Northfield Public Library as an Economic Development Tool

In a recent Star Tribune Opinion Exchange Article (“Hours May Vary, 2/29/06), Minneapolis Public Library Director Kit Hadley and DaVinci Institute Futurist Thomas Frey discussed the future of libraries. Part of their discussion was of particular interest to me.

When Hadley suggested that libraries needed to deliver information learning services both in the library and remotely, Frey reminded us that “libraries are a place, and that is an important resource”. He went on to say:

“With a growing number of business executives working from a home office, they are looking for “another place” to stimulate their thinking, alter patterns, meet people, and congregate. While libraries can build electronic tentacles into our homes, there is great value in being a “place” – a place to go, different spaces for different moods, points to ponder, human sounding boards, room for introspection as well as extrospection.”

Getting beyond Frey’s rather unpleasant image of tentacles reaching into my home, I really appreciated his characterization of a library as a place. In fact, he was really describing libraries as “Third Places” as described by Ray Oldenburg in his book “The Great Good Place”. In this book, Oldenburg outlines why these public gathering places are so important for building community . He argues that bars, churches, coffee shops, hardware stores, libraries and post offices, as well as other “third places” (in contrast to the first and second places of home and work), are essential for community and democracy.

In his comments, Frey touches upon another subject that is near and dear to my heart: economic development. When discussing the people working from home offices, he is describing the creative class that will, hopefully, build our next economy. It is precisely to attract and nurture this creative class that the NDDC has been working so long and so hard, first on the Historic Middle School and more recently on the Building for Creative Professionals, to build additional innovative workspace in downtown.

Downtown Northfield is a powerful stimulant to economic development. Dozens, if not hundreds, of businesses have started in our downtown. The inspiring spaces, with high ceilings, large windows and historic structures, the variety of third places, such as coffeehouses, restaurants, and bars, and the sources of critical supplies, like hardware, clothing, food and gifts, work together to make downtown an attractive place to start a business.

The public library is an important part of the attractiveness of downtown. The library serves as a source for information learning services, as a beloved community gathering place and, according to Frey, as place where creative professionals can experience intellectual breakthroughs.

The library is not only an important conceptual element to downtown, it is an important physical element. The library building, organized in 1898 and constructed in 1910, in many ways represents Northfield’s arrival as a civilized and successful community.

It is no secret that the NDDC believes that the Northfield Public Library should continue to thrive in its present location, the very heart of our community. Please support our efforts to achieve this goal.