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Can you spare 12 bucks for the library?

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  • Can you spare 12 bucks for the library?

    Minneapolis Star Tribune , MN
    March 21 2004

    Can you spare 12 bucks for the library?
    Peg Meier, Star Tribune

    Margaret Howes raised the magic question:

    "What if everyone in Minneapolis chipped in to support the library?
    How much would it take?"

    Good question, thought library director Kit Hadley, and reached for
    her calculator. She divided the expected $4.5 million in state-budget
    cuts by the Minneapolis population of 382,000.

    "Twelve dollars," she announced, rather stunned that the figure was
    so low. "About $12 a person."

    A grass-roots movement sprang from Howes' simple question last
    summer. She was at a public meeting when the library board was
    seeking comments on its financial struggles. What to do? Close
    libraries? Keep all open but cut hours? Slash the staff? Stop buying

    Hmmmm. Maybe get lots and lots of people to donate a little money?

    The Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library took on what became
    known as the "$12 Campaign." The organization made posters and fliers
    to distribute in the libraries. It sent out appeals. It invited
    patrons to "do their part by making a gift to keep the libraries

    The Friends were on to something, they soon realized. In the first
    month, more than $27,000 came in.

    Now, more than 1,600 contributors have joined the movement, donating
    $66,000 to support the library system's operating budget. About a
    fourth of the donors send an even $12. The rest send more. (At least
    one person sent less. See below.) The Friends, a nonprofit group,
    cover all the administrative costs. Contributions helped save the
    library's Homework Helper Program and Summer Reader Program, two
    long-standing efforts for kids. By shifting these programs to the $12
    Campaign, the library was able to put more of its money into hours
    and staffing.

    While every $12 is appreciated, Hadley said, library people have been
    especially touched by several contributions.

    The most important thing

    Margaret Howes, 76, the generator of the idea for the $12 Campaign,
    grew up during the Depression: "We moved around a lot, but we always
    had libraries to go to. My parents took me. I took my two children.
    They take their seven children. As far as I'm concerned, libraries
    are the most important things for cities to have."

    Howes, a retired office worker at Dayton's, always has been a big
    reader. She loves science fiction and has written a sci-fi novel.
    Sci-fi people love to read and aren't shy, she says, so at every
    convention that she attends she hands out the library's bright-yellow
    appeals that say: "Can you help?"

    She also passes out fliers at her apartment building, her church,
    bookstores, her grocery stores and at Minneapolis Ragstock, where she
    buys some of her clothes. Why bother to promote the library?
    "Heavens," she said. "It's awful to have library hours cut. Libraries
    are essential to a civilized society."

    Read to me

    On the third Wednesday of each month, Katie McGinley reads to
    preschool kids at People Serving People, a family shelter in downtown
    Minneapolis. Her volunteer work is part of the Read-to-Me program
    sponsored by the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library. She has
    three young children of her own to read to, and she enjoys sharing
    their favorite stories with other youngsters.

    "The library is such an integral part of the community that we wanted
    to help somehow," said McGinley, who's a stay-at-home mom in
    Minneapolis and frequent user of their neighborhood library. She and
    her husband, Tim, a mortgage banker, found another way to help the
    library. They sent a generous check.

    Everybody chips in

    "Aaaghhhh," said 11-year-old Marielle Foster when she saw a sign on a
    lamp post last summer saying that some Minneapolis libraries were
    likely to be closed. That included the Linden Hills branch, which she
    describes as "my personal favorite. It has a nice home-away-from-home

    "What can I do?" wondered Marielle. She already had been raising
    money for UNICEF, so she figured she had some applicable skills.

    She and her 4-year-old brother, Lucas, went house-to-house in their
    neighborhood to ask for contributions. She hit up her dad for pocket
    change. She enforced the family rule that anyone who swears in the
    house has to chip in a quarter. She talked her brother Sam, 9, into a
    donation. When she turned in her quart Mason jar to the Friends of
    the Minneapolis Public Library, it contained $151.45.

    "I personally am a fanatic reader," said Marielle. "It's nice knowing
    I could help."

    A family affair

    Mary Oakley sent the library a check for $42. Here's how she arrived
    at the figure:

    She and her two daughters, Elsa, 18, and Claire, 16, love to read and
    go to various libraries a few times a week. That was worth three $12
    contributions. Her architect husband, Steve, visits a library only
    every three or four weeks and just recently has begun to enjoy
    reading fiction. Mary thought that was worth a $6 donation. And their
    son, Martin, 14, "would prefer a pointed stick in the eye to a
    library visit," she wrote in a note with her check. "So I'll go with
    $42 for now."

    Not just acting

    Vhannes Koujanian is an Armenian who was born 46 years ago in Beirut,
    Lebanon. The Armenian community tried to keep its culture alive there
    through music, literature, visual arts and theater. He was acting on
    stage by age 7. But there was no such thing as public libraries.

    He moved to Paris, then Bloomington, Ind., 24 years ago and to
    Minneapolis 12 years ago. He loves libraries and calls them knowledge
    banks. "I care about literature -- words," he said, "and one way to
    get them is in libraries. Libraries are not only beautiful. They are

    To pay the bills, Koujanian is a commercial painter. To make his soul
    leap, he does theater. So what could he do to help the libraries? He
    remembers thinking, "Maybe there are others like me who love theater
    and want to keep the libraries open."

    He and Sophie Breer (they were married Saturday) run a little group
    called the Northeast Actors Theater Company. They and 27 cast members
    volunteered their time and talents to put on six shows of "The
    Madwoman of Chaillot" in November at the Edison High School
    auditorium. They suggested a contribution of $10 from adults and $5
    from seniors.Students were admitted free. Every dollar was donated to
    the library. That was $2,700, enough to cover the $12 Campaign for
    225 people.

    A long way to go

    "The $12 Campaign got rolling in late July, after the Library Board
    made its decision to keep all libraries open. The power of the $12
    Campaign was to put these overwhelming cuts in human perspective and
    to give individuals the opportunity to participate in a solution.

    "We are still a long way from even adequate library service in
    Minneapolis, but every day more people are organizing to support our
    libraries. The $12 Campaign is just the beginning of a very broadly
    based, city-wide movement to support a library system that fulfills
    its mission of linking people to the transforming power of

    -- Colin Hamilton, executive director, Friends of the Minneapolis
    Public Library

    To contribute $12 to the operating budget of the Minneapolis Public
    Library, see or write to the Friends of
    the Minneapolis Public Library at 250 Marquette Av., #400,
    Minneapolis MN, 55421. The Friends phone number is 612-630-6174.
    Checks should be made out to Friends of the Minneapolis Public