Library Retrospective: text by Leah Harvey, slideshow by Belinda Carrillo, Amber Hamm & Elvin Widjaja

Professor Leah Harvey very kindly allowed us to use her remarks from the Anniversary Reception for this post. Don’t miss the retrospective slideshow at the end. Enjoy!

Metropolitan State University was the dream and creation of Chancellor G. Theodore Mitau and his Vice chancellor, David Sweet. While Mitau was busy lining up legislative support, Sweet was planning a university, described in a Citizen’s League report, as “An Urban College: New Kinds of ‘Students’ on a New Kind of ‘Campus’.” Well, one of the characteristics of that new kind of campus was that it wasn’t a campus; there would be no owned space, so obviously–no library. The university would rely on the rich library resources throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area; sharing resources was a hallmark of MN libraries.

As an aside, this idea of sharing, especially when we did not have much to share, was not popular with all libraries. The director of CLIC (Cooperating Libraries in Consortium) sent a formal complaint about Metro students using their libraries. That director was the late David Barton, who was chagrined when I reminded him of that letter when he later applied to be our library dean.

In the early 1980’s, Metro State hired its first librarian—Colleen Coghlan. She was adamant that with the resources available to us, we would not be able to create anything more than a 3rd, 4th or even 5th rate library, and that the wiser route would be to create more formal relationships with area libraries—at least until we knew better what the library of the future would look like. So we continued, albeit on a more formal basis, to work with area libraries. One major accomplishment, thanks to Tom Shaughnessy, the library dean at the U of M, was getting privileges for our faculty at U of M libraries that were equal to those of their faculty.

In the early 1990’s Metro State did acquire a permanent campus here on Dayton’s Bluff, and Colleen retired. We took the first step. A large room in the lower level of the new building, New Main, became a student computer lab and our first library space; we even had books in it. I was the academic VP when our fourth president, Susan Cole, was hired and tasked with turning us into a “real” university; she took that task seriously. No real university would be libraryless (plus, she liked to build things). For a long time there was faculty resistance. But, that was addressed by a library that would have more computer resources than books and would be called a library and learning center. In the end we had the good fortune of building the library of the future, not trying to refit one that had been built 30 years earlier.

Early in the planning, we began discussions with the St. Paul Public Library Director, the late Carol Williams, about sharing space. Public library staff were with us lobbying the legislature and raising funds for the new library. By the time Susan Cole left Metro State in 1998 we had raised over $2 million from grants and received $1 from the legislature for planning this combined library.
A representative of the SPPL attend the thousands (well, maybe not quite that many) of planning meetings for the library design. Susan Cole and I had thought we were planning one library; the SPPL was not so sure; after all, our computer systems were not compatible. But we were certain that was how we would proceed. Well, as you can see, once Susan left, things changed a bit. First the spaces were separated by a hall; and almost at the end of the planning process, the gate for the public library was added. We now have two adjoining libraries, not the combined library we had originally envisioned. Even so, we have come far over 40-some years, from no space and using the resources of libraries around us, to actually sharing our resources and space.

By the time the library opened, ten years ago, neither Susan nor I were in administrative positions here—she had moved on to Montclair State University in NJ, and I had moved to the Metro State faculty. But we left “our Library” in the very capable hands of the library dean, the late David Barton, who oversaw the final planning and the actual construction. We’ve come a long way—from no books or buildings to a shared library space that can boast over 5 million visits from students, faculty, and community members.

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