Monthly Archives: April 2012

Kudos to the MnDOT Library!

When Minnesotans think of transportation we are inclined to think about highways, bridge safety, LRT, buses, Lexus lanes and potholes.  The work of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT)  and its network of regional outlets is behind the scenes.  And behind all that is the MnDOT library, 395 John Ireland Boulevard, a bustling hub of information housed at the MnDOT  building near the Capitol – a mighty little librry that opens the world of transportation-related data, research, digital archives, journals and more to hundreds of MnDOT employees who are working on a vast range of transportation issues – broadly defined to cover a multitude of topics.

The MnDOT Library is in the spotlight these days for an aggressive action campaign to showcase their resources and services.  One of the most prestigious awards in the library world is the John Cotton Dana award – and the MnDOT Library is a 2012 winner!  No small feat for a modest state agency library pitted again the super stars with gargantuan budgets and legions of professional PR staff.

The national award, to be conferred at the annual conference of the American Library Association, asserts that “the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) created the ‘moving knowledge’ campaign to convey updated space and resources and to improve outreach efforts.  The space redesign transformed the library from a ‘bland government’ look to a warm and inviting environment.

Much of the work on the outreach campaign was conducted by consultant organizations including Law Library Consultants, Kathleen Bedor, President, and Modern Design Group, Chris Foote President and Diane Foote Design Associates.

This is not the first award for the redesigned MnDOT library.   First, the library received an Award of Merit from the Minnesota Association. of Government Communicators.  That started the ball rolling – the next award was the 2011 Innovation in Action award from the Minnesota Chapter of the Special Libraries Association.

The MnDOT Library is sponsoring an open house and reception on Thursday, May 3, 10:00 AM-3:00 p.m.  Free and open to the public .  Contact the Library at


Minnesota Museums Month – 600 Amazing Possibilities!

Minnesotans are museum enthusiasts – so much so we will be celebrating May 2012 as Minnesota Museums Month. – the first in the nation, it is said.  And we will be hosting Thousands of museum professionals and supporters at the American Association of Museums annual conference meeting in the Twin Cities April 29-May 1.

For the most part, Minnesotans know about and often have visited the Minnesota Insstitute of Art and the Walker, the Science Museum, the History Center, the Weisman and the Goldstein Museum of Design on the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota.  Lin Nelson-Mayson, distractor of the Goldstein chairs the Minnesota Association of Museums, the organization spearheading the Minnesota Museums Month initiative. 

According to the Minnesota Association of Museums, Minnesota has 600 museums with an economic impact of more than $300 million annually.

So what and where are these 600 centers of interest?  For starts, 55 are in the Twin Cities.  We know the majors, but have you visited the Firefighters Museum in Northeast Minneapolis, or the new African American Museum and Cultural Center in South Minneapolis,  the Bakken Museum near Lake Calhoun or the Model Railroad Museum at Bandana Square in St. Paul.

What of the other 544 museums  outside the metro area?  The Minnesota Department of Tourism offers a great overview of science, arts, historic, environmental and every conceivable museum site.  Consider a trip to the Northwest Company Fur Post in Pine City or the National monuments at Pipestone and Grand Portage or the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria.  And there are still 538 others.

New York Times writer Carol Kino sets the historical context for the rich heritage of Minnesota museums.

It started with the Minnesota Historical in St Paul, founded in 1849, when Minnesota was still a territory.  In1872, the legislature established the state’s first science museum in Minneapolis, now known as the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History (Coincidentally, it is named for the grandfather of Ford Bell, the current president of the American Association of Museums.)

In 1879, the Walker Art Gallery opened – the first art museum west of the Mississippi founded by the lumber magnate Thomas Barlow Walker in his own home.  In 1940 it was re-established as the Walker Art Center, a community art center run by the Works Project Administration.  The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, today one of America’s major encyclopedia museums, opened its doors in 1915.

Her article goes on to describe he range of museum options – from the William & Joan Soderlund Pharmacy Museum in St. Peter to the Spam Museum in Austin to the several museums devoted to the history of Native Americans in the region.

There are numerous initiatives surrounding Minnesota Museums Month —  special museum sections in the press, an expanded Explore Minnesota site and public television programming.  Keep an eagle eye on the Minnesota Museums Month website as it grows and follows developments.

Most of all, take time to visit one of the hundreds of museums you may have somehow missed.  Explore Minnesota – including Minnesota’s incomparable heritage of museums.

Alice Wilcox – There will never be another

She was an acquired taste.  She saw the possibilities and did what needed to be done to get there.  The possibilities included the Rosebud Indian Reservation and Bethany Lutheran College, from which I once looked up to see her imposing presence at the door


She knew it was not just books but knowledge and information and wisdom that were to be shared.   


Alice Wilcox was a grand lady – the scourge of some, the visionary of others.  Without her vision Minnesota’s libraries would not provide the access to learning  we take for granted.


Today we assume Minitex, the beautiful  system it has become.  Today we forget that it was Alice Wilcox who had the vision, if not the means, to make it happen. 

Celebrating the Givens Collection of African American Literature

As previous posts suggest, I find myself reflecting evermore on my experience as a novice librarian at District of Columbia Teachers College, a public inner city institution that has long since bit the academic dust.  What remains for me are vibrant images of a profound late 60’s learning opportunity for which I am increasingly grateful.

One poignant memory is of Walter Williams, collection development librarian extraordinaire, and the only man I’ve ever known who could speak fluently with a pencil tucked under his upper lip.

When the demise of DCTC was imminent Mr. Williams fought back by protecting his treasured collection of African American literature.  Experience taught him that these dusty – and presumably irrelevant — tomes would not survive the intrusion of the impending bureaucrats, more interested in efficiency and modernity than in preservation of the literary works of a people.   Day after day Mr. Williams would quietly comb the shelves, then stash the books in a secluded back room where they were relatively safe from the invaders.  I have often wondered if those rare treasures still grace some library’s  shelves and give life to priceless wisdom.

The images, the sounds, even the smells of those late 60’s days have filled my mind these past days since video producer Dan Bergin of TPT thoughtfully emailed me a link to his 1998 documentary on the Archie Givens Collection, a jewel in the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Though I’ve known about the Givens Collection, my ongoing quest to learn more about the literary and film legacy of Oscar Micheaux Legacy has led me to more intensive research.   What I had failed to understand was the depth of the collection.   The documentary offers a beautiful depiction of the Givens Collection as an entry point to  our African American literary legacy as well as a context that places  Micheaux, the Givens Collection and Mr. Williams’ work in context.

Mesmerized by the hour-long documentary, my thought now is to share the experience with others who, like me, reach for a focus to reflect on the passion of African American writers, from Frederick Douglass to Walter Mosely who, incidentally, will  be spending time this month  in this community.

My hope is that readers will take time to engage in the documentary as background to enriching the array of opportunities that are exploding in this community.   Of special interest are the Givens Black Books series, Penumbra Theatre’s series on Reshaping the Black Image on the American Stage, the rich agenda of reading and book groups in libraries, more inclusive curricula in schools and colleges, the  Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center and the enduring strength of the Givens collection.

So much to learn, so much to celebrate.   Decades after his heroic efforts, Walter B. Williams is smiling, a feat which he alone could accomplish with a pencil securely clutched under his upper lip.  I deeply hope the treasures he secured are intact – if not physically in some digital form that would have blown his beautiful mind.