Where’s the state’s busiest library? Right here in Roseville

The Ramsey County Library in Roseville was the state’s busiest library in 2018, based on its circulation of 1.245 million items. (Mike Munzenrider)

If you’ve ever had the feeling that the Roseville Library is a bustling, dynamic place, you’re right, and now there are numbers to back you up.

Per information collected by the Minnesota Department of Education, the Ramsey County Library in Roseville was the busiest library in the state in 2018.

It circulated some 1.245 million items last year — the next busiest branch in 2018 was the Rochester Public Library, which moved 1.218 million.

For 2018, the entire Ramsey County system circulated 3.5 million items. Its 2019 operating budget is $12.5 million.

Roseville Library manager Jeff Eide credits his branch’s numbers to the fact that a lot more trips to the library nowadays are for more than simply getting a book.

“People are here for the vibrancy of all the things going on,” he said.

Programming at the library in the last decade and a half has grown far beyond the children’s fare that comes to mind, Eide said, pointing out efforts made to reach out to adults and teens. Various community groups and other organizations use the library’s community room, for which there’s “limitless demand.”

“We have capacity issues,” he said, when it comes to the library’s history programs, which have recently featured speakers like former Gov. Arne Carlson and former Vice President Walter Mondale.

The library’s makerspace lets folks use items that aren’t quite common in the home, yet, like 3D printers and virtual reality equipment, Eide noted, while in-library community resource advocates can guide folks through situations that can be tricky to navigate without help, like housing issues. Elsewhere, the library’s 111 public computers offer free and fast connections to the internet.

Beyond programming, Eide points out his library is an inviting space. Renovated in 2010, wide open and modern with capacity for hundreds of people, it’s hosted pro wrestling to kick-off summer reading, as well as a show by the popular Minneapolis indie rock trio Bad Bad Hats. 

The biggest of seven buildings in the Ramsey County Library system, it’s just off Highway 36 on Hamline Avenue, has ample parking and a Dunn Brothers Coffee location.

Said Eide, “It’s the critical mass of all these factors.”


Seeking answers

“I’m always seeing my neighbors at the Roseville Library,” said the branch’s history coordinator, Judy Woodward, who lives in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul.

“We’re just an ideal focus for people.”

Both Woodward and Eide have worked for Ramsey County Library since the 1980s. Eide started out as a shelver, working in the library system to put himself through college. He got a history degree with intentions to teach, but never left the library system.

Woodward showed up from the West Coast also with a history degree and briefly worked for Hennepin County Library before heading east for good. She’s mostly worked in Roseville since; Eide began managing the library in 2012.

“It’s a good place to work,” said Eide, pointing out that’s a sentiment felt by employees throughout the system. “That’s a good thing.”

Internal surveys of Ramsey County Library users find that folks value library staffers, and Woodward said interacting with the public, usually to help answer questions, big and small, is one of the best parts of her job.

“I just love looking for the answers to things,” she said. “That’s my job — if they stopped asking questions I’d be out of a job.”

Woodward’s favorite question, and the “voyage of discovery” that it spawned, she said, came just as the internet was becoming a resource at the library. A man came in with a pocket diary that his father had taken off the corpse of a German soldier during World War II.

He wished to somehow return the diary to the soldier’s family, and Woodward, able to read German, was able to narrow down the man’s hometown based on entries in the book. She hopped online and contacted the town’s “heimat” museum — heimat means homeland in German — to see if the soldier had any living relatives.

While Woodward said she wished her story had a better ending — there were no relatives to be found in the town — she says the man sent the diary to the heimat museum, were she assumes it’s displayed to this day.

“[That story has] all the best parts of what I do.”


Outside the walls

Carly Sanft, the Roseville-based outreach librarian for the entire county system, said she takes similar pleasure in helping people find the information they seek.

“People come to Roseville because they know we’ll have an answer to whatever question they have,” she said. 

Just recently Sanft said she’d helped a woman track down her high school yearbook from the 1960s, and helped an immigrant with limited English skills get things in order to find work.

Newly minted in her outreach position as of February — she began work with the Ramsey County Library in 2017 out of the New Brighton branch — Sanft said she previously used her master’s in library information science in the corporate world before deciding to seek out what she termed more fulfilling work.

“It’s really nice to look people in the eye and know you made their day better,” she said.

Sanft’s summer is booked with some 65 events outside library walls, with aims to give a taste of what the library can offer to all ages. 

Last month she hauled items from the system’s Asian languages collection to the Southeast Asian New Year Festival in St. Paul, where they were well-received. Upcoming stops involve Lake Phalen’s WaterFest, a number of senior housing communities in the north suburbs and various city and county parks for programs on science, technology, engineering, art and math topics.

Grabbing some books on a drizzly Wednesday morning, Tom, a 68-year-old Roseville resident, said he lives two miles from the library. He checks out books and movies, and often uses the library’s internet, since it has a faster connection than at home.

He said he first met the Roseville Library 45 years ago, looking to have a question answered.

“I was looking for a job interview, just out of college, and I couldn’t find the address,” he said, noting he was unaware of the existence of a County Road B2. “And that was my first stop here.”

He said he’s been coming twice a week since.


–Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813.

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