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The Sunday Books Section

In the April 9, 1922 Sunday edition of the “Pioneer Press,” the Hill Library ran a piece titled “Great Works on Tropical Trees and Flowers Reach Hill Library.” Presumably penned by Hill staff, the short article explicates on new additions to the Hill collection, which included a seven-volume series called Flora of British India and the eight-volume Flora of Tropical Africa.

It continues:

Quite as interesting, elaborate and complete as the above are two series of books on two families of birds. That on the Turdidea or Thrush, by Seebohm, has been out several years. These two beautiful and luxurious volumes are illustrated by colored plates covering every branch of the Thrush family. … A later and still uncompleted work is ‘A Monograph of the Pheasants.’ … a rare work and one difficult of access.

The article ends noting that “the above are but a few selected items from the treasures of the Hill Reference Library, which the public is invited to consult.”

The Pioneer Press had already been running a Sunday books section, which featured new acquisitions at the public library and short reviews by library readers. In March 1922—just four months after we opened—the Hill Library joined this section on an irregular basis, announcing new additions to our shelves.

Studying these old copies of the Pioneer Press at the Gale Family Library at the Minnesota Historical Society, our staff has been able to get a glimpse into not just the titles the library used to own, but also their significance. While we have ledgers of book purchases from our early decades, these articles bring the books to life in a way a mere listing of the title and price cannot. And as the above passage makes clear, there was quite the variety of rare knowledge stored within these walls!

We no longer promote new books in the newspaper, but we do team up with the Pioneer Press to promote something just as special: entrepreneurs. Every other Sunday, we run the “Startup Showcase” column, which features a startup from our 1 Million Cups program. We couldn’t be prouder to carry on our history of sharing fresh ideas with the community in this latest iteration of our Sunday column.

 


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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It’s Tough to Stump a Librarian

The Hill Center has a rich archival history of our early years, including original book receipts from 1918, annual reports beginning in 1917, and even reference correspondence from as early as 1921.

The reference correspondence, which includes written requests for information and specific books, demonstrates both what people were researching here ninety years ago and what truly remarkable information finders librarians are!

One of the most fun discoveries was the numerous requests for the identity of a poem—usually with the patron providing only little or incorrect information.

In 1930, someone wrote in to the Hill asking, “Would you be kind enough to advise from what the following quotation was taken. ‘None knew him but to honor him; / None named him but to praise.’” Our diligent librarians discovered this to be the beginning of “On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake, September 1820,” a poem by Fitz Green Halleck. 

How did they do it? While we can never say for sure since the processes for particular reference questions weren’t written down, we can assume it was how most research was done those days: mainly a matter of immense knowledge and familiarity with the subject and the library catalog. It’s possible we had a librarian who specialized in literature or, if not, outsourced the question to an outside librarian or expert. 

The editor of “The Daily Argus-Leader” in Sioux Falls, SD, was a particularly curious man. He once quipped in a letter to the Hill that, “I begin to feel there ought to be fees charged for my inquiries.” He often needed help identifying poems. In 1929, he wrote in: 

Have you anything in your anthologies whereby you could give authorship and “location” of old poem about the goat that used a shirt off the clothes line to flag a train? 

It thus begins: 

There was a goat—a one-eyed goat— 

And he was old enough to vote etc. 

Our librarians performed beautifully, promptly sending off the following response: 

The version which I found of the poem of a goat that flagged a train reads as follows: 

A HARLEM GOAT 

A Harlem goat was feeling fine,
Ate nine red shirts off Sallie’s line
Sal grabbed a stick, gave the goat a whack
And tied him to the railroad track.
A fast express was drawing nigh,
The Harlem goat was doomed to die
But with an awful shriek of pain
The Harlem goat coughed up those shirts and flagged the train.  

(Our research department today enjoyed learning more about Harlem goats here and here, even though the latter features a different version of the poem.)

But even the Hill librarians got stumped time to time. Our prolific friend in Sioux Falls wrote in, in 1928: 

“An inquiry comes to this office about a poem the burden of which is the following. There is a steep hill and a road runs down the land below. There is a number of accidents happening there and an ambulance is stationed at the foot of the hill to gather up the wounded. Some one [sic] suggests that a railing be placed on the side of the road going down hill [sic], but some one [sic] also says it is not necessary since there is an ambulance at the foot to receiving the injured. Did you ever hear about this?” 

Unfortunately, our librarians had not heard about this, even after scouring our poetry anthologies. 

Today it’s (usually!) easy to identify a poem or song from misremembered lines by typing them into Google, but for topics such as private company information, consumer behavior, and five-year industry forecasts, it’s still best to consult the experts. For your tough business questions, come in to check out our free specialized business databases, or connect one-on-one with a business research specialist through a Hill membership or premium research services. 

 


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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A Classical Temple of Learning

The James J. Hill Center has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975 when a joint application was sent, along with the St. Paul Public Library who shares our building, to the National Parks Service who manages the program. The National Register program’s mission is to “coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.” To protect America’s historic resources, one must preserve them; an essential step in remembering history as to not forget it. Stating our building’s significance in the 1975 application:

The St. Paul Public Library and the James J. Hill Reference Library is a significant building in St. Paul both architecturally and historically. Architecturally it is an excellent example of the Northern Italian Renaissance architecture which flourished in the United States from the 1850s to the early 1900s. The James J. Hill Library, which retains its original design and furnishings, is an excellent example of a turn of the century library — a ‘classical temple of learning.’ The location of the libraries is also architecturally significant in St. Paul. Situated across from Old Federal Courts Building and separated from it by Rice Park, this area forms an important visual element in downtown St. Paul.

A “classical temple of learning,” the Hill Center’s history comes alive during our public tours. I often describe the Hill Center as a “time capsule” of history – almost everything in the building is original. Visitors will peek at long-forgotten graffiti where “Wally + Sally 1945” and “Billy Mitchell 1955” can be seen written in pencil in the book dumbwaiter shaft well off the beaten path. Almost all of our tables, chairs, lamps and fixtures are original to our 1921 opening and our formative years of the Great Depression and WWII. While not always an ergonomic choice by today’s standards, I believe researching while sitting on our historic furniture brings an added camaraderie and inspiration from the past; who sat in this chair before me? A historic site offers the opportunity for visitors to fully embrace “history where it happened” – a 360 experience that cannot be replicated.

During National Historic Preservation Month this May, we remember both the small and large steps that are the cost of preservation. The large steps take the form of leadership from the community, both private and public parties, who step forward to champion the preservation of our invaluable historic sites. The small steps are easy and accessible: take care when handling historic texts or artifacts, volunteer your time and expertise to support the projects and spaces that you believe in, and finally, be an advocate for the preservation of historic places by visiting them!

 


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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Libraries Helping Libraries: Curating Our First Collection

In 1915, the James J. Hill Reference Library’s first head librarian Joseph Pyle began the task of selecting and collecting the books that would one day grace the library’s shelves, working in consultation with James J. Hill. When Hill passed away in 1916, this job was wholly incomplete, and Pyle now faced this duty with little more than very preliminary lists and Hill’s vision: to be a specialized reference library. Not only that, but Pyle wasn’t even a librarian! He was a trusted friend and colleague of Hill’s, his speechwriter and first biographer.  

How did Pyle approach this immense task? With strategy, dedication, networking, and lots of hard work. He relied heavily on other libraries and the experts who worked there.  

Before he could buy books, Pyle had to buy (and read!) books about books: bibliographies. He scoured bibliographic works such as “Standard Books,” “The English Catalogue of Books for Great Britain and Ireland,” and “United States Catalogue and Cumulative Book Index,” many of which were updated and re-published regularly, and publishers’ catalogs. He traveled across the country, from Chicago to New York to Boston and beyond, to visit with reference librarians, scholars, and other experts, all of whom were happy to collaborate and help.   

He looked closely at other libraries’ catalogues and bibliographies, including the St. Paul and Minneapolis Public Libraries, Library of Congress, the libraries at Harvard and Princeton universities, the Peabody Institute Library, the John W. Crerar Library, and the Newberry Library, among many, many more. He even went to very specialized libraries, such as those operated by The Societies of Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Electric Engineering, in New York City. He received a list of nearly 700 titles on architecture from Electus Litchfield, the building’s architect. 

Pyle was particularly infatuated with the British Museum. He quotes heavily from the “List of Books Forming the Reference Library in the Reading Room of the British Museum” in letters to the Hill Reference Library’s board of directors. “There cannot be any library in any English-speaking country that could more closely approximate to the dream and the hope of Mr. James J. Hill,” Pyle writes in 1917. “[Our] collection will, therefore, be rather closely modeled on the British Museum Reference Library, which is undoubtedly the choicest selective reference library in the world.” (It is, unfortunately, not noted to what extend this dream was realized.) 

To narrow down his lists, Pyle meticulously went through and made decisions on what to purchase and what to cut based on the contents of the book, budget, and what the St. Paul Library next door already had in their collection—minimizing duplication was important to him. 

We still collaborate today with the public, private, and specialized libraries in our community. By working with community partners, we’re able to recognize and fill in gaps in the entrepreneurial and business research community—whether through our database subscriptions or class offerings—and, on the flip side, know where and to whom to refer patrons who need a service we don’t offer.

 


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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Libraries Lead: Dru Frykberg

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.

Dru Frykberg is Librarian at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), is the state’s principal economic development agency. DEED programs promote business recruitment, expansion, and retention; international trade; workforce development; and community development.

Tell me a little bit about you and how libraries are integrated into your life?
As a librarian, libraries are obviously a big part of my professional life. But they’re also part of my personal life. During the last year, I’ve turned to libraries to get my toaster fixed at a Fix-It Clinic, attend a meditation class, learn about First Avenue’s history from local music writers, see my teenage crush actor-turned-travel-writer Andrew McCarthy read from his latest book, and of course, borrow all the fiction and nonfiction titles I want.

Where did libraries lead you?
Libraries led me to my academic degrees and to my careers in journalism and librarianship.

Tell me a about your library and its defining function?
The Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development (DEED) Library is an internal, staff library where I anticipate and respond to the information needs of my 1,500 colleagues. That means I’m performing research and managing resources for economic developers, labor market analysts, vocational rehabilitation counselors, regional trade managers, employment counselors and more. They keep me busy and on my toes!

Where do you see the future of libraries?
I see libraries continuing to respond to the needs of their communities. I’m not sure anyone knows what that will be. But if I had to guess I see libraries promoting the skills and literacy needed to live in a democracy, preparing people for jobs, providing space and resources for entrepreneurs and gig economy workers, and playing a role in the sharing economy. Maybe they’ll be circulating drones and driverless vehicles along with everything else they make available.

What is a way that communities can take action for libraries and be involved with their transformation?
Don’t take libraries for granted. Use them. Promote them through word of mouth. Let them know how they can better serve you. And support them financially.

 

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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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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Hill’s Library for the “Original Thinker”

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.

It was rumored that Mr. James J. Hill had plans for a new project. For nearly two decades the St. Paul Library Association had been working on a new location for the city’s flagship library. On March 5, 1912 Hill came forward with an offer to fund a “reference library”—one that would be independent of the public system but complement its resources and share the same location between Rice Park and the Mississippi River.

Hill’s announcement sparked an outpouring of public support that ultimately brought both libraries into the light. Interestingly enough, the article in the St. Paul Dispatch from that day includes a note that Hill specifically declined an interview.

What then was Mr. Hill’s intention behind such a project? Why a reference library? Why St. Paul? Thankfully, though he would not comment publicly about it, Hill confided in his friend and biographer (and first Head Librarian) Joseph Gilpin Pyle.

In his authorized biography of the magnate, Pyle writes this about Hill’s motives: “He felt that in the average public library the average reader is well taken care of. The advanced student, the original thinker, the man engaged in investigation and research, the serious author were relatively unprovided with proper tools.”

Hill greatly admired libraries like J.P. Morgan’s in New York and believed it was time for the earnest minds of the North to have one of equal caliber, a place that would “distinguish St. Paul as a centre of learning and art.”

Hill’s vision was so clear that, even after his death in 1916, the first Board of Trustees wrote in the Articles of Incorporation that the purpose of the organization “shall be to maintain, free of charge, for the use of students, scholars and all members of the public engaged in the work of original investigation a research library.”

When Hill describes his ideal patron as an “original thinker” we can only imagine he means someone with a mind like his. Hill was well read in almost all areas of human thought. He saw opportunities where others saw roadblocks. He was not afraid to invest his whole being into his work and, perhaps most significantly, he kept his eyes fixed on the landscape of human progress.

“Mr. Hill always thought in terms of the future,” Pyle writes in an address to the American Library Association, “always visualized it, always worked in harmony with what the prophetic eye revealed to him.”  Almost a century since the library opened its doors in 1921 the James J. Hill Center is still serving the original thinkers in our community. In honor of Mr. Hill’s vision, tune in each month for a new series probing the pioneering minds of the North.


Written by Christopher Christenson, Marketing & Events 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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1921

In 1921, the James J. Hill Reference Library’s Board of Directors opened the library to the public. The physical structure was completed in 1916, and the St. Paul Public Library next door had been open since 1917.

Head librarian Joseph Pyle double-downed on acquiring the books he felt were necessary for opening. He and the board also fine-tuned their vision for the library: a “Library of Libraries.” It was their goal to create a collection of books other libraries simply did not have and were unable to order – based on the demand Pyle was already receiving from various scholars for certain books, while still serving the general public with fundamental reference materials.

On December 20, 1921, the doors to the Hill Library officially opened to the public. Attendance exceeded expectations, and it wasn’t just sightseers, “Within an hour after the doors were opened to the public, actual work was being done at the study tables and questions were being answered by the Reference Librarian. From the very beginning the Library was put to use.” High attendance continued into 1922 and it was estimated that 75% of visitors were students and readers, which meant the Hill was fulfilling its purpose.

As attendance grew, so did our book collection. Early on in 1922, Pyle noted that, “Books are still arriving from orders unfilled at the rate of approximately 1000 volumes per month.” Plans began getting made for adding the two-tier stacks to the second story since “at present rate of increase, the available shelf room will soon be exhausted.” Pyle invited in Snead & Company representatives to come and give an estimate. This company had made and installed the 3-tier shelves on the first floor, and it was important to Pyle to rehire them “in order to preserve the beauty and harmony of the building.”

Our first year was, without a doubt, a success. Total attendance for the year was over 8,000 people, averaging approximately 28 people per day—much more than Mr. Hill’s once-predicted eight people a day!

To celebrate the anniversary of the opening on Dec. 20, 1922, the library hours extended into the evening, which proved to be very popular—the library continued staying open until 10:00PM off and on throughout its early years. This necessitated the installation of a lantern outside the front door, which was dutifully ordered at the end of 1922.

Our first year open set a precedent we’re more than happy to fulfill today by providing access to expert business librarians, specialized databases, and a calendar full of professional development and cultural programs. While we no longer hold regular evening hours, our exterior lantern still draws entrepreneurs, researchers, and sightseers to our door during dreary winter days and special evening events.


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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The Ice Palace Rises: History of the Winter Carnival

As the 2018 St. Paul Winter Carnival ice palace rises up in front of us in Rice Park, our staff has been feeling especially inspired to revisit the past while planning for festivities in the upcoming weeks.

The Winter Carnival has long held the interest of Hill Center staff. We recently discovered an essay on winter sports and the carnival penned by Anna Heilmaier, one of the Hill’s earliest librarians who worked here for nearly 40 years. She notes the extraordinary nature of our chilly festivities: “The earliest winter carnivals in St. Paul were no less gay than those of recent years, judging by contemporary accounts,” and cites national admiration for our ice palaces: “the fame of St. Paul’s ice palace goes back more than fifty years.”

What Heilmaier doesn’t mention in her short piece was the Hill’s connection with the Winter Carnival via Louis W. Hill, James J. Hill’s son.

The idea of starting a Winter Carnival came from an unexpected source. In the fall of 1885, several newspaper reporters from the eastern U.S. visited Minnesota, and their resulting articles painted a picture of a frozen, uninhabitable wasteland. James J. Hill and other prominent businessmen wanted to correct this negative image and to draw more visitors and settlers to the area. To this end, they came up with the idea of the Winter Carnival, designed to show onlookers that Minnesota is fun and livable, even in the middle of winter.

The Winter Carnival was put on 1886 through 1888, and then was not held again until 1896. After this, there was a 20 year lull. In 1916, Louis W. Hill entered the story, helping to resurrect the Carnival. As a result of his efforts, he was asked to serve as Carnival president in 1916 and 1917. Louis W. Hill remained interested in the Winter Carnival for the remainder of his life, and offered his support to the next Carnival revivals between 1937 and 1942.

During the 1940s and 1950s—and perhaps during other years left unrecorded in our archives—the Hill Reference Library (now the James J. Hill Center) would close early for the Vulcan Victory Parade. Our records don’t state the specific reason for closing early, but we like to think it was for staff and guests to join in on the festivities.

As we anticipate the next three weeks and the People’s Palace across the street, we here at the Hill find ourselves agreeing with Heilmaier’s parting sentiment:

“However much St. Paul’s winter carnival may change outwardly in conformity with changing times and styles, two factors remain constant: crisp white Minnesota winters and the spirit of good fun and fellowship.”

Stop in at the James J. Hill Center during Winter Carnival to warm up with free hot beverages, activities and special discounts. Check our calendar for more details.


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

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Innovations on the Shelves

The bookshelves in the James J. Hill Center are more than mere places on which to rest historic volumes. They tell a story which reflects the Hill’s vision of supporting innovation. Original to the building, our copper-toned shelves were designed and built by Snead & Company, a cast-iron that adapted with the times and “built a better bookshelf.”

Around the turn of the 19th century, public libraries were becoming increasingly popular, largely due to grants distributed by Andrew Carnegie. At this time, most libraries used wooden, fixed bookshelves. Snead & Co. recognized that these shelves were inadequate for these new, large libraries. They applied their metalwork expertise to design and patent innovative metal shelving that included features such as customizable shelf heights; a standardized length to introduce interchangeable parts; and more evenly distributed lighting. The goal of these shelves was both practicality and affordability, along with options for a fancy detailing.

 

Snead shelving took off—their shelves can be found in the Sterling Law Library at Yale University, the Vatican Library in Rome, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress, among many others.

 

Another feature of early Snead Standard Shelves is that they were load-bearing, yet another way Snead saved libraries money. Such is the case with the Hill shelves. More so than the grand columns gracing the Reading Room, our bookshelves are vital as structural reinforcements, holding the building up.

 

Of course, Snead & Co. never anticipated the ways this feature may cause problems in the future, as libraries today adapt to then-unbelievable electronic technology—the New York Public Library recently wanted to remove some shelves to create a larger services-oriented space, but were unable to do it due to the structural necessity of the shelves! Here at the Hill, we don’t quite have the same problem since our large Reading Room affords us lots of space for events.

  

Snead & Co. recognized a need in their community as public libraries grew in both size and popularity, and stepped up with innovative products for that market—forever changing the world of library shelving and, in turn, libraries themselves.  

 


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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IMPORTANT NOTICE:

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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