Nearly a year after their boards initially approved the merger, Minneapolis Public Library joined the Hennepin County Library January 2.
The merger combines Minnesota’s two largest public library systems into a 41-branch operation with more than 5 million items and 1,600 computers. All 15 of Minneapolis’s libraries joined HCL, including the Roosevelt, Webber Park, and Southeast libraries, which reopened January 3 after being closed in December 2006 due to MPL’s budget problems. It is believed to be the largest public library consolidation in North America since the 1997 amalgamation of five suburban systems into Toronto Public Library.
“This merger is a big win for all residents of Hennepin County,” HCL Director Amy Ryan told American Libraries. She said the combined system is currently running the libraries as it did before the merger, but is examining ways to improve services. “Public services won’t change,” she said. “We’re looking at consolidating human resources, communications, and other services, but that won’t happen overnight.”
Ryan noted that the agreement includes a provision that none of the 800 staff members will be laid off, and no library closures are planned. “We’ve got an aggressive capital project to build new libraries and remodel others,” she said. The Hennepin County Board of Commissioners has already approved $15 million to replace the Webber Park facility, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported December 19, and discussions are underway for upgrades to Walker Library in Minneapolis and the suburban Excelsior Library.
Many aspects of the merger have not been finalized, among them the formation of a new library board; even though the new 11-member group is slated to meet for the first time January 23, four seats (including the three reserved for Minneapolis residents) will remain vacant until the January 29 county commission meeting, the Star-Tribune reported December 25. The commission will appoint library trustees with feedback from the Minneapolis City Council and mayor.
The separate Friends groups both remain active, and the two systems’ separate cataloging schemes—Library of Congress Classification for MPL and Dewey for HCL—also remain in use. “That’s tied into the holistic integrated library system, and we’re not in a hurry to change that,” Ryan said.
Minneapolis library trustees and Hennepin County commissioners approved the merger in March, but it also required city approval and state legislation. In addition, numerous details arose that threatened the deal—most recently concerns in December over who would pay for the cleanup of soil or groundwater contamination at eight Minneapolis libraries should those branches ever be razed or moved. A city-county agreement reached December 13 protects Hennepin County from any costs resulting from existing pollution at Minneapolis library sites, according to the Star-Tribune.