state is connected. So if your library doesn’t have the book you want, you can just request it from another and they send it over! They also offer an assortment of museum passes which get you free or discounted admission. Tim and I finally used one to get one free admission to the Mark Twain House in Hartford over the summer. Next I need to attend some of the other activities offered on site. Libraries are a great community resource!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Honestly, if I were homeless, I would TOTALLY hang out at the library all the time. Especially in the midwest on cold days like today. They’re warm, cozy, comfortable, with plenty of chairs to hang out in and computers and books and all sorts of stuff to explore. Plus, bathrooms! I completely get it. You get to just loiter there, right (librarians– feel free to chime in on this one).

    I am joining you in your quest to use the library more often. Onward!

  • Denise 2 years ago Reply

    I grew up going to Hennepin County libraries and never found one I didn’t like. Thank goodness, because it was free entertainment for me and my friends growing up. I discovered the 3M Cloud Library app this past weekend. It is linked with the HCLIB and all you have to do is enter your ID number located on the back of your library card. Not sure, if you are into reading non-paper books, but it’s a good option at times. Times when the "feels like" temp is almost -30. Plus it never smells like urine. 😉

  • Sarah 2 years ago Reply

    This one made me smile! If you’re ever interested in talking to a real life librarian (who happens to be under 30 and neither particularly librarian-y or cocktail waitress-y) about how libraries have changed and why people shouldn’t be afraid of them, give me a shout! There’s actually a lot of cool stuff to know about libraries 🙂

  • Libby 2 years ago Reply

    I echo the comments about libraries being awesome– and I have to give a plug for the (new! improved!) Madison Public Library. It’s a great new building with cool art and architecture. No longer smelly. My favorite thing about the library is that I can go online, order whatever books I want, and they send me an email when they’re ready to pick up at the branch down the street from my house. It’s like online book shopping but free.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I am going to Madison soon & might have to check that out. You know, for old time’s sake.

  • Diana 2 years ago Reply

    Sleepover Friends! yes! And obvs, Stacey was the coolest in every way.
    "I am a millennial and we know how to use technology." HA!
    I have to say, Minneapolis libraries are pretty amazing. Ramsey county is pretty great too (Roseville is like a freakin museum – and they have coffee). I’ve been (obviously) getting more and more into the good ‘ol library lately! Well done.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    Can our next book be something from Sleepover Friends?

  • Sarge in Charge 2 years ago Reply

    What have you been doing with your life!? I am so "rah rah" about the Minneapolis libraries- best I have ever encountered. What’s even better is how many eBooks they have compared to most. I always have at least one or two checked out on my Kindle. Fo FREE, without leaving my couch. I love it.

    "In the Garden of Beasts" was a definite winner and got me going on a kick of WWII books. If you haven’t already, you should definitely read "Life After Life" — a really really unique fiction book set in that era.

    Sarge in Charge 2 years ago Reply

    Uh… unclear why it automatically LINKED to the Amazon sales page for Kindles- certainly did not include that myself. Amazon, what a scam.

  • Jessica Russell 2 years ago Reply

    Most public libraries have homeless or housing-challenged patrons but some areas have more issues with this population than others, especially if the library is easily accessed by foot/public transportation or is located near a shelter. I worked in a library branch located near a shelter at the time of the economic downturn and the homeless population just exploded. We had serious issues with patron behavior and a lot of complaints from other patrons who felt the library was no longer a safe place to be. It’s always a balancing act, trying to make sure the public library is welcoming to everyone without allowing individual patrons to infringe on others’ ability to enjoy the library as well. You never want one population, any population actually, to make others feel unwelcome. I confess I don’t use the public library closest to me (it’s not the one I work for) because the branch hasn’t been maintained and it looks like the homeless population has largely pushed out the other users. I only run in to pick up materials, which bums me out.

  • Katie Lee 2 years ago Reply

    I am obsessed with the library! The new Highland Park library just opened in November. It’s less than a mile from my house and now I’m reading like crazy. I discovered two cool new aspects of the modern day library. They have apps and ebooks so I don’t even need to go there if I don’t want a physical book AND they have new release movies. WHAT?!?! It’s the best free public service ever!

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