James J. Hill Center Statement Regarding Current Closure

Error: Only up to 6 widgets are supported in this layout. If you need more add your own layout.

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


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.