Arts and Culture

St. Paul libraries introduce summer passport program to get more Minnesotans into the stacks

Outside of George Latimer Central Library.
In 2023, 2.75 million items were borrowed from St. Paul locations, up 10 percent. Library leaders are looking for new ways to get Minnesotans involved.
Evan Frost | MPR News

In 2023, there were 1.15 million visits to St. Paul public libraries. It was up 14 percent from 2022 — but Kim Horton wants it to be even more. 

Horton, senior director of communications at The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, was brainstorming how to get more Minnesotans into the library (and not just for books, you know they have a lot of other resources too now!) when it came to her team: a library passport.

It’s simple really: visit a branch to pick up your passport then visit the 13 different locations in the system (including the bookmobile) and get a sticker for your passport book. When you complete it, you are registered for prizes like merchandise, free books, bookstore gift cards and even tickets to a Minnesota United game.

St. Paul isn’t the only city trying to get more residents into the libraries. Look no further than to our neighbors to the east, Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Public Library has gone viral several times and has 4.8 million likes on TikTok. 

A orange booklet
Promotional materials for the St. Paul public library passport program.
Courtesy image

Horton says the goal is to get people to think of libraries in different ways. 

“Libraries now are so different from what people remember as kids, there’s just so much to offer,” she said. “We want to encourage people to find something that speaks to them.” 

When you walk into a St. Paul location, it’s hard not to notice the numerous posters that welcome you. Homework help, book clubs, creative writing groups, story time and even meetings with a library social worker — these are not the libraries we grew up with. 

And something the programs have in common: they’re all free. Horton explained that libraries are truly essential, and as patrons have evolved, so have they. 

“Free spaces like this don’t really exist anymore,” Horton said. “We have so many books, but there are other things. There are makerspaces, homework help, small business resources, vinyl records — it’s easy to miss these amazing things.”

Marketing and Communications Manager Stacy Opitz believes that the key to the success of libraries is being relatable, accessible and welcoming.

Many of us got our introduction with story time and, of course, summer reading challenges. Similar to the nostalgic and still-occurring Pizza Hut personal pan pizza reading challenges, the summer one felt a bit different. 

School was out, and you had time to read … for fun. You could color in the number of books you completed and trade them in for prizes. Personally, I attempted to get my hands on every Junie B. Jones book ever written.

Then the spark of youth is sucked from you and you have to read for school. That’s when Opitz says library users usually drop off.

“We might not see so many people in the 20s-30s age range, but then some folks have kids and the cycle starts again and you’re back at the library,” she said. “We can continue lifelong learning and as adults that can be so rich and powerful.” 

A sign that reads "Saint Paul Public Library."
George Latimer Central Library in downtown St. Paul is one of the 13 locations.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

Check out the overwhelming yet beautiful downtown library with its many amenities, including a laser engraver and recording studios, a micro gallery at Dayton’s Bluff, the vinyl collection at Merriam Park or Sun Ray’s native plants, flowers and beehive. 

In 2023, 2.75 million items were borrowed from St. Paul locations, up 10 percent. And, 22,475 new library card holders joined, not even counting the laser loon library card that is sure to put a dent in next year's numbers.

Participants must complete their passport by Aug. 15. There is not a hard deadline for the end of the program, it depends on how long supplies last.

Remember Arthur’s mantra this summer: “Having fun isn’t hard, when you’ve got a library card.”

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