By Tracy Kampa Children’s Librarian

Honestly? I’m still a little emotional. The Itasca County Commissioners recognized our need, saw how much Itasca County residents used our library, and responded. They listened, they asked good, pertinent questions, they discussed. And they decided.

The Grand Rapids Area Library is funded by both the City of Grand Rapids and Itasca County. Their minimum contributions are set by formulas devised by the State of Minnesota. Several years ago, the county funding statute was frozen, and hasn’t been revisited. This probably wouldn’t be an issue, if the formula addressed the needs of inflation and the rising costs of doing business.  In this case, though, it didn’t. The statute required that Minnesota cities and counties, for 2012, pay 90% of the 2011 requirement. (A 10% decrease in funding.) And that is exactly where that number remains today, nearly a decade later.

Itasca County continued to pay what the State of Minnesota determined that they owed. The City of Grand Rapids continued to raise their support to help cover the gap. The Grand Rapids City Council froze that support last year, and it remains frozen.  We were left to plead our case to the Itasca County Board of Commissioners. Will Richter, Grand Rapids Area Library’s director, prepared a detailed presentation. He explained the funding discrepancies, showed that the majority of our patrons come from outside the city limits of Grand Rapids, and answered questions. He provided data to show how important our library is to this county. He followed up to answer further questions by the commissioners. And we waited.

Finally, we received news that the commissioners would consider our request.  I was excited, but so nervous. I know we were asking the county for additional funds that they weren’t legally obligated to provide. But without these funds we would be forced to look at some significant changes to what services we could provide for our patrons. On the day of the meeting, I was relieved to see many other library supporters joining us in the boardroom. My heart smiled when library families, with their kids, joined the group. (My young friend Katie, when trying to decide where to sit, commented “We should sit in front. If you want to know what’s going on, you should sit in the front.” Brava, Katie!) More questions, more answers, more anxiety. I was impressed, regardless of their decision, by the quality of the questions asked by the Commissioners. They had done their homework, and they knew what was at stake. Finally, they agreed. They saw the discrepancy, they saw our need, they threw us a temporary life preserver.

This decision wasn’t about me; it wasn’t about a raise, or a library addition, or an increase in our book budget. Rather, it was to maintain the status quo. It was to remain open on Saturdays for families to come for Storytime, and for students to get materials. It was about putting books on the shelves, and heat coming out of the floor vents.  Grand Rapids has a library of which they can be very proud. Every week we average over 2500 library visits. We circulate thousands of books and other materials.  In many ways, we are the face of the city to hundreds of out-of-town visitors every year. Our patron numbers and participation numbers often surpass those generated by libraries serving much bigger populations in Minnesota. Until our funding is stabilized, though, all of that is vulnerable.  I will not stop speaking for my young patrons, because we often find it easy to balance budgets at their expense. This is not just about my young patrons, though, it is about everybody who walks through our doors today, and those who will tomorrow.  Our library is needed, and used, every day. Thank you, Itasca County Commissioners, for responding to the needs of the residents of Itasca County. I am grateful.

This Week at Your Library

• Monday, Oct. 8 at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m., it’s Book Time! Join ECFE teachers in the Story Circle for books, songs, finger plays, flannel board stories, and all other sorts of fun! Then move to the Community Room for a snack, a craft, and a time to play and visit.

•Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 3:30 p.m., join us for Artastic! Are you a kid who likes to create? Join us for our monthly art program, Artastic! Open to everyone, sign up at the Children’s Desk. (218) 327-8823

•Saturday, Oct. 12 at 10:15 and 11:15 a.m., it’s Saturday Story Time! Join ECFE teachers in the Story Circle for books and songs, then move to the Community Room for a snack, a craft, and a time to play and visit. Families may earn one Baby Steps coupon for attending this Story Time.

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