In 1928 the Silver Lake School Mothers' Club decided that the City of Columbia Heights needed a public library. Headed by Harriet Blythe, the club met on November 17 and persuaded Margaret Thomas, a high school teacher, to head the first board. With less than $100 to purchase materials, the club members canvassed the neighborhoods on foot with children's wagons to solicit donations of books and magazines. On December 3, the first library opened its doors at 3949 Central Avenue NE with Grace Sullivan as the only employee. By December 18, 178 library cards had been issued.
Columbia Heights Public Library 1928 828 40th Ave. N.E. 1941
Having moved four times, the library was operating out of a rented building at 838 40th Avenue NE in 1953. The board celebrated the library's 25th anniversary of service, and the City Council recognized the library as a department of the city for the first time. Previously, the library had been maintained primarily by liquor revenues and donations, but now the city had a legal requirement to provide monetary support.
838 40th Ave. N.E. 1953 820 40th Ave. N.E. 2011
The original building was built on the lot at 820 40th Avenue N.E. in 1960. In preparation for the move into permanent headquarters, three truckloads of books were weeded from the collection, and the first professional librarian was hired.
Public Support & Growth
By 1966 the programs and services had grown, and the library was in desperate need to expand the physical building. The city and board worked together to obtain an LSCA grant and a civil defense grant to fund an addition to the original building which tripled the space available and housed the library and the civil defense program run by the city.
When the regional systems were created in Minnesota in 1971, the Columbia Heights Public Library negotiated to join MELSA through a contract with the Anoka County Library.
In 1976 the civil defense area in the building was taken over by the library and remodeled extensively to house the children's department and an activity room.
The library celebrated 50 years of service in 1978 and embarked on a series of building remodeling projects and progressive collection development. A materials security system was installed in 1984 and planning for automation of the circulation system started the same year. The automation/conversion project that culminated on February 10, 1987, involved three years of planning, elevation to Level II status of the Columbia Heights Public Library in MELSA, and nearly 500 hours of volunteer time. The addition of an online public access catalog in 1992 and internet access in 1997 kept current technology available to patrons. The building was brought up to full ADA compliance with a project in 1994 that utilized CDBG funds for an elevator. The materials security system was replaced in 1997 with a Tattletape security system.
2000 ushered in a new technology age when two internet browsers with graphical interfaces were installed for use by the patrons. The conversion of the automated circulation system from terminals to PC’s started in 2001 and was completed in 2002. This work was in preparation for migration of the system to a client/server platform.
In 2001 the Library Board of Trustees formed a non-profit foundation on behalf of the library to provide an agency that could receive donations and apply for grants. The first citizen board was appointed in 2004 and has raised over $50,000 on behalf of the library since its inception.
75 Year Anniversary
The library celebrated 75 years of service in 2003 and planned monthly events to commemorate the special year. The grand finale open house, ‘It’s Our Birthday’ was attended by hundreds of people and featured entertainment, a cake in the shape of a red wagon, and a presentation on the history of the library.
In 2005 the automation system was replaced with an integrated library system which utilized the Windows operating system.
In 2008 the library celebrated eighty years of service to the community and continued its mission to provide free access to informational and recreational materials to the citizens. Cooperative programs with Independent School District 13, the Anoka County Library, and the Anoka County Historical Society were pursued to make the most effective use of combined funding.
In 2011, the library utilized a Gates Foundation Grant to replace all eight of the public PC’s. Also in 2011, the Library Task Force was created to explore ideas for the possible replacement of the existing library building. They spent two years soliciting community feedback, analyzing existing services and conditions, visiting potential sites, touring facilities, and engaging in lively debate. In April of 2013, they presented their findings to the City Council in which they recommended building a new public library.
In 2014, the citizens of Columbia Heights voted on a ballot referendum question regarding raising property taxes to help fund a new library building. The measure passed and the work of locating a new site and designing a new library could begin. A Library Design Task Force, made up of community members (Catherine Vesley, Jennifer Blake, Tricia Conway, Tami Diehm, Adrian Durand, William Hugo, David Larson, Tom Letness, Charlie Oribamise, Rachel Schwankl, and Emily Spiteri) was formed to work with architects and library staff to help choose modern design elements for the new building.
The architectural firm Hammel, Green, and Abrahamson Incorporated won the bid to design the new library building. The building was planned for a lot on Central Avenue, between The Heights Theatre and Columbia Heights Rental, which had been empty for some years. After only a year of construction, the library held a Grand Opening at the new building on June 25th, 2016.
3939 Central Ave. N.E. 2016
Before moving into the new building, library staff and volunteers worked hard to implement a new security system for all library items. The Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) system was an improvement on the old security system because in addition to preventing material theft, it placed a unique tag in each library item that ties that item directly to its catalogue information. The system was implemented in all Anoka County Libraries at the same time as in Columbia Heights and is used widely in metro-area libraries.