Downtown woman spurs grassroots library fund drive

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March 15, 2004 // UPDATED 9:48 am - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Margaret Howes, a devoted library patron and Downtown resident, is modest about the $12 fund-raising campaign library officials credit her with starting last summer.

That's $12, not $12 million.

At a 2003 library meeting, Howes, 76, asked how much it would take if each person chipped in to plug the library's anticipated $4 million 2004 budget cut.

After consulting her calculator, dividing the amount by the city's estimated 382,000 residents, Minneapolis Library Director Kit Hadley replied, "$12."

With that, Howe's small grassroots campaign took off. She began canvassing for the library and chipped in $12 herself. An avid science fiction reader, Howes started spreading the word about the campaign at a science fiction convention, passing out yellow fliers and attaching some to a yardstick she carried around.

"As far as I'm concerned, libraries are the difference between civilization and barbarism," said Howes, who lives at a 314 Hennepin Ave. S. high-rise, across the street from the new Central Library's construction site. "I've been a reader all my life. Libraries tell you all about other people in the world. This is terribly important the smaller the world gets."

Fund-raisers launched the campaign in late July after library officials voted to keep all branches open.

The Library Board honored Howes at a March 3 meeting, bestowing her with a letter of recognition for sparking the campaign, which officials say has inspired more than 1,500 people to contribute $65,000 to Minneapolis libraries.

"This $12 campaign is sort of an example of two of the things we need to rebuild," Hadley said. "One is a concerned citizen, someone who really cares about the library who has a great idea like Margaret, and the second is the organizational wherewithal to turn that idea into a campaign."

Hadley said the public fund-raising drive is critical to restoring library services.

"With caring citizens like Margaret who love the library and have great ideas and friends, we feel very hopeful about rebuilding into an institution where we regain our hours and are able to expand the service that we're currently being able to make available to citizens," she said.

Kristi Gibson, the library's public affairs coordinator, said the $12 campaign has solicited many amounts, including $29.96 in profits from a boy's lemonade stand, a $60 gift from Germany and a gift from two children who donated their $1 allowance.

Howes, a speed reader who often devours a 300-page book in a couple of days, said she is pleased to see the idea take off. She doesn't have a college education, but frequent trips to the library have sparked in interest in a range of subjects from astronomy to Celtic history.

Howes' apartment is a testament to her love of reading. She has hundreds of paperbacks, mostly mysteries and science fiction.

Her passion for books has also passed down to her children. Her daughter, Denise, and son-in-law, Stewart, are school librarians in New Zealand. She recently bought them a Nancy Pearl, the new librarian toy action figure sold by a Seattle-based company.

Colin Hamilton, executive director of the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library, said the $12 campaign is the first step in a broad-based movement to shore up library resources.

"The power of the $12 campaign was to put these overwhelming cuts in human perspective and to give individuals the opportunity to participate in a solution," Hamilton said. "The $12 campaign is just the beginning of a very broadly based, citywide movement to support a library system that fulfills its mission of linking people to the transforming power of knowledge."