Though there was only one Zella Shannon, friends and professional colleagues recall wonderfully different facets of her legacy. Known always as “Zella”, never “Ms Shannon,” she is best known to many as a world-class librarian and library administrator. Zella Shannon died at her retirement home in Arizona on Tuesday, June 30, 2015.
The stories of Zella’s vision and leadership abound:
Retired State Librarian Bill Asp reflects on the role that Zella played in crafting what is now the taken-for-granted policy that an individual may use his or her public library card to check out items from any public library throughout the state – a truly revolutionary idea “back in the day.” Asp recalls that, during the late 60’s and early 70’s the push for reciprocal borrowing privileges, initiated among just three neighbor regions, had spread to the rest of the state’s regions – with the exception of the metro area. Asp appointed a task force to study statewide borrowing – Zella Shannon, representing the Minneapolis Public Library, served on that task force. Asp writes, “Zella approached the task as a problem solver. She acknowledged that there would be problems and risks, but also that there would benefits. Zella was always positive. She was determined to find ways to make a statewide reciprocal borrowing compact work. Her support in bringing Minneapolis Public Library on board influenced other metropolitan public libraries and they all agreed to participate in the statewide compact.”
Similarly, many in the Minneapolis business community are likely unaware that it was Zella who imagined – then implemented – INFORM, the fee-based information service for business and industry crafted by Minneapolis Public Library in collaboration with the University of Minnesota and other metropolitan libraries. Long before the dawn of the Digital Age Zella, always the visionary, posited that ready access to relevant and high quality information was of essential economic value. Thus, corporations would be willing to pay to enjoy ready access to the resources of the public library – the information itself and, even more, the high level skills of the library’s information professionals. (“Public Library Service to the Corporate Community, Special Libraries, 65 (January 1974).
One of my favorite Zella stories recounts her encounter with law enforcement agents who, in their quest for enemy agents or other un-American activities, demanded to see the circulation records of Minneapolis Public Library. Zella, in step with librarians throughout the country, put a stop to that, declaring that “we’re not obstructionist of justice, but from our point of view, what someone reads in the library is private and sacred.”
In retirement, Zella pressed on to effect change. Though she ran with gusto and commitment to the principles of the DFL Zella was defeated in her run for a seat representing in the Minnesota Legislature.
Her beloved husband of many years, Floyd, died several years ago. To Zella’s regret, they had no children. Throughout her life, until her health and eyesight limited her mobility, Zella remained active in community and library activities as a member of Central Lutheran Church, as a member and one-time chapter president of Special Libraries Association, member of the Citizens League, the Metropolitan Senior Federation, and other DFL and library-associated activities. For the past couple of years she has lived in a nursing home in Arizona to be near family, always keeping in touch with personal, political and professional colleagues back in the Twin Cities.
The legacy of Zella Shannon, a committed, determined visionary, will live on in the library and political community of the city, the region and the state. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 1, 11:00 AM at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis where she once – or perhaps more than once – served as a Trustee