Hopkins' library turns 100

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 22, 2012 - 12:04 PM

The history of the city's cultural and community landmark will be celebrated this summer.

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Seven-month-old Lindsey Faris followed along with her mom, Erica, and sister Rachel during story time.

Photo: Marisa Wojcik, Star Tribune

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For Kristin Kaspar, childhood trips to the Hopkins library meant racing through the door in the fierce hope that no other kids were curled up in her treasured personal space: the old claw-foot bathtub lined with comfy orange shag carpeting.

When Kaspar's dad, Bob, was growing up, the library was in an old mansion. Legendary librarian Bloomie Mountain was in charge, and she could silence a boy -- or a mob of them, for that matter -- with one stern glance through her spectacles.

Long before that, when the library was established 100 years ago, it was part of the new City Hall. The city fathers weren't sure they had room for a library. Would anyone use it? Pushed by a group of persistent women, they gave the library three rooms for its donated books and even a small budget.

The little library soon became a proud cultural landmark in a village where many residents were Czech immigrants who were just beginning to learn English. Soon, story time was drawing up to 175 kids.

That history, researched by Kristin Kaspar, 40, is being celebrated this summer as the library marks its centennial with a big celebration planned for June 3.

'A force of nature'

The Hopkins library, which is now at 22 11th Ave. N., joined the Hennepin County Library system in 1973, making it the last suburban member to join. Fearful of losing control of their library, Hopkins residents resisted joining the bigger system for decades and voted down a merger in 1931.

"Hopkins was and is a very independent small community," said David Smith, who was the city librarian in the mid-1960s. "They were proud and they were stubborn.... They wanted to protect the library."

By the late 1940s, the library had outgrown City Hall. In 1948 it moved to the Dow House, an 1894 mansion that had been built by a prosperous farming family. Shepherding the move was Mountain, who had become librarian in 1932.

"She was kind of a force of nature there, and she was the library for many, many years," Kaspar said. "My father knew her and would tell stories about how intimidating she was. She wanted the place to be silent, and she'd keep an eye on people and make sure they weren't goofing off."

Pigeons in residence

Mountain's office was in the former butler's pantry and had a dumbwaiter and a sink. It was Mountain who created the children and young adult sections of the library and who tried to impose order on the collection, which included more than 1,000 books in Czech.

Families would sometimes make a day of it at the library mansion, picnicking on grounds that included a rock garden. While the setting was grand -- a photo of the front desk shows Mountain and two other women standing before stained-glass windows, and there were two huge fireplaces and a staircase in the same area -- the old house had problems. The bookshelves in the former dining room were so tall and unsteady that only employees were allowed to enter the room to retrieve books. Smith remembers pigeons nesting in the empty third-floor ballroom.

By the 1960s, people began worrying that the house's floors might fail under the weight of the books.

"The house just couldn't handle it ... and the city didn't have the money to rehab it," Kaspar said.

While the community raised money to construct a new building, in 1963 the library moved into what had been a Bridgeman's restaurant. Mountain, who was city librarian for 31 years, retired and said she intended to travel. But she died just a few months later at the age of 73.

With fundraising and a federal grant, the new library was finished in 1968. Smith, who is a Hopkins resident, said library use by adults jumped in the new downtown location.

By the 1970s, few Hopkins residents could read Czech. The library's Czech language collection went to the city historical society and later to the University of Minnesota's Immigration Research Center. Today, the library serves the city's latest immigrants with books in Spanish and Somali.

"We are a very busy library," said librarian Lisa Bjerken. "It really is a gathering spot. People bring their laptops or just come and meet here. The children's area is a real magnet."

'A quiet place to read'

The claw-foot bathtub vanished years ago, apparently removed for worry that someone would get hurt there. But there's a firetruck, a bulldozer and a tree to climb into when a small reader wants some privacy.

Smith visits a couple of times a week, and says he is pleased to see the library so busy. "People forecast the demise of libraries due to technology, but that's a premature obituary," he said. "Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the technology. And some people just want to use the library for the library."

Everything has changed in a century. But at the library's heart, Kaspar said, maybe ot so much.

"Their first commitment was service to the community, and they still serve people who don't speak English, and people who need computers," she said. "People use it as a gathering place, and to make things happen for themselves. It's there for people who want to learn something, who want to improve their lives."

And sometimes, she said, for people "who just want to have a quiet place to read."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

  • related content

  • Young readers visited the library when it was housed in the Dow House mansion.

  • IF YOU GO

    Event: Hopkins library celebrates 100 years • When: June 3, 1 - 3 p.m. • What: Celebration with displays about the library's history, three local authors and lists of the best children's and adult books published in the last 100 years.

    Where: Hopkins library, 22 11th Ave. N.

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