A Sartell library is, at long last, again the topic of excited conversation.
For at least 10 years, a branch library was comparable to a wishful mirage that would appear and disappear in the minds of so many Sartell residents.
More than 10 years ago, some dedicated Sartell citizens formed a group called “Friends of the Library,” a group that still exists. Its members worked hard, contacting city staff and officials, as well as making contacts with the St. Cloud-based Great River Regional Library. That group’s goal was to determine exactly what would be required to build and open a branch library in Sartell. The basic facts are the GRRL would provide all the materials and staff, but Sartell would have to provide an adequate facility and do ongoing maintenance of the building.
In several Sartell citywide surveys throughout the past decade, a “library” has consistently ranked near the top of survey-respondents’ wish-lists. The construction of a branch library (either new or retrofitted into some other facility) would be paid for mainly if not entirely by revenue from the regional half-cent sales tax. The GRRL has said years ago it’s eager and ready to set up a branch library in Sartell, but it just did not have enough funds to do it, and – besides – Sartell was not ready with a library-site facility.
Last week a meeting between the GRRL Board and Sartell city staff, including the mayor, proved to be promising. All present agreed to work together on a conceptual plan that would be considered by the GRRL Board this March. GRRL officials suggest a Sartell branch library would have an estimated circulation of 150,000 items per year, and it should ideally be open 40 hours per week. The staffing costs, full-time, would amount to about $150,000 per year.
Meantime, the Sartell City Council is determined to build a library, most likely as part of a community-resources center, sometime this year. If so, a branch library could open its door as early as the beginning of 2015.
The GRRL system has 32 branch libraries in its five-county service area of Stearns, Benton, Sherburne, Todd and Wright. Even some very small towns like Royalton, Eagle Bend, Kimball and St. Michael have branch libraries. As Sartell Mayor Joe Perske correctly pointed out in the meeting with the GRRL Board, Sartell’s population has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 20 years. It’s a crying shame a city the size of Sartell does not have a branch library.
Today’s libraries, including branch ones, are informational, recreational and social centers that offer more than books. With today’s startling forms of technology, branch libraries now offer computer stations; videos; DVDs; music CDs; reference and research assistance; e-books, audio books; large-print books; community presentations; vision-impaired services; art and history exhibits; study rooms; copy machines; reading programs for adults, teens and children; and much more. And thanks to the Interlibrary Loan program, any branch can get for library patrons any materials the branch doesn’t happen to have.
We think a critical mass has been reached – a nearly unanimous consensus it’s Sartell’s time to get a quality branch library. Stearns County Commissioner Mark Bromenschenkel, who represents Stearns County on the GRRL Board, has spoken up on behalf of Sartell’s library needs. So has Mayor Perske and many council members throughout the years. The current council is very progressive and library-friendly. It appears, thankfully, a long-deferred dream is about to come true.
Since ancient times, libraries have been a solid foundation of civilization. It’s time Sartell becomes the 33rd library branch of the regional library system.