Exhibit celebrates 125 years of library service in Hennepin County

Exhibit visitors in Cargill Hall at the Minneapolis Central Library
Courtesy of the Library Foundation of Hennepin County
Exhibit visitors in Cargill Hall at the Minneapolis Central Library

Whether delivered a century ago by a Model-T “book truck” or today by high-speed Internet, public library service in Hennepin County has played an essential role in creating a literate and informed citizenry in this region.

You can explore this fascinating history at the free exhibit, “125 Years of Library Service in Hennepin County,” on display in Cargill Hall at the Minneapolis Central Library through Sept. 30.

Funded by Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, the exhibit celebrates and commemorates more than a century of Library Service that Hennepin County has provided residents.

“[The exhibit] illustrates how the library has remained true to its mission while evolving and transforming over time to meet community needs and stay in the forefront of technological advances,” said current Hennepin County Library Director Lois Langer Thompson.

Early 20th-century photos on display in Cargill Hall
Courtesy of the Library Foundation of Hennepin County
Early 20th-century photos on display in Cargill Hall

Exhibit-goers will learn about revered librarian Gratia Countryman, who was zealous about library service to residents of the city of Minneapolis as well as rural Hennepin County.

“The public library is an institution so pliable that it bends to every growing need of community life; so susceptible to social needs, so eager to render all possible service, that it must by virtue of its own nature reach out beyond the city borders,” Countryman said in the early 20th century.

(Hennepin County Library service first became available outside the city of Minneapolis in 1922, as the result of a tax levy on property outside the city.)

Hennepin County Library’s recently-adopted mission to “nourish minds, transform lives, and build community together” has been its underlying philosophy since library service began more than a century ago, apparent in the exhibit’s depiction of how readers, children, families, new immigrants and the business community have relied on library services through the years.

Visitors will also see how technology has expanded the community’s access to the library collection and will continue to be a key factor in library service in the years ahead. 

Book stations located in general stores; construction of beautiful Carnegie libraries; an REO Speedwagon; suburban expansion; audio-visual items such as vinyl records, 8- and 16-millimeter films and 8-track tapes; book catalogs in the 1970s; microfiche catalogs in the 1980s; and countless other improvements to library service all paved the way for today’s automated, 21st-century landmark libraries.

Today, Hennepin County Library offers 5 million books, CDs and DVDs in 40 languages; 135 databases; and 1700 public computers.

Last year, an estimated 5.8 million people visited Hennepin County’s 41 libraries, more than 17.5 million items were checked out and there were almost 20 million visits to the Library’s website

Historic photographs of the Minneapolis Central Library:

An 1893 photo of the original Minneapolis Public Library at 10th and Hennepin
Courtesy of Hennepin County Library
An 1893 photo of the original Minneapolis Public Library at 10th and Hennepin. The state legislature approved an amendment to the Minneapolis city charter to create the Minneapolis Public Library in 1885; construction began in 1886.
A 1895 photo of the circulation desk in the original Minneapolis Public Library
Courtesy of Hennepin County Library
A 1895 photo of the circulation desk in the original Minneapolis Public Library
A 1905 photo of the stacks area in the original Minneapolis Public Library
Courtesy of Hennepin County Library
A 1905 photo of the stacks area in the original Minneapolis Public Library
Hennepin County Library Director Ethel Berry in front of a book wagon, the early 20th-century version of today's bookmobile
Courtesy of Hennepin County Library
Hennepin County Library Director Ethel Berry by a book wagon, the early 20th-century version of today’s bookmobile

The “125 Years of Library Service” exhibit is free and open to the public. Exhibit hours are the same as the Minneapolis Central Library‘s. For more information, contact librarian Johannah Genett: 612-543-8639 or jrgenett [at] hclib [dot] org.

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