Home is where the books are

Suzi Stephenson

For many of us, home is where the books are.

Hennepin County Library is working with CommonBond Communities to bring a homey touch to Fort Snelling Upper Post, an affordable-housing community for formerly homeless veterans at Fort Snelling.

At the edge of a lounge with a TV, comfy chairs and a pool table, four sets of bookshelves hold more than 150 novels and nonfiction works. Nearby, another unit holds dozens of kids’ books, with picture books on the bottom shelf, and working up the shelves through middle-grade and young adult readers, for the 17 children who live in family housing nearby.

Library brings books to residents

There’s no need for a library card; the books are there for residents to take and keep, or share, or give back. Information placards invite patrons to visit the brick-and-mortar Nokomis Library, just two miles away. Other brochures loop kids and teens into the library’s Homework Help program, which they can access at the library, or anywhere they can find an internet connection.

The Post, a rehabbed historic building, includes support services and 58 housing units for homeless veterans and their families. Hennepin County Health and Human Services contracts with CommonBond Communities, which owns and manages the complex.

The collection there is another effort by the library system to reach the “invisible patron,” people who can benefit from and maybe even crave the services the library provides, though they face barriers getting through the buildings’ doors.

Librarian Suzi Stephenson, who works at the nearby Nokomis Library, visits the Post collection once a month to change out all of the books on the shelves for new titles.

Nonfiction, magazines are popular

Month to month, over the year she has been responsible for the collection, Stephenson has been able to get a sense of the kinds of books that are popular there. Readers seem to like books with substance. Nonfiction is huge; last year, residents snapped up Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” for example. Stephenson said she just ordered “The Joke,” by Milan Kundera, in response to a resident’s request. Another is fond of news magazines, Newsweek, in particular.

A resident named Earl said he visits the collection all the time – he also likes the magazines, and he keeps an eye out for any books by Tom Clancy. “Something just catches my eye,” he said, adding that right now he’s reading “Angels and Demons,” by Dan Brown. Of the library collection, he said, “It’s nice having it here.”

“You deserve this”

Most of the books are new; secondhand books on the shelves are culled from boxes of donations – they are the popular newish titles and high-quality, in-demand hardcover books. The library system receives funding from the Friends of the Hennepin County Library, and the local Friends of the Nokomis Library to make it happen.

Stephenson said she is looking at ways to step up the library service to help build community among residents, maybe with book clubs, job resources, discussion groups or movie nights. She’d like to look into getting subscriptions for the magazine lovers.

She said she’s been surprised by the effusive thanks she gets from residents.

“They say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’” she said. “I say, ‘You deserve to have the best books. You deserve this.’”