By EMILIE THIESSEN
Libraries are warm, comfortingly quiet, uniquely inviting and filled with a wealth of often unexplored knowledge free to anyone who walks through the door.
Among the many beautiful libraries of Minnesota, however, Carnegie libraries stand out as some of the most grand, intricate structures, born from the charity of a man who would likely never enter the buildings, said Dawn Shay, Bryant Library branch manager in Sauk Centre.
“It is a beautiful, old library … a very homey, welcoming place and a really nice spot to be on a cold wintery night,” she said.
Built in 1904, the Sauk Centre library is one of more than 1,600 libraries in the nation built with the help of $40 million worth of donations from well-known businessman, Andrew Carnegie.
The libraries were built between 1886 and 1919, 66 of which were constructed in Minnesota. Of those 66, 48 are still standing, and only 22 continue to be used as libraries — the Sauk Centre library is one of those 22.
Minnesota Journalist Kevin Clemens recently traveled to each Carnegie library still standing in the state, documenting his travels in a new book, “Carnegie Libraries of Minnesota”, published in late September.
Clemens found that the library was built with an $11,000 donation from Carnegie, an amount matched by the city of Sauk Centre. The Renaissance Revival style was designed by the Carngie Corporation Plus and added to the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 5, 1994.
“Elegant as most of these buildings are, access was frequently through large front staircases,” Clemens writes in the introduction to his book. “Once the Americans With Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990, extensive modifications were needed in many existing Carnegie libraries. In some towns, new library buildings were constructed and the original Carnegie buildings found other uses.”
For nearly 100 years, the Carnegie structure stood relatively untouched, but as collections grew, renovations in 1998 adding two separate wings to the building were necessary. An elevator was installed, and the grand staircase leading into the building was eliminated to allow for handicap accessibility.
Shay, who grew up in Melrose but currently lives near Albany with her husband, Tim, and three young children, said she believes the Bryant Library is indispensable for the Sauk Centre community. Providing free access to information and technology is not something many entities can boast.
“Libraries are vital resources to our communities,” she said. “Where can you go to get a movie or book for free?”
The library now has three computer stations with internet connectivity and all patrons have access to wireless internet. After joining the Great River Regional Library (GRRL) system in 1990, patrons at the Sauk Centre library also have access to nearly 1 million items from other libraries.
Shay said GRRL continues to develop eBook options for devices like Kindles and Nooks. eBooks can be downloaded right from home.
“That is a very valuable resource to people who live a little bit further out and don’t want to drive in,” she said.
As a branch manager, Shay said she is lucky to have thousands of children’s books at her fingertips everyday. She brings new books home for her children constantly and reads to her three children every night. Shay said she loves to see parents and children visit the library together and hopes the beauty of the historic Carnegie building will continue to attract curious patrons and excite young minds.
“The children who come into the library as young kids are the ones who will become lifelong library users,” she said.