The East Lake Library has reopened.
The library had been closed since fires and unrest tore through the neighborhood during the last week of May 2020. Prior to that, the library had only been open for curbside pick-up only in the months since the pandemic began.
Sarah Connolly has been the library supervisor for the past year, and what a year it has been. She said, “We are all very grateful to be back at our branch. We’ve spent a lot of time getting things set up for in-person patrons again.”
Before that could happen, the building had to be remediated for physical damage. Small fires had been lit inside the library during the unrest, and many of the neighboring buildings had burned to the ground. Interior smoke damage was extensive. Broken doors and windows on all sides were replaced. New carpet was installed, and new furniture purchased. All of the library computers were stolen or destroyed, and had to be replaced.
Connolly said, “To prepare for reopening, staff took every book off the shelves for careful cleaning and inventory. All things considered, we count ourselves lucky. Because the fires didn’t set off the sprinkler system, most of our books were spared.”
The East Lake Library reopened to in-person patrons on Monday, Dec. 27.
Current services offered
East Lake Library is open Sunday to Thursday, with reduced building capacity because of COVID-19. A maximum of 14 patrons can be on-site at any given time. Wait times have not been a problem, according to Connolly. Masks covering mouth and nose are required for entry. Entrance is from the parking lot only. Patrons are welcome to browse library materials and pick up holds, but are asked not to linger.
Library computers may be used once daily by patrons, for a maximum of one hour. Reservations are encouraged but not required. There is no eating or drinking allowed while in the library.
Due dates for library materials have been pushed back, and all Hennepin County Libraries will soon be fine-free. There is no longer a charge for printing or copying. Connolly said, “One of Hennepin County’s highest priorities right now is to reduce racial and economic disparities. Eliminating the fine penalty for overdue materials is one way the libraries can be part of that.”
A strong connection
During the seven months that East Lake Library was closed, library staff stayed active in the community. Connolly said, “Many of us have lived or currently live in the neighborhood; we have a personal as well as a professional connection here. We were driven to show support for the community even though we didn’t have a building.”
The parking lot and grounds of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (directly behind the library) became the neighborhood center of food and supply distribution following the unrest. Library staff pedaled their library bike trailer over with free books for kids, distributed free beverages, and talked with community members weekly. They also staffed a booth at the Midtown Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer to promote online library resources and virtual programs including book clubs. They stayed connected through community outreach.
Social worker on-site
Hennepin County Social Worker Devin Clarkson now offices out of the East Lake Library on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. He provides information and referral on many things including basic needs (clothing, food, shelter), chemical health, mental health, disability services, education and employment resources, Hennepin County benefits, housing, transportation and, last but not at all least, he can listen.
Clarkson said, “I have experience as a member of the Homeless Access Team, which is part of Hennepin County Health and Human Services. I also have a presence at the Franklin Library on Wednesday and Fridays. I can help with computer literacy, navigating the internet if people are doing employment searches. I can help with applications for General Assistance, Medical Assistance, and food stamps (SNAP/EBT).”
County service centers (where people would otherwise apply for benefits) are closed, and in-person contact can be very helpful – especially if there is a language barrier. Clarkson is a fluent Spanish speaker, and has access to a translation service through his phone.
Connelly said, “I try to meet people where they are. The world of social services can be confusing, and my job is to help people connect with the resources they need.”
To make an appointment with Social Worker Devin Clarkson, call or text 612.990.6228. Appointments are encouraged but not required.
'We thank you'
Connolly concluded, “The community played a huge role in protecting and supporting our library. We know that patrons posted signs outside the building urging that it be kept safe through the most difficult nights, and that were many other acts of kindness. After the unrest was over, a lot of people reached out to express concern for staff, the building, and the collection. We thank you for that.”
“Once it is safe to gather again, we will definitely resume hosting live programs. We really look forward to that. It felt odd to re-open the library without any fanfare, but that’s where we are right now.”
Check the East Lake Library website for hours and updates at www.hclib.org/eastlake. Contact supervisor Sarah Connolly with questions at email@example.com.