Monthly Archives: December 2010

Thoughts while thinking about Edward Swanson

The library world lost a friend when Edward Swanson died earlier this month. Everyone who knew Edward seems to have experienced a different facet of a complex man. Each of us has a personal memory. My most poignant memory is of Edward, the consummate believer in the power and purpose of libraries and librarians, who worked without stint to create Quatrefoil, a unique library by and about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender writers and readers. My keen memory is rooted, no doubt, in the controversy generated by the mere suggestion that Quatrefoil be welcomed into membership in the library network I was managing in the mid-1980’s. It’s painful, but instructive, to recall those times – inspiring to honor the memory of the vision Quatrefoil represents. In honor of Edward Swanson, some thoughts on Quatrefoil, an organization that embodies the spirit, the professional skills and the beliefs that permeated Edward’s very existence.

Begun in the 1980’s as a dream of a few committed individuals, the Quatrefoil Library is today a stable, yet nimble, institution in a world that has changed dramatically. The mission is “to collect, maintain, document and circulate gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer materials and information in a safe and accessible space, in order to promote understanding, an appreciation of diversity and history, and the value of communities.” The lofty vision shapes a community that lives by the stated mission.

In 2009 Adam Keim wrote a remarkable history of Quatrefoil Library, published by the Friends of the Bill of Rights Foundation. A revelatory feature of this momentous story is that the entire book, History of the Quatrefoil Library, is available online for anyone to read, download and print! This is SO Quatrefoil! It’s a captivating story of an organization, the people involved, and societal change.

In his introduction to the book Keim, who did not experience the pains of an earlier time, observes that “the Quatrefoil Library has opened my eyes to these things. Before now, I took all these events and people for granted. I gaze over the shelves of books in the Quatrefoil Library and I feel overwhelmed. There is so much history buried in there and it is all important, especially for the younger generations of gay people to realize why they have the freedom they have. And what a monumental feat the Quatrefoil is doing by collecting and preserving all of this. They do it for people such as me, who didn’t even know who the founders of the gay liberation movement were until now.”

Though today’s Quatrefoil Library is accessible through a range of social media the basic principles of the collection, its organization and structure, will forever reflect the underlying principles and labors of Edward Swanson and other visionaries.

My favorite reflection on libraries and their role is an essay by Archibald MacLeish entitled “The Premise of Meaning.” In words that echo an earlier time, MacLeish affirms that “a library, considered not as a collection of objects that happen to be books that have been chosen to constitute a library, is an extraordinary thing. It is not all what it is commonly supposed to be, even by men who describe themselves as intellectuals – perhaps I should say particularly by men who describe themselves as intellectuals. It is not a sort of scholarly filling station where students of all ages can repair to get themselves supplied with a tankful of titles…On the contrary it is an achievement in and of itself – one of the greatest of human achievements because it combines and justifies so many others. That its card catalogues and bibliographical machinery are useful no one doubts…That its housing and safekeeping arrangements are vital, essential, necessary goes without saying. But what is more important in a library than anything else – that everything else – is the fact that it exists. For the existence of a library, the fact of its existence, is, in itself and of itself, an assertion – a proposition nailed like Luther’s to the door of time. By standing where it does….at the e center of our intellectual lives – with its books in a certain order on its shelves and its cards in a certain structure in their cases, the true library asserts that there is indeed a ‘mystery of things.’ Or, more precisely, it asserts that the reason why the ‘things’ compose a mystery is that they seem to mean, that they fall, when gathered together, into a kind of relationship, of wholeness, as though all these different and dissimilar reports, these bits and pieces of experience, manuscripts in bottles, messages from long before, from deep within, from miles beyond, belonged together and might, if understood together, spell out the meaning which the mystery implies.” (quoted in Reading Rooms, edited by Susan Allen Toth and John Coughlan, pp 482-83,

Quatrefoil asserts just that premise of meaning. And that’s why thinking of Edward Swanson and his life makes me reflect on history, commitment, and the premise of meaning.

Moving knowledge at the MnDOT Library

For hundreds of state government employees, their agency’s library is an indispensable resource, a power tool, a source of inspiration, and at times a refuge. For decades the MnDOT library has built a reputation as a unique gem in the constellation of state agency libraries. As of this week, that library has an elegant new – or at least renovated – home. I had a chance to visit – and I will return.

“Movingknowledge” is the theme throughout – from the reference desk to the rich collection of statistics, standards, research reports, newspapers, journals and databases, complemented by gateways to hundreds of libraries. My particular favorite were shelves reserved for the “Commissioner’s Reading Collection” that seemed to pop up just in the right spots – within reach of irresistible stuffed chairs that offer the reader exquisite views of the State Capitol and surrounding grounds!

Focus throughout is on providing MnDOT staffers the right information at the right time in the right format – a win/win thrust that often involves assistance from staff in the process. The payoffs include savings in time and money (by minimizing reliance on outside research consultants), and getting better results.

Congratulations to the scores of MnDOT staff, consultants, and most of all the MnDOT library staff that have created a learning environment that welcomes all, including those of us whose knowledge of Minnesota transportation is pretty much limited to reading a Metro Transit bus schedule! We’re all better served if the MnDOT staff have the best access possible to the best information possible in the best of all possible environments.

Keep moving knowledge for the good of all Minnesotans who need to both move and know at an ever expanding rate!


Shoreham Yard Redux

Update to earlier post

Digging deeper is generally a good thing.  For a recent post about the Shoreham Yard Site, posted in order to draw attention to public meeting sponsored by the Eastside Food Co-op, I lacked the time to dig deeply enough.  The post deserves a follow-up, probably more than one, this one concerning cleanup activities.  Digging deeper unearths some facts that underscore the need for deeper research by federal, state and city agencies concerned about the health of Northeast residents.




The state’s primary involvement with the Shoreham Yard site is the responsibility of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  In 2007 MPCA issued a significant Cleanup Update.  The Update reports that “The (Shoreham) Site was used for a variety of railroad activities since the late 1880s and it is still an active railroad facility.  Past activities included fuel storage, waste storage and reclamation, and locomotive refueling.”


The Update separates the Yard into a number of identified sites, including the fueling area and a reclamation area. This significant study describes the site contamination and reports on cleanup plans and implementation status as of its publication in 2007. Individuals and community organizations concerned about the present status will find a lengthy listing of state, city, and railroad corporate resources.


I also tackled the Health Consultation prepared in 2007 by the U.S. Department Health and Human Services Public Health Service.  This report deals in great depth with the geology/hydrogeology of Shoreham Yard and with investigations of the soil and groundwater soil vapor.  The Health Consultation report concludes:

The Soo Line Shoreham Yard East Side site is contaminated with petroleum products and VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) from over 100 years of railroad maintenance operations and releases from other businesses that handled petroleum and chemicals at the site.  Contaminated soil remains at the site and site-related contaminants exceed appropriate soil screening values in several areas, primarily at depth.  Groundwater is contaminated with petroleum products and VOC’s on and off the site.  Past exposures are difficult to quantify, and represent an indeterminate public health hazard.  Exposure to contamination from the site currently appears to be minimal, and active remediation at the site should further reduce the potential for exposure in the future.  Redevelopment at the site could lead to possible exposure in the future, although the extent of such exposure is difficult to predict.  The soil and groundwater contamination at the Soo Line Shoreham Yard East Side site therefore currently represents no apparent public health hazard.  (p. 18)


Still, a very recent assessment by the Minnesota Department of Health points to a host of significant issues still on the table.  Focus of the DOH study is that segment of the acreage identified as the McFarland and Dworsky site. (see map)  The highly technical but readable report is unequivocal in its conclusions.  The summary recommendations of the DOH study are these:

  1. MDH recommends that institutional controls defining appropriate current and future land use and limitations be developed for the site.  A more comprehensive approach to institution controls for all of Shoreham yard operations should also be considered.
  2. More site characterization is warranted if land use changes from industrial to another land use in the future.
    1. Any excavations outside remediated areas of the MF&D site and the Shoreham Yard warrant contaminant characterization and exposure mitigation
    2. The Canadian Pacific residential development proposal area should be characterized for site related PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), dioxins, furans, and PCBs before development proceeds.  These data will help determine what institutional controls and or remediation are needed for the land parcel.


As indicated in the earlier post, the Canadian Pacific has established a major repository of documents relating to Shoreham Yard.  This is an indispensable source of more current information about cleanup activities and plans.  The repository contains nearly 700 documents dating back to 1977.




The City of Minneapolis monitors Shoreham Yard cleanup activities and development plans through Community Planning and Economic Development.  Key contact person at CPED is Kevin Carroll 612 673 5181.  Responsibility for preservation of the Roundhouse remains with the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission.

The most important community player in the deliberations is the Shoreham Area Advisory Committee (SAAC) formed in 1998 as part of the court settlement between the city of Minneapolis and the Canadian Pacific Railway.  SAAC is an approachable, accessible resource that welcomes public participation in a process.  The SAAC website offers ready entry into the complexities of Shoreham Yard history and development essential to any concerned resident who wants to get involved.


Digging deeper into the massive paperwork, much of which is now available online, reveals serious contamination, conflicting agency responsibilities, and a serious challenge.  In this case at least, digging deeper into the information is well worth the effort – the stakes are real, imminent and essential to residents of Northeast Minneapolis.  Though the quantity of information seems overwhelming, the resources, including a host of involved agencies and informed citizen groups are accessible, informed and concerned.