Thirty-five years ago, the Quatrefoil Library opened in a storefront along W. Broadway in north Minneapolis. Dedicated to works by and about gay, lesbian and transgender people, it housed a few hundred books, magazines and journals — enough to comfortably fill one modest room.
It was only the second such library in the country. For $25 a year, a person could buy a library card and borrow whatever they liked.
Almost immediately, Quatrefoil started to grow. From one room to two, then to three, then to four. Within a year, it had moved to the more spacious Richards Gordon office building in St. Paul. After a time, the library card fee bumped up to $40 a year.
The library continued to grow. Now at 1220 E. Lake St. in Minneapolis, it houses about 16,000 books, 5,000 DVDs, newsletters, posters and rare first editions, including art books, photography books, books from tiny regional presses, and old gay pulp paperbacks from the 1960s and '70s.
It contains a wealth of material for scholars and researchers across the country, who regularly contact the library looking for hard-to-find or obscure publications.
Over the years, the library has become more than a place of reference, but a place of community, hosting book signings, book launches, poetry readings, wine-and-cheese receptions, book clubs and other events.
"We do writing workshops, panel discussions, one year we had the Minnesota Opera come in and preview an opera with a couple of singers," said Claude Peck, president of the board of directors.
For the past 15 months, the library has been closed because of the pandemic. During COVID-19 it has had curbside pickup and hosted virtual events, but the library itself was closed to browsing.
Beginning this month, the library will reopen on Saturdays (with masks and social distancing), with the hope of adding Sundays in July and expanding to every weeknight by autumn.
And with the reopening, there will be one big change: That $40 annual library card is now free.
Eliminating the fee "is more welcoming, it lowers the barrier, allows people who are of lower income, students, seniors to borrow from us," Peck said. For many people, he said, "$40 is a lot of money."
Forty dollars is a lot of money for Quatrefoil, as well — those annual library cards added up to about $8,000 a year in revenue. "We are obligated to come up with the funding elsewhere," said Peck. "We're reaching out to foundations, writing grants, making special targeted appeals." But it was important to the board to make the library as inclusive as possible.
While a specialty library such as Quatrefoil might duplicate some of the materials available at a public library, that wasn't always the case.
"When we started in 1986 it would have had many books that were not available elsewhere," Peck said. "I think our current claim to fame is we have it all under one roof, we have it in a welcoming place, it's an LGBTQ-plus environment, you may make a friend, you may network.
"It's also true that we acquire many, many books that the public libraries don't acquire. Smaller presses, feminist and lesbian presses, not just the big publishing houses."
In the past, the library has partnered with Macalester College, Moon Palace Books, Hennepin County Library and Rain Taxi, and they're pondering all kinds of ideas for the coming months. But for now, "We miss people being in there," Peck said. "We have 80 volunteers chomping at the bits. They want to get back. We want our patrons back."
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune's senior editor for books.