Don Albrecht (left), president of the Bayfield Carnegie Library board, and Blair Nelson, library director, surrounded by different styled bookcases to be replaced in 2016.

Don Albrecht (left), president of the Bayfield Carnegie Library board, and Blair Nelson, library director, surrounded by different styled bookcases to be replaced in 2016.

BAYFIELD - The first thing visitors see when they walk through the front door of the Bayfield Carnegie Library is a Family Video-sized bookcase sardined with DVDs.

Everyone loves a good movie, especially Blair Nelson, who before becoming library director in 2013 wrote a film column for a Minnesota newspaper. But even he questioned last week, “Is that what we value? No, we want to see highlights of Bayfield.”

The Bayfield Carnegie Library, founded in 1904, was one of the first Andrew Carnegie libraries to be built in the state. This Greek Revival structure with iconic columns of locally quarried brown-stone is entering a new era, one held up by the past yet pointing toward the future. A newly crafted mission statement, “We are a compass for curious minds,” will guide this ship in the night while a new endowment fund will deliver it safely to shore.

Nelson and the library board have been busy over the last year figuring ways to improve this beloved library, especially in making better sense of the layout. The pieces to this puzzle are being addressed and implemented in a new strategic plan for which board president Don Albrecht wrote a successful grant in 2014 to the Business Development Fund of the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation for $5,000.

”This grant allowed us to hire a consultant, Marilyn Larson, to facilitate research, host small stakeholder input sessions, and do some follow-up vetting of the draft plan,” said Albrecht. “I expect we’ll finalize the plan by the first of the year.”

Some of the ideas identified in the plan are already being implemented, like an endowment fund designed to protect the library’s future. That fund was set up in May through the Apostle Islands Area Community Foundation.

”We are at the halfway point in our initial goal of $25,000 with $12,500,” said Albrecht.

The genesis of this endowment fund came several years ago when a potential donor wanted to donate a significant amount of money. Generally, donations go toward something physical, like books or chairs with that person’s name on it. But the board decided they wanted something more lasting.

”The endowment fund is a way to guarantee that funds will be there forever,” Albrecht said.

The idea is to never spend the capital, but rather use the interest for operating costs or whatever is needed at the time.

The next action being taken as a result of this strategic plan is a main floor renovation project. Early in 2014, Nelson wrote a Building Strong Library grant from Bayfield County for some upgrades to the main floor. The library was awarded funds for new carpeting, seven new blinds, painting in the foyer area and new shelving.

However, as the strategic plan developed later in the year, the scope of the project expanded beyond the grant.

”So I wrote a grant through the Bremer Foundation for additional shelving (including repair of current ones), furnishings, and updated electrical areas on the library’s main floor,” Nelson said. “I also wrote a second BSL grant as a backup for the same things. Ideally, getting the Bremer grant would be best, because it does not require 25 percent funding from the City, like the BSL.”

They are eagerly waiting to hear from Bremer to see which way the wind blows. Regardless, the project will go forward, and in fact, already is.

There’s no question Bayfield Library has always been a charming place with its extensive and interesting inventory, a welcoming hearth and cozy chairs. Yet over the years, without a strategic plan in place one bookcase after another was purchased to satisfy the growing needs of the library with consideration to overall design.

As a result there are low cases, high cases, and differing styles: metal and revolving-wire, modern lean-backs, old-fashioned wooden ones, lawyer cases, and magazine racks.

”We wanted to see this as a cohesive unit instead of just a hodgepodge of things,” said Albrecht.

So they hired Jill Lorenz, a Washburn architect responsible for many beautiful designs in the region, including the Guest Cottage at the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, to help with shelving reconfiguration. First measurements of the first floor were taken and different sections of books identified. This information was sketched into a preliminary drawing, which Albrecht laid on the table.

”We hired Jill to come up with a scheme of new shelves that would accommodate all of those rows of linear feet and different kinds of books, so Junior Fiction’s in one area, Adult Fiction’s in another, etc. in a pattern that makes sense,” Albrecht said.

Nelson added that the intention is to embrace the bookstore model of keeping certain topics together, such as a nautical section.

”Bayfield is essentially a nautical destination,” he said.

Albrecht pulled out another drawing showing one of Lorenz’s designs, now in its sixth iteration. This drawing shows a much better flow between sections.

”The idea is to open the area up a little bit with some new shelving on several locations to enhance the entryway with special books or things we want to promote, while at the same time respect the library’s architectural integrity,” said Albrecht, a lover of history who’s participated in numerous history projects including a few for the Bayfield Maritime Museum and Bayfield Heritage Association.

Besides the main floor renovations, Albrecht is designing a library history board to be placed at the lower entrance.

As they wait to hear from Bremer, Nelson is planning the winter lecture series. He’s trying something new this year, linking it to speakers and events that he and the Apostle Islands Bookseller are recruiting together.

”The theme is water — Lake Superior water, quality water, the healing powers of water — and the book I’m thinking of using is called ‘Blue Mind,’” Nelson said. “It’s about benefits of living near water.”

The puzzle pieces are coming together for the Bayfield Carnegie Library: the renovation project, the endowment fund, and a now new mission statement. Albrecht suggested there’s a reason for this synergy.

”Having Blair here is what prompted the whole thing,” he said.

Besides writing grants and moving big pieces of furniture around, one of Blair’s strengths includes programming. Earlier this year, he organized a successful science fiction/comics con event. And for the Big Water Film Festival, he facilitated an outreach function showing three films in the small theater downstairs, one a short made by local filmmaker, David Doering, “Ice Cave Ice Skate.”

As a result of these new plans set forth by a caring board and staff, the future of Bayfield Carnegie Library looks promising. Of course, these individuals stand on the shoulders of other caring people: the folks who started the Bayfield Lyceum, the first free Reading Room in the City of Bayfield in 1857, and Carnegie who provided $10,000 for a new building, and a succession of librarians and staff who ushered the library into the digital age, adding computers and a lower level for lectures and such. The last holdout is the main floor.

”We’re still using it in the same configuration as it was 111 years ago,” Albrecht said.

That is going to change come 2016. So will a lot of other things as the library staff points its “compass for curious minds” in a more sustainable direction.

To find out more about the endowment fund contact Madelaine Herder at the Apostle Islands Area Community Fund (651) 792-5534 or (715) 779-7021.
— Hope McLeod, Ashland Daily Press, November 14, 2015
Bayfield Carnegie Library