Tag Archives: Minnesota libraries

Lifelong Learning Thrives on Digital Digging

After a work life ruled by a cluttered desk calendar I’ve shed blind allegiance to a schedule. Evolving technology has only reinforced my disinclination to commit to the calendar or clock. This somehow justifies my reluctance to register for classes, concert series, monthly meetings, haircuts and most especially medical appointments.

The drive for independent, affordable learning is reinforced by the inability to pay for OLLI or college credits, health club membership or store-bought books. I find that learning thrives when sparked by the freedom to carpe diem and that an active life of the mind is best measured not by the learner’s ability to pay but by his or her thirst for knowledge

Thinking and writing about Older Americans Month which starts today (May 1) sparks thoughts about the freedom that seniors have to explore the borders of knowledge. I originally categorized this independent path as “random acts of learning” – till I compulsively googled the phrase and learned that there’s a blog thus named….A little learning can be a deflating thing….

Still, “Poking Around with Mary” fairly well describes my thrifty and rigor-free methodology. “Poking Around” is the term my friend would use to describe my learning style — how I would hop off the bus to check out a neighborhood or drop in at an outdoor concert or start up a conversation with a stranger while we stood in line for a common purpose, or pursue a person, place or idea on the web.   That, she said, was “poking around” and the blog could simply reflect the “pokes.”

Writing for the blog frequently inspires me to poke a little deeper. Now, when I hear of or see something of interest – a display, an event, a park, a coffee shop, a reading space, a specialty shop, a book – I want to learn more – and to share what I’ve learned. Blogs are great for ad hoc poking around, especially when fueled by a compulsion to share….

Since most of my learning is random it’s a challenge to list, much less categorize, the options. Some random thoughts:

  • My favorite poke is probably bookstores, especially used bookstores, where it’s all wonderfully random – authors, subjects, eras, format, language. I tell myself I can identify with all those writers, then internalize their ideas and literary style through osmosis. In fact, it’s the bibliophiles who tend these bookstores that truly inspire me to hang out and learn. Several blog posts reflect this love of bookstores – more to follow.
  • Similarly, many libraries are good, some are great. Librarians are often genetically disposed to share the quest for knowledge. Libraries of all types – public, college, even corporate, church, ethnic and other special libraries, are interconnected in functional networks that facilitate access through any portal – physical or digital. For most learners, the public library is the best port of entry and the most convenient way to explore the learning opportunities, ranging from public programs to home delivery. MNLink https://www.mnlinkgateway.org/zportal/zengine?VDXaction=ZSearchSimple offers a handy gateway to the endless possibilities. Still, especially with libraries, it’s often best to shop locally.
  • Those who work in great libraries are fortunate and indispensable fellow travelers on the path to learning, James K. Hosmer Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library (http://www.hclib.org/specialcollections\ is unchallenged as my favorite because of the incredible collection, stellar service, and the ambient environment that inspires serious research. Check the website – hours are severely limited.
  • The archives at the University of Minnesota are beyond wonderful. Exploring the Archives blog http://www.continuum.umn.edu/primary-sourcery/#.VyShhUtEB4M is both random and revealing of unimagined – yet essential – resources.   And if you’ve been wondering about what’s planned for the Bell Museum Library check https://www.bellmuseum.umn.edu
  • Libraries and librarians are inclined to listen to the needs of learners who have physical challenges to reading or to poking around the collections; seniors sometimes fail to realize how many learning options are accessible at or through their local library. In fact there are statewide and national networks set up to expand options beyond the local collection. One of several good starting points can be found here: http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/StuSuc/Lib/MBTBL/AudioBks/index.html
  • For a thorough and timely guide to resources there is no more comprehensive resource than that prepared by staff of the Legislative Reference Library. http://www.leg.state.mn.us/LRL/LINKS/links?links=disabled
  • You’ve probably visited the Minnesota History Center, but have you checked out the library? (http://sites.mnhs.org/library/) Though it’s accessible virtually the setting inspires the will to know more. I am always in awe of the serious learning in progress as scholars, genealogists, History Day students, journalists and PhD hopefuls plumb the State’s historic record. [I find it’s best to refresh with coffee and a muffin at Café Minnesota and/or a stop at one of the irresistible museum shops.
  • Though I have made pit stops at most state agency libraries that collaborate through the Capitol Area Library Consortium I know for certain that all constantly evolve and grow, add resources and programs, and create a unique corporate culture. The great news is that searcher can take a virtual tour with just one click of the CALCO directory. http://mn.gov/library/directory.pdf) A quick tour underscores Governor Perpich’s vision of the “brainpower state”, built on a firm foundation of accessible information services and top-notch professionals who build and mine the power of the resources accessible through this network of libraries and librarians.
  • Over time Pokings have taken me and readers to unique library settings. One of my former Northeast neighborhood haunts, the Polish American Cultural Institute of Minnesota (PACIM http://pacim.org) has found new digs and new life on the banks of the Mississippi.  The original blog post is woefully dated so check out the new profile and site to learn the latest – and check the online catalog to learn more about the library collection.
  • Though I haven’t visited yet I’m impressed with the collection, the programming and the mission of the East Side Freedom Library. The very special library fosters ideas and action in the former Arlington Hills branch of the St. Paul Public Library. Again, the library features a unique collection and a robust public programming agenda. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/east-side-freedom-library-gives-new-life-to-carnegie-library-st-paul-neighborhood/

One goal of taking this approach on the first day of Older Americans Month is to ease the way into a longer range goal – to demonstrate in tangible and useful ways far exceed most newbies expectation – it just depends on the keeper of the keys to envisions worlds far beyond shopping, paying bills, FB and email.   Armchair learning is within ready reach of any keeper of the keys for whom the goal is to learn.

Life experience tells me that everyone wants to know more about something – it might be presidential politics or polo, violin making or veterans, Iron Range history or hieroglyphics, football or food safety, car repair or climate change, Russian literature or road construction, immigration or isotopes, antiquities or animal protection…

The pitch today is “there’s an app for that” – in my mind, “there’s an opp for that” – an opportunity to enrich the life of the mind. Though the app may unlock the digital door it remains to the seeker to carpe diem. Bear in mind that “on the Internet, nobody knows [much less cares] you’re an “’Older American.”(1)



Frances Naftalin – Reader, Leader, Feminist and Friend

A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.

 These words of Rosalynn Carter well reflect many of the women who have shaped our state’s social, political and cultural environment. The stories of some of these women stand out as subtle threads woven into the fabric of Minnesota’s political history.   Women such as Joan Mondale, Nancy Latimer, Arvonne Fraser and Muriel Humphrey were wives of powerful political leaders; each in her own life embodies Carter’s truth that leadership should be judged by the movement of the minds and hearts of people to “where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

One such leader, Frances Healey Naftalin, died recently died at age 95 in her Minneapolis home. She was memorialized on Valentine’s Day by loving friends and family. Arvonne Fraser, who shared with Naftalin the experience of being typecast as the dutiful wife of an elected official, spoke for many:

She didn’t parade her magnificent intelligence; it simply demonstrated itself in conversations. She read widely, deeply and intensely, and discussed what she was reading about, or had read, with respect and admiration for the author or the subject when it was relevant to discussion. Without condescending to all of us lesser minds, she educated us as she talked, never really realizing that was what she was doing.

Fraser described early politicking for women candidates with Naftalin, recalling how “people listened when Fran talked whether it was about children, politics, the fine arts, her mother…whatever. She neither wasted nor minced words.”

Many of us knew Frances Naftalin best as a peerless advocate for libraries. She served with distinction as President of the Board of the Minneapolis Public Library and was appointed by President Carter to serve on the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. As a member of NCLIS she served with distinction during a turbulent era marked by political challenges to the appointment of some of the Commissioners, including Naftalin – all survived the tempest in the NCLIS teapot, though it did involve Fran’s having to defend her appointment before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor.

It was in her role as a member of NCLIS that Fran quietly maneuvered one of her most subtle strategies to “move people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” In 1982, when the information age was more a gleam in the eye than a reality, NCLIS sponsored a national study on Public Sector Private Sector Interaction in the Delivery of Information Services. The fledgling information industry managed to skew the final report to the benefit of corporate interests that effectively squelched the public’s right to know and the role of public agencies, including libraries. (http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED500878.pdf)

Commissioner Naftalin entered a minority response and grudgingly supported the report on the explicit condition that NCLIS follow up with discussions of the volatile issue of “public sector/private sector interaction.” Naftalin chaired the opening session of the first response, held in Minnesota, sponsored by Metronet and funded by the Minnesota Humanities Commission. At that session she introduced Harlan Cleveland, Dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, who chose the occasion to elaborate on his prescient theory of the unique characteristics of “Information as a Resource.” (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/harlan-clevelands-characterization-of-information-as-a-resource/) Cleveland’s formulation reshaped the premise of the report and the offered a new lens through which to view and assess the properties of information as a resource.

Aware that the information and communications environment was poised for massive change, Naftalin had once again proved herself “a great leader (who) takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

Reflecting on her early days of politicking with Fran, Arvonne Fraser wrote these words which were read at the memorial service for her friend: “Activists we were…In many ways, we were feminists – the suffragists had preceded us; we were just a bit ahead of the mid-20th century women’s movement.”

Remembering Mary Ida Thomson

Once again the hand of Mary Ida Merrill Thomson is quietly at work.   Mary Ida’s family and friends from the many facets of her life have come together – virtually – to remember our mutual friend, to reconnect with long-separated colleagues, to meet her family, and to remember this grand woman whose influence was as wide as it was powerful.  Mary Ida died last weekend – her spirit lives on in those who knew and loved her.  As one admirer observed (online) – “Mary Ida is smiling at the collaborative effort.”

Mary Ida Thomson died a quiet death at an assisted living residence that was her last, but not her real, home.  Troubled by dementia she could not be at peace.  Friends who visited missed the chance to absorb the wisdom of the quiet force that was Mary Ida.

We are sharing memories now – of Mary Ida who was a prime, if backstage, mover in shaping the Minnesota Association of Library Friends, a vibrant organization that now involves hundreds of bibliophiles in making their local library thrive.

Others remember Mary Ida the staunch and steady supporter of the Girl Scouts of America, long-time member of the Board of the St. Croix Valley Girl Scouts.

Friends recall the countless hours Mary Ida spent counting – with impeccable accuracy – the Sunday collection at her church, a house of faith that forgot her when she was unable to serve and needed their support.

There was Mary Ida who loved to tell stories – stories she shared on Fridays when she was the indispensable “Girl Friday” at Metronet – faithfully covering the front desk in exchange for Friends of the Library using the organization’s address and meeting space.  She told stories of her early life in Mankato, of her years working at the bank where she somehow got involved with an “assertive training” program during which she met her friend Linda, of her rides in the executive car with her husband who was a RR executive, of the latest reads her friend Jeanne Fischer was recommending, of the foibles of her beloved Mr Pedro, a formidable feline who had to shift gears when Mary Ida moved out of her gracious Roseville home.

No one knows the number or nature of all the boards and support groups on which Mary Ida served – People, Inc., The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, the board of the St. Croix Valley Girl Scouts (now Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin Rivers), the Minnesota Association of Library Friends, the Charities Review Council, the Minnesota Church Foundation and the Harriet Tubman Center – no doubt there others – the list expands with every email message.

What friends and family know today is that there is a blizzard of emails choking the communications channels as an ever-growing circle of “Friends of Mary Ida” share memories of an extraordinary woman whose gentle hand and wise counsel touched so many lives.

Later there will be a memorial service at First Congregational Church in Southeast Minneapolis, a church where Mary Ida’s grandfather once ministered – she had great stories about those early days, too.   For now those who knew Mary Ida are welcome to join in what Mary Ida’s nephew has dubbed a “virtual memorial service,” a joyful digital celebration of a beautiful life well lived by a woman who has enriched this community in untold and unheralded ways.