by Dennis Dalman
“Gimme an L! Gimme an I! Gimme a B! Gimme an R! Gimme an A! Gimme an R! Gimme a Y!”
“What does that spell?”
That was one of the chants from about 50 supporters of a Sartell branch library who gathered outside Sartell City Hall 30 minutes before the Nov. 9 council meeting.
The group, some of them members of Friends of the Library, included many children of various ages. Most of the rally members held signs, with messages such as the following:
“A library in Sartell OVERDUE.”
I (heart) libraries.”
It was a beautiful early autumn evening as the people with signs began arriving to gather on the sidewalk in front of the city-hall building. What they want is a branch library in Sartell, and they want it to be built with half-cent sales-tax money in 2016, even if it’s separate from a community center.
The group has been gathering signatures on a petition to that effect and has about 700 signatures so far. Organizers hope to get at least 1,000.
What sparked the rally is the fact the Sartell City Council voted 3-2 months ago to build a community center, at a cost of about $10 million, in south Sartell – a center that will not have a branch library. Some of those at the rally consider that fact a betrayal of Sartell residents, who voted twice for the regional half-cent sales tax with the understanding the revenue would fund a library.
Those who voted for the community center without a library are Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll, Steve Hennes and Pat Lynch. However, the council has said it’s amenable to considering some kind of library in the city in the future and will continue to meet with staff of the St. Cloud-based Great River Regional Library system to see if a branch library for Sartell’s needs within budget can be constructed separately or perhaps added to the community center.
On the evening of the rally, Lynch and Hennes arrived at different times, close to 6 p.m. They walked through the rally crowd, whose members chanted, “Library, Library, Library.” Neither man verbally acknowledged the presence of the people gathered.
Later, just as the council meeting began, most in the rally crowd walked into the council chambers and sat down. Four of the rally members addressed the council during the open forum segment of the council meeting, which takes place before the official business of the council starts.
Those who spoke were former Mayor Joe Perske and Henry Smorynski, both long-time library advocates bluntly critical of the council’s decision; and library supporter I-Jung Lee. Those three have spoken up, sometimes multiple times, for a branch library at previous council meetings.
Perske told the council Sartell residents have strongly supported a library for the past two decades, including once through a petition in 2002. In 2006, before the regional half-cent sales tax ballot issue was approved by Sartell voters, the number-one most popular item in a survey of city needs was “a library,” Perske said, adding 74 percent of survey respondents said a branch library is “very important” for the city.
“It’s time for us to move forward,” Perske told the council, to applause from the audience.
Smorynski told the council it’s possible to fund both a community center and a library. The GRRL, he added, has already voted in favor of helping develop a Sartell branch library, which Smorynski described as a “bedrock foundation of society,” one that promotes lifelong learning.
Smorynski concluded with, “Get the job done not in the future but in 2016.”
Lee told the council library proponents are not trying to “fight” the city or trying to denigrate the idea of a community center or senior center. She said everybody should try to work together because the city needs those amenities, as well as a branch library.
Another woman told the council the purpose of the rally was to show support for the council and the GRRL system in their efforts to get a branch library in Sartell. She said it could be funded by the half-cent sales tax and could be built at city hall or in the District Service Center building. She urged the council to make a commitment for a library as soon as possible. She asked the rally participants in the room to stand in the room to show their support for her statement, and they did.