Monday, May 20, 2013

Review Expedition: The St. Anthony Library, the final phase of the review expedition

Mercilessly long review of the St. Anthony Library in Minneapolis Minnesota

Phase 3 of the Review Expedition

All categories get a score! They are out of 100, with usual school grading applying wherein 75 is a straight up "C" and everything under 50 is just there to express various levels of pique.

Preamble and Arrival
Dave and I stumbled out of the Ecuadorian Restaurant Chimborazo and drove through the Minneapolis neighborhood of St. Anthony. I was so drunk I remember none of it. Actually, ha, I wasn't drunk at all. I had coffee at Chimborazo so I was keenly alert! But being drunk would have added an interesting twist. It's kind of a nice neighborhood back there in St. Anthony, and someone was having a yard sale of CDs. Dave and I asked each other simultaneously "Should we go?" and we answered simultaneously "No."  The era of the CD has passed, plus we work at a library anyway, where you can check them out for free. Our street ended without our finding Pentagon Dr. NE, but Dave's trusty and irascible jeep's GPS alerted us to the street really being something closer to an alley, leading us into a large strip mall. I've been in that strip mall, but hadn't really noticed the library. A library in a strip mall is an interesting idea, I guess, though also faintly repulsive.

 (Note on the picture above : I went out surfing the web for a picture of the St. Anthony Library and could find practically nothing, which is weird. Okay, no, it isn't weird, I mean, look at it, but I found this picture of St. Anthony Library, and I followed it back to its source website and found it to be by someone I know! And she is doing a blogging project of visiting loads of libraries and writing about what she finds, but nicely, not evisceratingly. Funny, but that's very nice. Anyway, the photo credit then goes to Ellen McEvoy and her very nice blog is here if you want to check it out. Anyway, thanks Ellen.)

For first impressions and all that:
68 out of 100

 Building and Public Art
Inside they had reasonably good signage, some nice display pieces, and a slightly cluttered but useable layout. They didn't seem to take much advantage of the displays to get focused or put interesting things on them, and so it all seemed a bit random. They appeared to have 3 staff members in the small space, one shelving, one librarianing (it is too a word!), and one clerking. But it was Dave who went out to help some lady bring in a couple boxes of donations. There was a little for-the-public office work station set up which was interesting to us because we have a for-the-public office work station at our library too. It's called the front desk. Their station was very forthright about how it was provided by the Friends of the Library, which seemed pretty small time, but, okay.

They seemed to have bailed on the public art thing here for the most part, but they really didn't have much space to work with. The had a Blacklock print of Quetico (canoe country) that I think was actually a signed series print and a Jasper Johns American Flag art poster. This fit in with their, oh, whatever, vibe which is similar to their something is better than nothing vibe.

69 out of 100

Random Generic Library Measure

Number of Agatha Christie books on shelf: 4. Well, it's something, and they're quite a small branch.
73 out of 100 

Bathroom Check

 I had to get a key to review, er, use the bathroom. I would have maybe somewhat understood if at "The Security Guard Northeast Library" I had to get a key to use the bathroom, but here? It just seemed a little paranoid. The bathroom itself was good. Single occupancy, thinnest towels in the known universe, clean. Marks down almost entirely for the key thing. I don't like sharing bathrooms and I don't like talking to people about having to go to the bathroom. I may be too delicate to review bathrooms.
77 out of 100

 Can I hang my flier for my blog with a sticky note on it saying "this library to be reviewed soon!"?

 I didn't ask as they just had a tiny board for library things. Oddly this actually puts them ahead of their other branches in this category
70 out of 100

Coffee Shop?

I don't know of any agreeable coffee in the area, but across the parking lot is the very good Tea Source, one of the best places for Tea in the twin cities and since I, a fierce coffee drinker, am willing to make that shift, I think anyone should.
90 out of 100

Librarian one: The Collection Question

Do they have The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and 3/4 by Sue Townsend? I had to fully give the info here for her to type into the computer as the Librarian was not familiar with it. They did not have it, but with my help we were able to ascertain that there were copies in the system of The Adrian Mole Diaries, which is a single volume of the first two books. It wasn't checked in at St. Anthony. There wasn't much more than that I was offered, like fun, sympathy, or a reading from memory.

Score for library collection (I did not have a strong expectation this book would be on the shelf in this small branch. Adrian Mole Diaries is a just barely acceptable substitution and 8 copies in the system, half checked out, is a maybe ever so barely acceptable number):
73 out of 100

Score for Librarian
73 out of 100

 Librarian two: The Reference Question

Who is St. Anthony? "Wasn't he the patron saint of lost things?" This answer was followed by that " I better make sure" reconsideration thing. I can't remember if she looked anything up, asked another person, or just confirmed herself with renewed confidence. Her answer wasn't wrong, just lackluster and thin and offhand. If she merely showed me this picture by El Greco


I would have scored her dozens of points higher.
66 out of 100

Librarian three: The Free Form Question

What's the best nearby restaurant. She said, after a bit of hmmming, and saying there wasn't much around, that she guessed it was The Village Pub. This felt to me like it was the first restaurant she could think of. And for a couple days after this I thought it was a terrible answer, but now I feel a little bit less hard on it. The online reviews are mixed, but generally not hateful. And while I can't imagine wanting to eat there under virtually any circumstances, I'm not actually aware of any place in the neighborhood I really would have wanted to eat. Still, she should have asked for more information instead of just throwing off that answer, unless I misread her and she was passionate about the Village Pub and their world famous Poutine, which is handcut fries and fried cheese curds topped with their homemade turkey gravy. Ask a question based on personal taste and don't expect to get an answer based on yours.
79 out of 100

I stepped up and took one for the team here. I went to the circ person to get a new library card. My hennepin card had faded into history and I was ready. Thus began the strangest portion of my review odyssey.  I had all the things I needed and she did get me a card, but it was all... quite odd. There was something gravely slow and earnest about her. She looked at my license like she had never seen one before in her life. She silently entered my information. I could hear the keystrokes. It took a long time, but actually I found I didn't mind that. I sometimes wonder how people can stand it when some of my deathly slow colleagues help them, but I can see how easy it is to go into a very peaceful zone when someone is processing on your behalf. It's the people waiting in line behind who suffer. There was no line. In fact, there was, I believe, only one or two other patrons in the whole library at that time besides Dave and I. When my card was ready she handed it to me slowly and proceeded to give me a very long and earnest lecture entirely about what to do if I lost my card. She enumerated the grave perils of it, the way I wouldn't know that some thief had checked out things on my card until I started getting late notices. She told me how to call in to report it lost. "Do not wait." She admonished. She spoke slowly as if this was complicated and profound information. She said I could call any Hennepin branch, not just St. Anthony to report it lost. It was fascinating. There was nothing about any features or privileges of my card other than this, the five minute lecture about the perils and responsibilities of losing my card. As an interesting addendum to this I will say that in many, many years of constant circulation work at an intensely busy library I have never personally run into an even remotely verifiable instance of someone stealing or using a stolen card to check out materials. Never. Not once. 

One last thing that was not a circ issue, but had to do with what I had to look at on the counter while I waited for my card. They had a small rack on the desk there that offered free "Take one only" bookmarks that were actually bookmark ads for a movie called Jack the Giant Slayer that came out months ago. The bookmarks came with a sign that said they were provided by the friends of the library. I worry about the Hennepin County Friends of the Library. They seem pathologically desperate for recognition. The clerk? Well, I actually work with someone sort of like her.

68 out of 100

Random Personal Search for Item

I searched for the DVD Moonrise Kingdom. At first glance this search seemed silly as it looked like they had about 3 DVDs checked in, the newest of which was the delightful What's Up Doc? with Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'neal. So, no, they didn't have it. But in checking their catalog I for the first time saw the sheer breadth and power of such a massive and mildly rich (comparatively) library system, something that didn't show up well with my more idiosyncratic searches. There were 65 copies of Moonrise Kingdom! And there were even 2 that belonged to St. Anthony, albeit both checked out.
88 out of 100

 Summary and Final Score   
The St. Anthony Library in Minneapolis is a strange solution to a neighborhood library. Perched anonymously with other shops in a seriously unbeautiful strip mall it certainly could come into its own with a creative staff, some clever ideas and energy, and a tightly curated collection. It didn't come into its own. Unfortunately the branch mostly struggles to get by on the power of its system and the simple fact that it is, well, a library. The staff seemed to be more of the sadly sleeping kind we'd been seeing all day, but also ventured out into even more strange territories of the often tragic human landscape. Strange hints of paranoia and an emotionally questionable "Friends" group rounded out the picture of this odd and uninspiring library. But, in the end, it is a library. So...
70 out of 100


  1. I respectfully mention that St Anthony branch library has a superior selection of "true crime" genre for its size. Someone in collection development at that branch must have a similar ghoulish nature to my own.

    1. Fair enough, and I am only happy to hear it. I'm glad I dug my heels in and held the final score in the "C" category despite temptations to dip down. While my review is sort of comprehensive, it also tends to be more long and full of bizarre testing parameters.
      Hey, maybe St. Anthony should go with its strength and become an all true crime library. Anyway, I thank you much for your addition here.

  2. Dear Clerk: We have a lovely and humble local library called The Meiners Oaks Library, here in Meiners Oaks, CA. It is tiny and nesting in our little town, right next door to a gas station, so that if you are about to take a long road trip to Arizona you can simply check out all your reading material and gas up. There is also a great organic local food store/restaurant walking distance, and a karate studio in case after all that reading you might want to practice your kicks and strikes. Anyway, could you kindly apply for a grant to fly out and review our little library? Thanks!

    1. I will immediately apply for a grant, or at least look for an anonymous plane ticket in the mail. Can I stay at your house? Do you live in the swanky part of Ojai? How many cats do you have? Can we play that game from the Electric Kool-aid Acid Test?
      You're welcome. Thank you.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. What? I, it's not coming through. I, I I'm losing you. What was that? Maybe try commenting on a land line? I'm hanging up now. Can you hear me? I'm hanging up now.


If you were wondering, yes, you should comment. Not only does it remind me that I must write in intelligible English because someone is actually reading what I write, but it is also a pleasure for me since I am interested in anything you have to say.

I respond to pretty much every comment. It's like a free personalized blog post!

One last detail: If you are commenting on a post more than two weeks old I have to go in and approve it. It's sort of a spam protection device. Also, rarely, a comment will go to spam on its own. Give either of those a day or two and your comment will show up on the blog.