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Author Archive

Giving Back & Giving Thanks

November is a month of giving back and giving thanks. Here at the James J. Hill Center, we are thankful for our research services volunteers and interns who are invaluable to our mission of connecting entrepreneurs, business and community. Read on to learn more about our volunteer Sharon Lunak and intern Nick Riordan. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

Sharon: I was raised on a farm in Wisconsin and moved to St. Paul during high school. I worked for Remington Rand Univac and got married at twenty-one. My husband was a pastor in Wisconsin, and eventually we spent seventeen years in Japan as missionaries with our two children, coming back to the U.S. in 1987. My husband taught college students and I went to work at Jostens for the next twenty-five years.
Nick: I am a graduate student in Saint Catherine University’s Masters in Library and Information Science program. Prior to that, I studied Linguistics and Religious Studies at Macalester College.   

What do you do at the Hill Center? 

Sharon: I work as a volunteer receptionist two days a week or as needed during special occasions.
Nick: My work at James J. Hill Center varies by the day. Sometimes I work at the front desk greeting users and assisting them in operating our business resources, other times I am in the stacks reshelving or rearranging the books, and other times I am working down in the archives.   

What inspired you to volunteer/intern at the Hill? 

Sharon: I retired in 2016 and decided I couldn’t sit at home every day. Because my husband gave tours at the Hill House for eight years, it was a good transition for me to volunteer at the Hill Center. 

Nick: I began interning at the Hill in May 2017 to gain experience and exposure to working in a library and archival setting.  Although I was in the process of completing my first year as a library science student, I hadn’t ever worked in a library before. I wanted to see which elements of the profession I liked and which ones I didn’t so I could apply that to my career going forward, and this internship has helped greatly in that regard.   

What is your favorite part of being a Hill volunteer/intern? 

Sharon: It’s great working with the Hill Center staff, who are completely dedicated to making the Hill Center the best it can be. I also love the historical setting and enjoy meeting all the different people coming in to do research or visiting the almost-one-hundred-year-old building.
Nick: Being around all the old books and the overall stateliness of the library. Sometimes when you’re in the reading room, it’s tempting just to stop, look up, and be in awe! 

What is your favorite period in history? 

Sharon: I love learning about my great-grandparents coming to the U.S. from Europe (mid-1800s) and my grandparents learning to live in the U.S. (late 1800s), and, of course, making current family history with our five grandchildren. 

Who is your favorite “Original Thinker”? 

Nick: John Muir. In a time when nearly everyone in power was looking for ways to exploit America’s natural resources for profit, Muir focused on fighting to preserve them and was the impetus for the current system of state and national parks enjoyed by millions each year.   

What is your favorite James J. Hill fact? 

Nick: Hill would travel routes on horseback and determine whether they were suitable for his railroads.  It’s crazy to think how hands-on he was in all his business ventures.  
Sharon: Despite losing sight in one eye when he was young, James J. Hill became an entrepreneur, which led to him becoming a very successful businessman—and leaving the Hill Center as his legacy for all entrepreneurs.

Written by Ann Mayhew, Reference & Support Specialist, at the James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library our our historic collection at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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Non-Profit and Grant Research 

Finding funding for a for-profit business is difficult enough, but how do you go about researching funding for a non-profit? You’ll still have the same operating costs, personnel expenditures, and one-off expenses, but many traditional financing options aren’t good fits for your financial needs. If you’re stuck on how to get the funding you need to get your non-profit off the ground, the James J. Hill Center has two specialized resources that can help.  

The Hill’s GuideStar subscriptions let users research other non-profit and not-for-profit entities across the country. You can search by geography, size, and most importantly by cause type. This can be valuable if you’re trying to see how other non-profits organize themselves financially. GuideStar collects selected non-profits 990 tax forms, in which the organizations provide required financial breakdowns of their operating models. This can provide insight on how to financially set up your own non-profit.  

Beyond GuideStar, the Hill subscribes to Foundation Directory Online, a tool that indexes both 990 forms of non-profits, but also organizations that give grants, organizations that have received those grants, and short descriptions of the grants themselves. Naturally there aren’t filled-out grants to examine, as that is private information, but this tool allows those interested in exploring grants to make initial connections. Users can search for grants and grantmakers by topic, giving cause, grant type, and location of grantmakers and grant-recipients. This lets users explore the funding available to non-profits and additional contact information to explore the application process.  

Confused about where to start? Sign up for an introductory appointment at jjhill.org.

Written by Jessica Huffman, Business Outreach Librarian, at the James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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A New Livestock for a New Minnesota

There is no handbook for cricket farming, Eric Palen will tell you. If you want to raise urban chickens there is a way to do that. If you want to start a cattle ranch there are others who have gone before. But when you have founded Minnesota’s first edible insect farm you have to do things the old fashioned way—you have to figure it out yourself.

“[North Star Crickets is] continuing in Minnesota’s agricultural tradition but looking to the future at how food production needs to change to accommodate a growing population, food security, [and] climate change,” says Eric.

The idea for North Star Crickets began percolating in Eric’s mind sometime after 2013 when the United Nations released a report advocating for edible insects as a key component in the future of sustainable food production. As countries become more affluent their demand for protein grows. At the same time, a growing global population means less land to utilize for food production.

We know first hand in a place like Minnesota that raising a protein source like beef cattle requires a lot of land space, feed, and water. What if there was a way to produce protein more efficiently with less space and fewer resources?

Enter the cricket.

Eric has done his research and has a plethora of reasons to support the viability and benefit of farming crickets as a new protein-rich livestock. Not only are crickets superior to cattle in resource usage, they also produce far fewer greenhouse gasses and they are more simple to process—100% of a cricket is edible food as compared to 40% of a cow.

In addition to being a protein source, crickets are also very nutrient dense boasting an impressive combination of iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 among other health benefits.

What do they taste like?

“That is like asking what do vegetables taste like,” says Eric. “There is a whole range of tastes and flavors and applications.”

After harvesting his crickets (which can be done year-round by the way), Eric either roasts a batch in the oven and flavors them for snacking or grinds them into a powder that can be added to or substituted for flour in baked goods.

Since its launch in the past year, North Star Crickets has formed some unique local business partnerships. Eric has teamed up with T-Rex Cookie on a limited run of chocolate “chirp” cookies and Lake Monster Brewing to upcycle their spent brewing grain as cricket feed.

North Star Crickets is the first business of its kind in Minnesota and one of only a handful of other edible insect companies in the nation. That said, Eric’s primary contribution to the edible insect market—his “original thinker” edge—is still emerging. The demand is greater than what he is able to supply. Right now he is looking for an investor and business partner to expand his operation.

In the meantime, Eric is perfecting his process and writing the proverbial handbook for cricket farmers to come.

To learn more about North Star Crickets follow them on social @northstarcrickets.

Written by Christopher Christenson, Program & Event Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to christopher@jjhill.org.

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Startup Showcase: A hip alternative to avoid backpacking back pain

Two of the most common activities that cause back muscle strains and sprains are summer fitness and long trips. According to an Outdoor Industry Association report almost half of the U.S. population participated in an outdoor activity at least once in 2017. That is a lot of potential sore backs.

HipStar is out to change that with a new, “hip” invention that allows people to travel hands-free over any type of terrain with little effort, literally doing the heavy lifting for you — back pain free.


Name of company: HipStar LLC
Website: www.hipstar.net
Business Start Date: 2014
Number of Employees: 3
Number of Customers: 1500 potential customers, as we are at pre-sale phase


Name: Igor Koshutin
City you live in: Rochester
Country of Birth: Russia
Colleges Attended: Undergraduate work in Electrical Engineering, Moscow Engineering Physics Institute; Russian State Professional Pedagogical University; Russian Foreign Trade Academy


Q. What led to this point?

A.  I am the founder of HipStar and have been on the cutting edge of smart solutions for over two decades. My motto has always been to find easy solutions to difficult problems. I spend time carefully studying the market to find opportunities and then work to develop something that will create wide appeal.

Q. What is your business?

A. I developed HipStar, a new type of travel gear: a collapsible hands-free cart for all terrains. It also can be used as a backpack or bike trailer. HipStar will redefine the way people carry on the go. It will change the way hikers, campers, backpackers and other travelers move by literally taking the weight off their shoulders. It is designed to handle tough terrain and reduce carrying weight by over 90 percent.

Designed with an active lifestyle in mind, the HipStar allows users to travel for longer periods of time without having to sacrifice any important gear. It will help people achieve full mobility with only the power of two legs and accomplish physical feats they never thought possible, no matter if they’re young or old.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. The idea for HipStar came in 2014 as I was traveling across Europe on business and later with my family. Between the three of us, we had one backpack to carry everything. There was so much to see, but after half a day’s worth of walking around, all I could think about was how the straps of my heavy bag were digging into my shoulders. No matter where and how you travel, even a light backpack begins to weigh as much as a few bricks. You get tired. You get impatient. That’s when the idea for the HipStar was born.

Q. What problems does your business solve?

A. The struggle between packing all the essentials while minimizing total weight has always been a challenge; a challenge that has too often meant having to sacrifice important gear to cut down on weight. Even the best prepared travelers discover that a few hours of carrying a light pack begins to sap their strength, often forcing them to cut excursions and sightseeing trips short.

Heavy backpacks create a forward trunk lean (rounding of upper back), which causes a forward head posture with extended neck, creating a neck and shoulder pain and make it difficult for muscles and ligaments to hold the body up. After a long day on the trail, even 11 pounds will feel heavy no matter what you are carrying it in.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. Our potential customers are excited about our product. Our passionate supporter, John Pernu from Australia, wrote: “The most versatile and effective hiking trailer! Everything seems to have been included in the design — multiple adjustments, shock absorbing, running, walking or resting flexibility — really impressive!”

Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?

A. To date we spent near $100,000 and we are currently finalizing the product development stage to take the product design even further and seeking for seed capital. Although, we are seeking $1.5 million for the whole project, our immediate needs are to cover and start a product development stage of the HipStar heavy-duty version that would be around $100,000.

Q. How are you funding your business — organically, angel or VC investments?

A. Family and pre-orders.

Q. What is your business model?

A. Collecting sales revenue directly from customers and distributors in exchange for the product. Both Direct and Indirect Sales (tier-1, tier-2) depending on the region/market.

The units will be manufactured after the final CAD Build design is completed. Once the manufacturer has been identified, the company will focus on the fulfillment end of the operation. The intent is to secure a firm that can handle both individual unit sales as well as larger orders for major clients. The users will also be able to order directly from the site and have the unit shipped globally. Outside sales will be handled by commissioned sales personnel who will sell to both individual and regional retail operations.  All national sales will be handled by one of the management team members. We also have been contacted by potential distributors from France, Germany, Australia, U.S., U.K., etc.

Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?

A. The potential users of HipStar find the HipStar’s unique design a convenient addition to their activities and the market for HipStar units is diverse, including outdoor recreation equipment, in-town use and specialty equipment.

Q. How did 1 Million Cups St. Paul help you? Did you get valuable feedback? Did you get connected to resources? Did you pivot because of the experience?

A. We needed help finding financing, marketing and introductions to angel investors, so it was a great opportunity to have exposure to those possible audience members.

You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul.  Please check the calendar at jjhill.org/calendar for up to date information. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org

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It All Adds Up: Entrepreneurship 101: You’re Always Learning

October is a month of reflection and new beginnings. It’s a month that is nestled between the leisurely days of summer and the busyness of the winter holiday season. Filled with the beautiful backdrop of nature on full colorful display, October presents a natural opportunity to simply pause.

As I pause and reflect upon what has been a successful year both personally and professionally, there are a few key lessons I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Celebrate the wins – Over the years, I’ve spent more time minimizing rather than celebrating any measure of success that I had accomplished. I viewed success as a measuring stick for what’s next rather than an assessment of progress made. That mindset was the perfect breeding ground for burnout and self sabotage. I’ve since learned that celebrating the wins is just as important as setting business targets and goals. Celebrating the wins opens the door for innovation and growth.
  2. Embrace change – Growth is great, but change has the power to maximize results. Growth has been both exciting and scary. Growth carries excitement because it is a direct reflection of a return on my investment of hard work and sacrifice. Growth can also seem scary because it naturally introduces the need for change. I’ve learned the importance of tapping into training, mentorship and other development resources to facilitate the change process. Asking for help or guidance reduces the uncertainty of change and makes the growth/change cycle manageable.
  3. Have fun – In all of the hustle and hype of entrepreneurship, somewhere along the way I forgot how to have fun. I blurred the lines of when work time ended and family time began. Because I loved entrepreneurship, I carried the work into my down time as if it were also a creative outlet or hobby. Work infiltrated every area of my life. While we know in theory that this practice is a recipe for disaster, this was still hard for me to change. This year I gave myself permission to just have fun. I created time just for play and laughter. Making time just to have fun took away some of the pressure and the stress to produce. Making time simply to have fun reminded me of why I began this journey.
  4. Rest is required – While taking time to rest may seem obvious, it is often overlooked because it is the easiest activity to push aside. Taking the time to rest can seem unproductive or insignificant, but it is quite the opposite. Resting and recharging is just as important as planning and execution. I’m learning to be intentional by scheduling time just for rest. Rest is a key ingredient which positively impacts my energy level and effectiveness as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Entrepreneurship is a journey filled with many lessons and life applications. Here’s to a journey of celebration, change, a little bit of fun and plenty of rest.

I’d love to hear from you.  Send your comments to me by clicking here.

You can read more about Junita Flowers on her website junitasjar.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


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Moving from Networking to Positive Mentorship Relationships that Last

Have you ever been faced with a difficult decision in your career and you desperately needed advice, but did not know who to call? Nine years ago, I began to understand the connection between networking, mentorship, and my personal board of advisors. When faced with difficult career decisions, I now rely upon my mentorship relationships that have grown into my personal board of advisors.

I first learned about a personal board of advisors while in law school. This board consists of people you trust and can turn to throughout your life when faced with difficult decisions or questions. Before I could begin building this board, I had to have the relationships in place to create it.

When I moved to Minnesota, I did not know anyone. Truthfully, I did not know where to begin in terms of creating a network. I happened to attend an event where a woman was introduced as “the most networked woman in Minnesota”. I figured if anyone could help me, this woman could.

During my first meeting with this woman she changed the way I thought about networking and mentorship. She also introduced the concept of a personal board of advisors. She taught me three lessons that I have not forgotten.

First, I needed to change the way I was thinking about networking. As a young professional, I was thinking about networking as a one-way street for me to connect with someone who could teach me something. I needed to recognize that I had something to offer as well. She told me to never leave a coffee meeting without asking, “How may I support you and your work?”

Second, whether networking or building a mentorship relationship, the foundation is relationship building. Relationship building requires a time investment. Invest the time in getting to know your new connections and what is important to them in their work. If a professional event comes up that may interest them, extend an invitation to attend together. Again, the key is not to think of this as one sided.

Third, for relationships that are thriving, consider adding those people to your personal board of advisors. I had to learn that an advisor does not need to be someone further along in their career or older. Someone starting out or younger may also serve as an advisor. What is most important is that your advisors are those you trust to be honest with you and that they can provide you with different perspectives.

I am so grateful for the people who took the time to meet with me for coffee and eventually become mentors and advisors. As a result of what I have learned through these relationships, I try to do the same for others looking to connect. You never know, your next mentee may be your next advisor.

You can read more about Tisidra Jones on her
website. She will also be moderating the panel for our event Taking the Lead: Lifting Up the Next Generation: Mentorship in the 21st Century. You can RSVP here for the event.



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A Matter of Perspective

Check back each month for the Original Thinker Series as we explore local innovation in entrepreneurship, the arts, and our community one pioneering mind at a time.

Dario Otero, CEO of Youth Lens 360, has created a new kind of media production company—one that puts youth behind the camera on real world projects.

“I knew that the work was out there and that young people [were] already show[ing] up with such brilliant ideas and already knew how to use technology at a very high level,” says Dario.

Youth Lens 360 is the next step in a career Dario has spent investing in young people. As an educator, Dario felt that the classroom only allowed students to take their digital media skills so far.

“In school […] the kids don’t actually make money,” says Dario.

By contrast, Youth Lens 360 gives students paid contract experience running cameras, editing footage, recording voice over, and ultimately delivering complete products to clients.

“They’re doing real world work for money, contracting with people and starting their own companies,” says Dario. “They’ve got to learn how to submit an invoice or make a proposal or figure out how to do this work.”

Beyond the parameters of each job, Dario makes sure his young crew members are well supported. He helps with transportation, proper business attire, and lunch meetings to talk through next steps.

With the rapid growth of the gig economy, Youth Lens 360 is equipping young people with the skills they need to strike out on their own in the digital media industry—especially those who are currently underrepresented in media production.

“A lot of times when we walk into the room and we’re the interview crew—75-85% of us are youth of color and young people learning this craft—it really shocks people,” says Dario. “They love it because it’s a different style and a different approach to the interview.”

At the heart of it, Dario is an original thinker because he believes that there is intrinsic value in the perspective young people bring to a project. He does not see them as mere amateurs learning a craft but as a valuable assets that companies can tap into precisely because of their age.

“People are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to these marketing companies to go out and find young people between the ages of 14-24 to see if they like this new product,” says Dario. “We have a creative process that we can go through with companies that can help them position their product or service in a way that they may never have seen it before.”

To learn more about Youth Lens 360, view past projects, or to hire them visit their website www.youthlens360.com.

Written by Christopher Christenson, Program & Event Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to 

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Startup Showcase: Job Matchmakers

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press. Recently we connected with presenters Nathan and Alex Guggenberger. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on June 17, 2018.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 9.8 million jobs are projected to be created by 2024 and, according to employee-screening services company EBI, 75 percent of that workforce will be made up of millennials.

Alex and Nathan Guggenberger have been a part of those job seeking statistics and ultimately decided to help themselves by helping others find the best fit. With 42 percent of people searching through job boards but only 14.9 percent of hires happening from those boards, Alex and Nathan thought they saw an opportunity to make job searching more efficient, holistic and ultimately give back to companies with a higher retention rate. Thus the birth of Jobiki — helping job seekers explore, discover and find meaningful work.


Name: Nathan and Alex Guggenberger
City you live in: Minnetonka
City of Birth: Minnetonka
High School Attended: Hopkins High School
College attended: Augustana University


Name of company: Jobiki
Website: www.jobiki.com|
witter: @jobikiHQ
Business Start Date: Sept. 2, 2017
Number of Employees: 2
Number of Customers: 12

Q. What led to this point?

A. Nathan and Alex grew up together. Why? Because we are siblings. I guess you could say we have always worked together. We actually “tried” to start a business when we were in elementary school. It was called “A.B.C. Gum.” We wanted to make a brand new gum that looked like it had already been chewed. We closed up shop after the R&D (research and development) phase because the gum came out rock hard. In all seriousness though, we have always been a duo that bounced ideas off each other. With me (Alex) having a degree in business and accounting, and Nathan having a background in software development, it just made sense.

Q. What is your business?

A. We help people find meaningful work by finding a meaningful workplace. For many, including ourselves, nothing is more daunting then searching for employment. You often don’t know where to start or even what opportunities are out there. The solution for many is to apply to as many jobs as possible, hoping that they will eventually hear back from someone.

At Jobiki, we do things a little bit differently. The Jobiki job search starts with finding the right company. Our platform allows job seekers to explore company cultures through photos, videos, benefits, amenities, and neighborhood data of companies near them. Using the Jobiki filters, job seekers can discover the perfect company that fits with their lifestyle and personal brand. With Jobiki we allow you to signal interest in a company with a simple click of a button. After explaining why you want to work for that company, Jobiki will send your information and résumé to our contact with that company.  READ FULL ARTICLE…

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org

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It All Adds Up: Steps Along the Way

Junita Flowers is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, mom and the owner of Favorable Treats. With more than 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, she spent her career advocating for families and leading social change initiatives. She shares her thoughts and experiences with us in her monthly blog series “It All Adds Up.”

In my mind, the business journey is much like being a parent. It’s common, the stages of development are clearly defined and you invest loads of time and energy in preparation, yet you find yourself on a wild and crazy adventure asking, “what have I gotten myself into?!”

I’ve known since I was a tween that I would someday become an entrepreneur. While I didn’t understand the full scope of what it meant to be an entrepreneur, I was always intrigued with the idea that if something didn’t exist, an entrepreneur would just create it.

Looking back over the years, I chuckle at the way in which entrepreneurship as a career choice was presented to the young dreamers such as myself. The thought of pursuing entrepreneurship was much like pursuing a career in professional sports…we were told to get a good education first and foremost because the likelihood of achieving success by pursuing our dreams was very small.

Today, colleges and universities across the country are offering degree programs in entrepreneurship, community development agencies exist to support business success, and business ownership is presented as a viable and rewarding “plan A” career choice.

Currently, as I stand at the threshold of a new chapter in my business and reflect upon the last twelve years of my “on again/ off again” entrepreneurial journey, I am overcome with gratitude. This very common, but uniquely personalized practice of starting and growing a business, defines who I am and mirrors every aspect of my lived experiences. In my life, entrepreneurship has evolved into a calling which is less about the products I sell and everything about the purpose my life represents.

I started on this journey, creating a cookie company offering convenience, quality and taste. I’ve arrived at this point with the same yummy family recipes, but now mixing in all of the ingredients and baking up hope. The business I lead and the life I live represent HOPE!

They represent the expectation of being something good and the action of doing something good.

While profitability is a foundational principle to business growth, and one of the leading determining factors for keeping your doors open, my journey to achieving business success can be summarized by three important concepts…trust the process, believe in the possibilities and be the change.

  • In order to trust the process, I had to educate myself and prepare for the journey ahead while letting go of the expectations of how it will all unfold.
  • I had to believe in the value of hardship just as much as I cherished the experience of achievement. I had to believe in the possibilities even when I was experiencing a deficit.
  • Just as I imagined as a tween, entrepreneurs create products that don’t exist, I later learned as an adult that I must accept the responsibility to be the good that I want to see. I must first accept and then lead.

The business journey I imagined and the business journey I’ve experienced look nothing alike, but everything I imagined and everything I’ve experienced represent me and my personalized steps along the way.

As always, I love hearing from you. Are you thinking about starting a business? Are you currently traveling your business journey? Do you find any commonalities from my business journey? Send me an email or connect with me on social media. Here’s to a journey of adventure and prosperity.

You can read more about Junita Flowers on her website favorabletreats.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Libraries Lead: Ann Walker Smalley

In celebration of National Library Week the James J. Hill Center has reached out to individuals who are involved with the transformation of libraries to celebrate their story and hear their perspective on the future.

Ann Walker Smalley is the Director of Metronet, a multitype multi-county library system in the Twin Cities offering continuing education, network, and other services to school, public, academic, and special libraries. The Hill believes in her leadership and the steps she is taking to help transform libraries.

Tell me a little bit about you and how libraries are integrated into your life?
I am an information junkie and one of the better-informed librarians around (thanks to editing MetroBriefs). I can’t pass a bulletin board or newsstand without being drawn to what’s on offer. The fascination with information creation, organization, & application is now an integral part of me and being a librarian makes it easier to understand it. Answering reference questions in public & special libraries opened my interest in the subcultures of information. I love knowing where the info is and connecting it to those who need it.

Where did libraries lead you?
Once a librarian, always a librarian. My library experience in special libraries and as a consultant to libraries allowed a 12-year “sabbatical” away from libraries after moving to Minnesota from Washington, DC.  I was able to develop a consulting practice with non-profits on grant writing & curriculum development using my library training. I think an MLS/MLIS can give an imaginative person great skills to use in many professions. I have had so many wonderful experiences and met many interesting people because I am a librarian.

Tell me about Gratia Countryman and how you have chosen to continue the legacy?
I only knew a little bit about Gratia before my colleagues (Sara Ring & Olivia Moris) & I created our presentation “Radical All Along” for MLA. That research made me realize what a visionary Gratia was, especially in her outreach efforts to working people, families, immigrants, and others. She had a national influence on library service to children, too. Because we had learned too much to share in our presentation, we decided Gratia should use Twitter to share more. So now #gratiatweets at @MnLibHistory.

The goal of the “Radical All Along” presentation was to point out that while many think that we are inventing new services to various populations, we are really carrying on the legacy of our predecessors who also recognized social issues & addressed them through library service. I recommend that library people read Gratia’s 1916 address to the MLA conference “Whence and Wither: An Appraisal”. It is as applicable now as it was then.

Where do you see the future of libraries?
I think libraries will always exist both physically and virtually in a community. However, to continue to be trusted institutions, we need to look at what we do, and understand the best ways to offer those services, and evolve our structures & funding to meet those needs as effectively as possible. I think it is tempting to be all things to all people, but focusing on being all information things to all people with a community connection may be more in keeping with our mission—using a broad definition of information.

What is a way that communities can take action for libraries and be involved with their transformation?
To be involved in transformation, one must be involved in the organization and the structures that support it. The most important thing people can do is to use their library. Then they will know its wonders, how important it is to all kinds of users, and be able to be ambassadors in the community if library service is threatened. Their advocacy will be authentic because it is based on experience and knowledge.


The James J. Hill Center, founded as the James J. Hill Reference Library is 1921, is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated visit www.jjhill.org

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Patrons with accessibility needs please access our ground floor elevator entrance via Kellogg Ave at the back of the building. Please ring the doorbell on the right hand side of door and a Hill staff member will assist you. If you have questions or concerns please call 651.265.5500. We look forward to having you visit.

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