Our Community Cornucopia: Quatrefoil Library

By Lavender March 13, 2008

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Anne Johnson moved to the Twin Cities from Chicago three years ago. While she had friends here already, she says, “I needed something to…feel part of the community.” So, what did she do? She discovered Quatrefoil Library, our very own GLBT community library. “When I moved here, it was the first thing I joined,” she adds. Now, she is Board Secretary and Web Mistress (she prefers “Web commando”).

I’m visiting with Johnson and several leaders of Quatrefoil at its space on the lower level of a former school building just west of Snelling in St Paul. Even though it’s an extremely cold night, several volunteers are here, and plenty of people are coming in to browse the collection.

According to board member Dan Hanson, Quatrefoil began when David Irwin and Dick Hewetson’s Grand Avenue condo in St. Paul became too stuffed full of books. Hanson relates, “Dick and David said, ‘Let’s start a library!’ That was 21 years ago.”

Now with 400 current members (plus more than 3,000 past members), 1,200 books, 1,500 videos, and 400 magazine titles, the library has grown to be an important resource for the entire community.

As we’re talking, Jim comes up to the counter to return videos that “are a little bit overdue,” and check out some new ones. I ask him what brings him here on a chilly evening. He replies, “They have a nice selection of new stuff coming out.” He drives in a couple times a month, all the way from Richfield. “I’d much rather support Quatrefoil than a Blockbuster. It’s part of the community,” he explains.

“It’s better than Blockbuster,” Hanson adds. “Two weeks for one buck!”

But the great video rental price is not the only thing that sets Quatrefoil apart from retailers. The collection is much more diverse than the one bay of GLBT titles in your typical Barnes & Noble.

“We’ve got a lot of small presses,” Head Librarian Kathy Robbins tells me.

Plus, the library hosts events, such as a new book club that meets once a month and the occasional author’s book reading.

This evening, Don Yager is working the desk. He has been volunteering from the start, having helped Irwin and Hewetson move into the first library space, in the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union offices in North Minneapolis, in 1986. “Since then, I’ve volunteered about once a month,” he notes.

Yager, like Hanson, Robbins, Johnson, and everyone at Quatrefoil, is a volunteer. The library has no paid staff. Yager is typical in that he works a two-hour shift once or twice a month, helping out with something he believes in and gains satisfaction from. And he’s just one of the 70 volunteers who make up Quatrefoil.

That’s impressive. I’ve been involved with plenty of nonprofits in the past, and few can make it on volunteer labor alone.

What’s the secret?

Yager states, “I like being around books. I think it’s a good community resource.”

Robbins, who has been involved for 15 years, enthuses, “We get to arrange our own little library!”

However, good, worthy projects come and go all the time. The key here is more than books.

As Hanson observes, “People get along. It’s a really comfortable place.”

Johnson agrees: “There is a definite sense of a loosely knit family.”

Quatrefoil offers opportunities to socialize, too. Johnson shares, “I look forward to the volunteer party every month. We get together, and talk about anything and everything. It is a great way to fit socializing into our busy schedules.”

So, Johnson found her community at Quatrefoil, as have so many other people over the years.

Whether a person wants to get involved in the GLBT community for the first time, is coming back again, or maybe never had the time before—they’re fresh from Chicago like Johnson, or whatever—I can’t think of a better place to jump into the GLBT community than Quatrefoil. Meanwhile, the entire community benefits from the hard work and dedication to the cause of Johnson and all the volunteers.

As Johnson puts it, “I consider myself very lucky to have the Quatrefoil in my life.”

Standing there, meeting the volunteers, and seeing a steady stream of visitors coming in, I know we are the lucky ones.

Want to read past columns, or be in touch? Visit www.forwhomthebilltolls.org.

Quatrefoil Library
1619 Dayton Ave., St. Paul
(651) 641-0969
www.quatrefoillibrary.org

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