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April 9, 2002 // UPDATED 1:17 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

The Downtown Library has begun packing to move to temporary quarters, already reducing access to books, records and documents

These days, what you see is pretty much what you get at the Minneapolis Central Library.

The current Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, is often criticized for having too little of its collection available on open shelves -- only about 20 percent of the over two million items. Patrons must rely on library staff to retrieve the other 80 percent from closed stacks.

As of this month, patrons can no longer get those shelved books because they're being organized and packed in preparation for a move. The library's collection will be reduced for the next four years in its temporary home awaiting a new Central Library; however, there will be even less access from now until this fall, when the current library moves to the interim location at Marquette Plaza, 250 Marquette Ave.

Library staff is currently sorting which materials in the closed stacks they'll take with them to Marquette Plaza, their home until a new library opens in 2006. The interim space is only one-third as big as the current library, over 200,000 square feet smaller.

So staff must sort through 65,000 fiction books and decide which 15,000 they'll bring and which they'll store. They're also combining periodicals, which are currently divided by subject into one master periodical section. And they're dismantling some of the closed-stack shelving to use at the interim location.

All this activity requires that the stacks be closed from now until the move. "There are just a lot of different things going on in the stacks that mean it's a problem to have people down there looking for books for patrons," said Susan Tertell, chief of the Central Library.

A collection that's 60 percent off

According to Tertell, about 40 percent of the library's collection will eventually be available at the interim library -- 20 percent in accessible storage and 20 percent on public shelves. The Downtown library will occupy parts of four floors in the newly renovated Marquette Plaza, two of which will be storage.

Significantly less space means much less storage room, forcing radical adjustment for library staff and patrons.

"I'm extremely concerned about the level of service that we'll be able to offer, the resources that will be inaccessible to patrons," said Rene Reed, head of the Central Library's sociology department. "We want to provide the patrons with the very best collection and the best service. To do that in a smaller facility is a huge challenge."

The materials not readily available until 2006 are: non-fiction published before 1968 that has not circulated for 15 years; 50,000 works of fiction that are currently in the closed stacks; about 2 percent of reference materials; nearly all periodicals published before 2001; 90 percent of government documents and all the LP records.

Paring down

Although most of the reference collection will move to the interim library, Reed said that even narrowing down her collection a little bit was not a task she relished. "It's not a nice thing to do to have to weaken a collection," she said. "We're paring down a collection that we feel is useful to the patrons at this point."

According to Tertell, each reference subject department went through their collection to decide which materials were most important to take to the interim space.

In deciding which materials they could live without for the next four years, library staff tried to identify which materials were also on the Internet or readily available through interlibrary loan.

"We did several little surveys among the staff, keeping track of the number of times a reference book was requested, trying to keep in mind the popularity of an item, the uniqueness of an item, the historic value of an item, the comprehensiveness of an item," Reed said.

For the circulating materials, library staff decided to make the more recent materials available and put the older ones into storage.

Gone for good, or for four years

Some of the Central Library's collection will be sent to the Minnesota Central Library Access Center, climate-controlled caves for books from libraries throughout Minnesota.

According to Tertell, 150,000 volumes of pre-1968 nonfiction that hasn't circulated in 15 years will stay at the Access Center permanently. "We still own them and we can still retrieve them within 24 to 48 hours if we need them for a patron," she said.

The rest of the collection not destined for Marquette Plaza will end up at a warehouse in New Hope; it will not be accessible until the new library's 2006 christening.

But books and magazines are not all that the library will lose in the interim. Reed is also concerned with a decrease in public computers from 109 to 90, which will increase the amount of time patrons may have to wait to use a computer.

Are chess players pawns?

Andre Thurman is a Central High School student who visits the library about twice a month to use the Internet. He says that even with over 100 computers, he still has to wait to get online occasionally.

Jane Ramseyer Miller, however, says that getting onto a computer at the library usually isn't a problem for her. She does research at the Central Library for her master's degree in music. Her concern: "I just really hope there's space for the guys who play chess."

The chess players are daily fixtures on the Central Library's second floor. They sit at the wooden tables for hours on end playing chess. Because space in the interim library will be greatly reduced from what it is now, there may not be room for these people to play.

"They will still be allowed to come into the interim library," Tertell said. "But there may not be as much space for them to spread out and play chess. We will have more limited seating."

Maceo Threlkeld, a daily chess player at the library, says he isn't worried about being displaced. "If they want to play chess, they'll find someplace to go," he said. "It doesn't have to be a negative just because we have to find another location, like a coffee house. It's just a pastime."

Despite her concerns, Reed also takes an optimistic view on the interim adjustments. She says that to make up for a diminished collection, librarians will just work that much harder to make materials accessible through interlibrary loan. "In the final analysis we look forward to having a beautiful new library, and we hope that we can do our best by the citizens of Minneapolis and the metropolitan area by putting together the very best possible new central library for them."