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Board sees Grand Forks library as space for gatherings

Members of the Grand Forks Public Library Board, facing a list of needed fixes to the building, are starting with improving the public's perception of the library.

View of the library's reading area
A view of the reading area at the Grand Forks Public Library. The library was last remodeled 20 years ago. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Members of the Grand Forks Public Library Board, facing a list of needed fixes to the building, are starting with improving the public's perception of the library.

"People who think the library is just a storage space for books are not seeing the full potential the library," said member Corey Mock during the board's brainstorming meeting Monday.

The five members and librarian Wendy Wendt organized the meeting as a way to develop ideas for the library's three-year strategic plan. The library building has several structural and mechanical problems that need be resolved either through repair or through building something new.

Before they can make decisions on the future of the building, board members want to figure out what the library's role is in the community, what needs it could serve and how people use it.

Beyond books

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The members would like to see the library becoming more of a meeting place where the public discuss issues, take classes or hear lectures, something Wendt called a "center for democratic discussions."

She suggested that it could host meetings on community issues, such as the recent decision to create a quiet rail zone downtown.

"It doesn't really have to do with the books, but it's a gathering place," said member Marie Strinden, who would like to see the library offering creative space for the public.

Board member Eliot Glassheim said the facility could host lectures by UND faculty on their academic fields for the general public.

"What's the latest on quarks?" he said. "We have 100, 200, 300 brilliant, pretty smart people who know stuff."

A vision

The board also talked about ways to increase community awareness of the library through the news media and provide more services to small towns in Grand Forks County.

Voters rejected a proposal last year to raise a 1-percent sales tax for the construction of a new library.

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Board President Brian Schill said the discussion leading up to the vote got stuck on physical problems with the library and not the role of what the library could offer Grand Forks.

"Just sort of that vision, 'What should this public space be?'" he said.

Wendt will use the ideas from the discussion to draft a 2012-2015 strategic plan. The board is also waiting for a report from JLG Architects on the physical problems with the library building. She said it will probably have that at its March meeting and will use the report to decide whether to repair the building or pursue a new one.

Before that discussion begins, the board wants to have a sense of the community's needs in the library.

"Most of the things we're talking about involve people," Wendt said. "We do need to remind them the library is about people."

Reach Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 117; or send e-mail to cbjorke@gfherald.com .

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