New library essential to bridging community’s past with its current and future needs


In Saint Paul, we know that libraries are about people. They are community gathering spaces, safe havens, and places where access, connection, and opportunity merge together. Whether you’re dancing at a storytime, accessing the internet and a quiet place to work or study, attending an author talk, or hosting a community meeting, you are likely headed to your neighborhood library to do so.
Libraries as public spaces continue to evolve, which means our library buildings must evolve, too. That is why we have asked Hamline Midway residents to reimagine their library – and why we’ve concluded that we must build a new library that honors the past while making space for the community’s current and future needs.
This has been a significant and, at times, emotional decision, and understandably so. The memories that have been shared in connection to the Hamline Midway Library are inspiring and proof that libraries truly hold a special place in our hearts and in our communities.
We have also heard from community members that the current lack of accessibility, space for different types of activities, and reflection of the racially and ethnically diverse cultures of today’s neighborhood mean that this library does not currently work for everyone in the way a modern library can and should. Together with the experienced team at LSE Architects, we took this feedback and did our best to balance the important history of the building with a library that truly works for all: a library that anyone can access with dignity and ease, that delivers on our commitment to sustainability, and that provides more space for people of all ages to learn, grow, and connect with each other.
There have been a lot of comments and questions about the decision to build a new library. I wanted to provide some information around project sustainability, the realities of a new building, and community engagement.

We’ve heard a lot about embedded carbon and how keeping the existing building would be more sustainable than rebuilding it. An existing building’s embedded carbon – the carbon it took to make, use, and transport the materials used in construction – is significant. When it comes to long-term sustainability, we are looking not just at the resources it takes to construct the actual building, but also the energy and resources that the building uses over time – which can be significant in a public building.
Constructing a new library is the only option that meets the city’s current ordinances and goals around sustainability and energy efficiency and brings us one step closer to meeting our citywide goals to reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to a sustainable future in the face of climate change. It enables our library to be more energy efficient through its design and construction, ultimately creating a smaller carbon footprint over the life of the building.

Rebuilding the library addresses all the existing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing issues with the current building, while also providing everything the community asked for – additional community spaces and radically-improved accessibility. A new single level library at street level ensures all library users enter with ease through the same pathway and same front door – no one needs to enter via a 94- foot ramp through rain, snow, or cold. A renovation would be more expensive than a new building and it would not address all of these things. Together, these realities helped us determine that a rebuild was the best choice for Hamline Midway Library. We are committed to honoring the important history of this library and plan to integrate it into the design of the new building.

Our goal is to take an approach to community engagement that centers equity. This means going to where people are, and hearing from those who currently use the library and those for whom the current library isn’t working. It also means intentionally reaching out to those who have been historically excluded from public processes, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) residents, youth, and trans/non-binary community members.
We’ve hosted teen focus groups led by the Youth Leadership Initiative; held open houses; engaged residents through artist-led creative encounters; led multiple surveys and pop-up events in places like rec centers and grocery stores; and engaged neighborhood project ambassadors to spread the word about the project and ways to get involved, along with providing the project team with feedback.
We worked hard to hear from many voices in the community while weaving in the nuance of historical exclusion, barriers to engagement, and cultural considerations all while balancing it with the fiscal, structural, and environmental realities that the experts at LSE Architects have guided us through. These considerations led to the decision to pursue a new building that is safe, inviting, affirming, and comfortable for people of all cultures, abilities, and communities. This direction is supported by Mayor Carter, council member Mitra Jalali and the majority of Saint Paul city council members, and many neighbors.
This has been a community effort. Thank you to everyone who has voiced their thoughts, shared their desires and dreams, and participated in this process. When the final design is presented this fall, we hope you see yourself, your neighbors, and our collective future reflected in the new Hamline Midway Library.
Catherine Penkert is the director of Saint Paul Public Library.


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