As it prepared for a couple of gigs, the Ladyslipper Ensemble, a chamber music group that concentrates on “lost” works, realized it had a theme: love and heartbreak.

So, it has dubbed its April 11 concert at Northtown Library in Blaine “Sweet Torment,” reflecting the drama of its repertoire. Several musicians from the six-member group will perform songs that date to the 1600s and 1700s.

The ensemble, which formed in 2011, has made the rounds at local libraries before, and its venues tend to be small and intimate. Artistic Director Sahar Hassan said the group caters to “people who’d rather hear something in their own neighborhood, get close to the musicians and see what we do, how we breathe.”

That makes it a good fit for the Anoka County Library, which in recent years has been offering more of these kinds of live or “experiential” events. Programs run the gamut from musical performances to history talks.

Anoka County Library Director Marlene Moulton Janssen said the concerts and other hands-on offerings are another way to “introduce our residents to the depth of our collection and the resources there,” she said.

The library has long had an extensive CD and songbook collection. Performances go beyond that. They’re a chance “to interact with neighbors and enjoy some music that perhaps they haven’t been exposed to before,” Janssen said.

Today, people expect more from the library. “We’re looking at trying to provide a full range of experiences for our residents,” Janssen said.

Technology in and of itself has played a major role in changing “people’s expectations about how information is delivered, how they interact with each other and institutions and how they come together as a community.”

“As the way people learn changes, we also need to adapt,” Janssen said.

She cited a quote from library consultant Joan Frye Williams: “A family’s dinner doesn’t end being a family dinner when you change the pattern of the dinnerware on the table.”

The same goes for libraries. “It’s not going to change with the container or how we serve the meal in front of us, the resources in front of us. The content will still be the same,” Janssen said.

She attributes the library’s ability to do so in large part to the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund created by the state’s Legacy Amendment. Money from that fund was first awarded between 2009 and 2010, and MELSA (the Metropolitan Library Service Agency) puts together a catalog of approved programs from which libraries pick and choose, she said.

Before that, the Anoka County system had only one program geared for adults.

The Legacy programs are “providing us with another way for our community to connect in the library,” Janssen said.

For example, the library recently hosted a program with the Anoka County Historical Society about the old State Hospital in Anoka. It drew 170 people and some had to be turned away, Janssen said.

The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis has also led writing classes at the library. It’s served people who “wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise, and they’re glad to have it in their own community,” Janssen said.

Jenn Straumann, adult services manager for the library, said the live events are enriching. “People walk away with more of an experience than they thought they would. They learn something about the art form, the history of it.”

The response has been largely positive, and attendance has increased each year. In 2008, Anoka County libraries had 24,677 people attend programs, almost all of which were children’s story times or summer reading programs. Overall, the library has seen a 29 percent increase since the Legacy funds came in.

Today, the library is a gathering place where everything from technology training to small-business development is offered. Books still matter, but the modern library does so much more, Janssen said. “We help individuals connect to the information they need in one-to-one interactions so that they can write a résumé, figure out a bus schedule or pass a driver’s license test,” she said.

People want to interact with information and to be creators of it, as well, she said. “Think about how Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have changed our ways of both sharing and getting news, both from our friends and from the world as a whole,” she said. “Educators have known for years that information is better retained when the dissemination is reinforced through interaction,” and the same goes for experiential learning.

Of course, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon. In 1894, the Anoka library’s meeting room was described as “a place for community groups to gather, to learn, meet, explore, and create.”

More than a century later, that continues to drive the library, Janssen said.


Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.