The new Minneapolis Central Library is good for business

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November 12, 2002 // UPDATED 1:33 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Diane Hofstede
Diane Hofstede

For years, private companies have benefited from a Downtown library; with a new building on the horizon, there's a chance to give something back.

The Star Tribune Foundation recently recognized the wisdom of the new Minneapolis Central Library project with a generous $500,000 donation. This gift is a symbol of our community's shared values of literacy, innovation, bold vision and civic stewardship.

Clearly, the new Minneapolis Central Library project is one of the most exciting civic projects of our time, and one that deserves our strongest support.

The Central Library is a valuable and unparalleled Minnesota asset crucial to the region's economic vitality. Significantly, when the new library opens in 2006, it will be a magnet, drawing people Downtown to fuel economic growth. We've discovered that other major cities where new libraries have been built report a doubling or even tripling of library visitors to the core city.

For the Downtown community, the library is a widely utilized business resource. Forty percent of library users seek information pertinent to their job, existing business or a new startup. Thousands of others use the library's resources to find a new job.

Attorneys, inventors and other professionals rely upon the Patent Depository, a collection of U.S. patents from 1790 to present. It is the only such collection in the five-state-region. The reference librarians answered more than 200,000 business-related questions last year.

Demand for these services is growing among a diverse group of users whose lives and livelihoods are tied to the library.

A group of trial lawyers, who had a client accused of industrial espionage for using a particular fast-food recipe, turned to the Central Library's extensive cookbook collection, fifth-largest in the nation. The lawyers found the not-very-proprietary recipe in several sources, and were able to resolve their case.

An advertising agency seeking to land a major account with an electronics manufacturer researched previous ad campaigns, largely based upon ads found in the collection.

A woman called complaining that her husband had broken a favorite coffee cup, one that had served as her "ritual morning coffee" mug for years. Taking a portion of the design patent number from a ceramic shard, a librarian was able to identify the company, which then sent a new replacement mug.

In ways public and deeply personal, the Minneapolis Central Library is the most visible and widely used civic institution in Minneapolis; the most reliable, comprehensive and accessible information gateway in Minnesota. More than half the collection is unique in the state.

The old Central Library served us well, but the outdated and outgrown building could not meet the public's needs. A mere 15 percent of the 2.5-million-piece collection was immediately available to the public. Increased demand for computers and other technologies could not be met due to lack of space.

When the new library opens in 2006, it will be a stunning civic landmark with a stylish, functional design that will accommodate new and changing needs for generations. Public space will increase by 70 percent. An expanded business and technology department will offer a comprehensive resource for the Downtown business community. The new library will be a popular meeting and conference location with a 300-seat state-of-the-art auditorium and two additional public meeting spaces with multimedia and video-conferencing capabilities. The skyway will connect the new library to Downtown.

Voters have already approved 90 percent of the project's $125 million cost. Now, a $15 million capital campaign will complete this public-private partnership and provide the margin of excellence we expect in our civic institutions. The result will be an inviting, durable landmark, flexible in form and function, which will serve Minnesotans well for generations.

Diane Hofstede is a Minneapolis Public Library Trustee.