A Story in the Ceilings

Between the magisterial Romanesque pillars, blue Japanese cloisonné vases guarding the back door, and, of course, the hundreds of thousands historic books, it’s easy to overlook a small detail of the James J. Hill Center Reading Room: the ceilings among the stacks. But these ceilings—specifically, their colors—tell a grand story.
When James Hill passed away without a will in 1916, his family took over the final throes of constructing the James J. Hill Reference Library. His wife, Mary Hill, began to actively manage financial affairs, which including contributing to the Hill Library’s endowment to make the library financially independent.
It is believed that Mary Hill left her touch on the decor as well. We know that Louis Hill, one of the Hills’ sons, wrote to his mother and sisters on a number of issues including furnishings and wall texture and color. Tragically, Mary, like her husband, did not live to see the magnificent library complete; she died only a month before it opened its doors on December 20, 1921.
Next time you are in the Reading Room, look up at the ceilings immediately above the third and fifth stacks of books (i.e. right under the second and third floors). You’ll notice the former is a pale yellow and the latter is a pale pink—the very two colors rumored to be Mary Hill’s favorites.
Learn more about Mary Hill in her diaries, accessible online through the Minnesota Historical Society.
Learn more of the story behind the Hill Center, these images, and the epic building in our Cabinets of Curiosity Tour every third Thursday at 10:30AM. In this one hour experience you will go back in time, up and down catwalks, through vaults and peek in hidden nooks and crannies. Our December tour is coming up so get your tickets early! 

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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Shop Talk: NAICS and SICs

If you’ve taken a stab at industry or market research, chances are you’ve come across NAICS and SICs. When used to your advantage, these code systems are handy ways to search across multiple database and search platforms to achieve targeted results. They were created as a way to classify industry areas with the purpose of collecting, analyzing and publishing data relating to the economy.

SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) codes have been around since 1937, and appear as a 4 digit number that represent an industry. NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) is a newer system, established in 1997, and will show up as a 6 digit number that will help you find extremely targeted information. NAICS codes were developed to replace SICs, but you can search via both systems in most business databases.

Most business databases will allow searches via NAICS and SICs, which is helpful because each database uses its own distinctive terminology and classifies information in a different way. Using your unique industry code will help you cut through the information faster, and saving time is in everyone’s interest.

While we love using NAICS and SICs to search quickly, they are not for every situation – like searches that span across multiple industries. For this situation, the researcher will want to use other factors like company location, size or annual revenue to help narrow down their search.

For the DIY business researcher, the simplest way to find your NAICS code is through a web search for your industry name (or description) and “NAICS,” which will generate your code. For a detailed, browsing list, try the US Census Bureau for the official list. Librarians are also available to help navigate through the search process at the Hill, which is a great reason to visit us for an appointment!


Written by Lindsey Dyer, Director of Library Services, 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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There Are No Stupid Questions!

Many sticky notes with questions like who, what, when, where, how and why, and a question mark, all posted on an office noteboard to represent confusion in communincation

You can imagine the vast array of questions a resource library gets asked in one day.  In my brief time sitting at the JJ Hill Centers front desk on a Wednesday afternoon I was asked, “Can I look up every address I ever lived at?” and “Do you have a book that would show me where to find all the award emblems that can be given to student in school?” Our reference librarians can almost always find an answer and if not, they can point you in the right direction.  We are a business reference library and we cover every business imaginable, which leaves us with a vast database of facts and details that people quickly discover can connect them to more information than they may have thought.

But, is there ever a question that is too off the chart to answer?  In short, no. In December 2014 the Gothamist reported on a discovery found at the New York City Library.  A reference librarian was cleaning house and found a large box of old reference questions from the 1940s and 50s.  Questions varied from “What is a life span of an eyelash?” to “What percentage of bathtubs in the world are in the US?” to “Where can I rent a beagle for hunting?” Amazingly enough the system back then was the same as today and a reference librarian called them back with an answer.  There were of course question where answers could not be found, but the fact that people asked gives a wonderful nod to the trusted resource a reference library held then and still does today.

Here at the Hill we believe there are no stupid questions.  So, if you can’t find it when you search online and you want to dig deeper, contact us.  As the esteemed and highly respected Carl Sagan once said “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every questions is a cry to understand the world.” Come learn with us!

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The Hill Team

The Hill known for connecting business, entrepreneurs, and community welcomes Danika LeMay, Lily Shaw and Maggie Smith to round off the team that will drive the mission and build the brand.

The James J. Hill Center is pleased to announce the addition of three new members of the Hill team that will support Executive Director Tamara Prato.  The existing staff has been joined by (pictured left to right) Danika LaMay, Director of Reference Services; Lily Shaw, Director of Marketing; and Maggie Smith, Community Engagement Specialist.

“With the support of this incredible team I will have the ability to execute my vision to provide the community with unique entrepreneurial programming, cultural experiences and access to a dynamic Reference Library, which in turn will support the growth and economic development of the region” states Tamara Prato.

Danika LaMay most recently worked as Course Reserve Coordinator at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Libraries, where she helped instructors make course materials easily accessible to their students and had the opportunity to collaborate on innovative cross-unit and cross-campus projects. Danika is excited to bring her dedication to the user experience and make a positive difference.

Lily Shaw joins the team from Twin Cities Diversity in Practice where she oversaw the communications and programming of high quality diversity and inclusion initiatives for leading Twin Cities Legal Employers.  Lily is excited to collaborate with her team and promote invaluable and unique opportunities for the community.

Maggie Smith spent the past 3 years working as the marketing and communications manager for the local health non-profit Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota.  As the community engagement specialist for the James J. Hill Center, she is excited to work with the community to spread the word and advance the mission of the organization.


About the James J. Hill Center – Opened in 1921, the James J. Hill Center supports the legacy of one of America’s greatest entrepreneurs. Today, the Hill is focused on supporting business, entrepreneurship, and community with the goal to build sustainable and lasting relationships that enable economic prosperity by providing services, programming, and cultural events. Learn more at jjhill.org or find us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


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James J. Hill Center on the Green Line

A Walking Tour from the Green Line Central Station to the James J. Hill Center

The James J. Hill Center is only a 5 minute walk from the Green Line Central Station. I decided to take a walk and see what is on this 0.3 mile route. And I found it is lovely!

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l l Reasons to Become a Member of The Hill Club

James J Hill Center Downtown Saint Paul

The James J. Hill Center has been serving our community since 1921 by being a critical resource for new and existing businesses, providing space for people to gather and being an iconic historic landmark in downtown St. Paul. Here are 11 reasons you might want to become a member of The Hill Club.

1. You need a professional space to work and you want to park for free.

If you work from home, in coffee shops or at a cubicle farm you will be blown away by the majestic space you have the opportunity to work in at the James J. Hill Center. The beautiful Beaux Arts architecture and variety of places to sit and work will make you want to come and work here often. Which you can! And if you don’t want to have to keep running out to plug the meters or pay for parking in the ramps you can become a member and get 2 hours of free parking each time you come here (for Engineer level members and above). Read our Meet Here – Work Here page to learn more about working at The Hill.

2. You love libraries.

Libraries are great! The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) special library. We specialize in business information and resources and are not part of the broader public library system. Because we are a private library we do not have access to the same pool of funding public libraries do. Being a member means you understand the importance of special libraries in our communities, and you help us keep ours operating.

3. You love music and supporting musicians.

The Twin Cities has a great music scene. Whether you are a casual music lover or a music fanatic, being a member of The Hill Club supports local musicians as well as those who travel here by providing them a fair wage for the skills and talents they share with us. Being a member of The Hill Club can get you discounted or free tickets to The World Live! at The Hill.

4. You need a professional space to meet with clients and colleagues.

The James J. Hill Center is a great place to meet with colleagues and clients. You are welcome to meet with people any time at The Hill, but if you need to have a private or confidential meeting we suggest you book one of our conference rooms. Engineer-level members and above receive discounts on conference room rentals. Read through our Best Space to Work in Saint Paul to get a better understanding of how people use space here.

Become a Member

5. You understand that having a broad network makes your business stronger.

We believe that bringing our entrepreneurial and business community together to share ideas, resources and knowledge makes us all stronger. If you want to help create a place that creates a rising tide that lifts all boats, you should be a member. Through our member appreciation events you will meet other like-minded individuals.

6. You need to do research for your business but you don’t have the time.

There is never enough time to get it all done and we are here to help. We can do business and market research for you. Our Business Librarians have worked with a diverse set of clients and delivered data to help them make the right business choices. By becoming a corporate or organizational member you can get 3 hours of research, a $375 value, for free.

7. You want to be in the know on what is happening at The Hill.

The Twin Cities area is bustling with events, and you may be too busy to keep track of them all. If you want a source for fun events that are happening at The Hill and information that can help your business succeed, being a member helps you keep it straight with a monthly newsletter. Join The Hill’s mailing list.

8. You love the city of Saint Paul.

Let’s face it, people who love Saint Paul really love Saint Paul. Being a member of The Hill Club helps sustain our vital downtown community. We are not just a business center, we are also an events center that provides great opportunities for the community to learn about the historic James J. Hill Reference Library and attend fun events. Check out Meetings and Events.

9. You love history!

The James J. Hill Center is both a working library and business center as well as a historic site. It takes a lot of work and resources to maintain the building. Your membership helps us to restore the building to its original splendor and complete necessary updates so that it can remain open to the public. Our Maintenance Team is great! Read about some of their adventures.

10. You know there is value in being part of a community.

People are members for many different reasons. And being part of a diverse community, while challenging at times, means you understand the importance of adversity and being open to new ideas.

11. You believe Saint Paul and Minnesota can be leaders in business and innovation.

We believe The Hill can be a leader in business and innovation, and in order to do so we need to equip our existing business people and emerging entrepreneurs with the tools and resources they need for success. Membership to The Hill Club allows us to create new programming and develop resources to put Minnesota at the top.

Join The Hill Club. Become a Member today!

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How do I create a budget for my business plan?


Frequently Asked Questions from April


I can’t figure out how to create my budget for my business plan. Can you help?


We can absolutely help you with this. Whether you have already started your business plan or haven’t written down a single thing, you should come to the James J. Hill Center and use our business databases.

The two databases you will want to use are Bplans and FINTEL.

Two resources for your business plan.

Bplans is a great resource which provides sample business plans for a variety of industries. You are able to access this service from anywhere with an Internet connection. When you access Bplans at The Hill, however, you get the added benefit of working directly with our Business Librarians and the ability to refer to other databases to supplement the information you gather. FINTEL is a great database that can be instrumental in creating a well-thought-out and thorough business plan. FINTEL is a leading provider of data services that assist entrepreneurs and businesses by providing the largest and most reliable financial benchmarking database of privately held companies.

So, how can you use it?

This database will give you a set of data that will help guide you as you create your own budget. If you are opening up a brick and mortar store and are wondering how much of your budget should go towards overhead, wages and product, you will be able to see what percentage other stores in your industry spend for each of these categories.

Sample from an industry report:

FINTEL Industry Metrics edit

This database can also tell you what your net sales or gross profit margin will be. You don’t need to play a guessing game when creating your business plan.

FINTEL is an invaluable resource for anyone who is starting a new business. For questions about this resource contact our Business Librarians.


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Best Space to Work in Saint Paul

Best Space to Work in Saint Paul

The James J. Hill Center is a place where people gather.

The James J. Hill Center’s historic Reference Library, off of Rice Park, is one of the best spaces to work in Saint Paul. It is classically furnished with artwork, tables and chairs which have been around since 1921 when the Reference Library originally opened its doors. The Hill is also modern in function with robust WiFi, new comfortable chairs and couches, and fully-equipped conference rooms.

Who can use space at the James J. Hill Center?

We welcome the community to come and use our space to work and meet other professionals, collaborators and colleagues. This Hill is not a public library. It is a private, 501(c)(3) nonprofit special library that focuses on providing resources, services and programs to support the business and entrepreneurial community. We ask that when you are here using the space, resources or services, you are here for a professional or scholarly purpose. We also welcome the general community to come in and walk around to see this iconic Saint Paul building.

How can you use space at The Hill?

Come in and work for the day. If you are a member you can even get 2 hours of parking for free. When there is not an event on the Reading Room floor you are welcome to work on your own or have quiet meetings at any of the tables. Our second and third floors are also available to you to work on your own or with others. Each area has a distinct feel and may be the perfect place for you to have a breakthrough with your business plan, marketing strategy or research.

The Empire Builder, Glacier Park and Helen K. Starr conference rooms are also available for you to use for free. These are not private spaces and will not be set aside for individual use unless a guest has reserved and paid for them ahead of time. If you need a room for a specific day and time it must be reserved and paid for in advance through our Events Team. Contact the Events Team for conference room availability.

Events are occasionally held in the Reading Room, and these events will prevent other guests from freely using that space or other levels that would interfere with that event. You can always check our event calendar, call 651-265-5500 or email Customer Service to find out which areas of the library will be open on any given day.

What are your rules?

People often ask “What are the rules for working in the James J. Hill Center?” We have a set of norms that we refer to in order to help guests understand how they can use the space and participate in this community.

We reflect on and update our space norms regularly. Check out our list of norms to get a better understanding of how our large and diverse community uses the James J. Hill Center.

Come on in. Work here. Learn here. Meet here. If you have questions please call, 651-265-5500 or email us.

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How to use a business database to get what you need

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions from March


I am looking for companies that use Microsoft Outlook. Can you help me?


We often receive questions about searching for companies that use very specific products or services. Unfortunately this information is not searchable; however, we are able to assist you in narrowing your search to find suitable prospects.

What information is “searchable”?

In order for information to be searchable, companies need to report it. Some information is required, usually through the government, and can be indexed into a database. Other information is voluntary, but has some benefit to the reporting company. For example, reporting as a minority-owned business may make a business owner eligible for tax breaks or additional funding.

There is no legal requirement for a company to report the products it uses.  It is also of limited value to the company to make that information public. Products and services used may change frequently, so maintaining this information would be time-intensive. Private companies can often be protective regarding their operations and choose to disclose as little as is required.

So how do I find what I am looking for?

Knowledge of the industry and Gale DemographicsNow can help you narrow down your search to a list of likely prospects. DemographicsNow allows you to generate a list of companies based on a number of criteria. There are many categories that a search can use; here are some of the most likely:

  • Location
  • Industry (using SIC and NAICS codes)
  • Number of employees
  • Revenue

Using a targeted search through a specialized database will help you generate a list that is more complete than a Google search, and also less general than a complete list of businesses in an area.

Check out our full list of business databases.

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Job Seekers, Hill History and Industry Research

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions from February


Hill History

Do you have any information or pictures of the men who worked on the remodeling of the James J. Hill House in the 1980s?


The James J. Hill Center does not house historical information on James J. Hill or the various buildings with historical significance to his legacy. Most historical documents can be found at the Minnesota Historical Society. The James J. Hill Center and the James J. Hill House are different organizations. The James J. Hill House is currently being operated by the Minnesota Historical Society.


Job Seeker

I am in a job transition and doing company research. I would like find a way to identify which companies in a particular area utilize a specific job function, such as ‘technical writer’ for example. I’d also like to know the names and primary business category of companies in a specific town/city. However I don’t know if these kinds of databases exist.


We often have job seekers use our databases to do general industry research, find companies in that industry and do specific company research. For this particular question, we would use Gale DemographicsNow and create a list of companies that fit the criteria of the job seeker. It is then up to this person to look up each company to find out whether or not they have an employment opening. Or if this person is a freelancer, he or she now has a list of potential clients.


Industry Research

I am interested in gathering medical manufacturing market research. My company develops software for machining process modeling and improvement and we are looking to expand our presence in the medical market.

Do I need an appointment to get help gathering this research, or can I just stop by and ask for assistance from a librarian? What hours are you open?


You do not need an appointment to receive help gathering this research. The Reference Library is open 10 AM – 5 PM, Monday through Thursday. Because we have an open door policy, some days are busier than others. You are welcome to call our main number, 651-265-5500, before making a trip here.

We are also able to assist with market research and would most likely use our database MarketResearch.com to assist in gathering the required information.

Do you have a research question? Ask a Business Librarian today.

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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.