Libraries have been around for a long, long time. The oldest known library—The Library of Ashurbanipal—dates back to the seventh century B.C., while the first public library in the U.S. was likely the one founded in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin.
Our North Shore libraries may not be quite as storied as the ancient libraries of the Middle East, however, they have played an important role in North Shore communities ever since the first one was formally established in Duluth in 1892.
The North Shore has one of the most impressive library systems in the state, if not the country. Formed in 1965, the Arrowhead Library System (ALS) is expansive—offering a plethora of digital and in person services to community members and visitors in seven counties in Northeastern Minnesota, making it the largest public library system in the state.
Public libraries are not a new concept, but the role that they serve in our communities has evolved significantly over time.
“I’ve often heard library patrons refer to our library as ‘the soul of our community,’” says Amanda St. John, library director at the Grand Marais Public Library. “If libraries are places where people can explore, create, learn and connect, then part of my work is to make that ‘dream-space’ a reality.”
“Everyone is welcome at the library,” continues St. John, “and we want to get to know them. Everyone is invited to relax in our cozy chairs, to read a book, or use the Wi-fi.”
Libraries are, as they have always been, a great place to discover new reads and to borrow books instead of taking on the cost of purchasing new. At all of the libraries within the ALS you will find thousands of titles to discover, and anything that isn’t readily available on-site can almost certainly be ordered from a different ALS location.
North Shore libraries also serve as community gathering spots—places where North Shore residents and tourists alike will find access to computers, printers, photocopiers and the internet; all in a quiet space that lends itself to reading, writing, or “doing a little work,” whatever that may be.
Book lending and community gathering are but the tip of the iceberg, however, as the services provided by North Shore libraries to their communities goes well beyond that.
“Although we have a great selection of books and DVDs,” says Madeline Jarvis, the new director at the Two Harbors Public Library, “some of our most popular materials in the collection are our telescope, trail maps, and foraging and birdwatching kits.”
“We live in the most beautiful part of the state on the greatest lake in the world,” continues Jarvis, “so it makes sense for us to provide resources that help our patrons feel connected to the great outdoors.”
St. John also points out that a lot of what gets borrowed at the Grand Marais Public Library are resources other than books and magazines.
“Our library circulates board games, tarot cards, and HALO portable chargers that double as jumper cables,” says St. John. “We also circulate an assistive technology device called a C-Pen, which is a pen shaped scanner that reads aloud to support reading, learning and understanding, especially for readers experiencing dyslexia, visual impairment or aphasia.”
Today, an ALS library cardholder has access to all of the digital resources found on the ALS website. These include, but are far from limited to, services like CreativeBug—a digital resource that offers unlimited access to more than 1,000 award-winning arts and craft videos taught by recognized design experts and artists; Novelist, which is a tool that, according to St. John, is great for helping people “find new authors that have similar content or narrative style;” and Brainfuse’s HelpNow & JobNow—services that provide both school and job coaching resources respectively.
“Brainfuse HelpNow is essentially a one-stop shop for homework help,” says Jarvis. “It includes virtual collaborative spaces for students, customizable study tools, and even live tutoring with a 24-hour writing lab.”
“Through the JobNow portal,” continues Jarvis, “users can chat with a career coach, complete career assesments, and receive feedback on application materials. It’s a great way to ensure that your next application packet truly shines.”
Jarvis, who views her role as director as “identifying and eliminating barriers of access” to all that the Two Harbors Public Library has to offer, wants to remind people that regardless of whether they are accessing ALS resources remotely or in person, they can always reach out to the library with questions.
“If you have access questions,” says Jarvis, “just reach out to your local librarian. We are here to help.”
To learn more about the numerous services offered by the ALS and its members, be sure to visit your local library in person or by logging onto their respective website. Information for ALS online resources can be found at: alslib.info.