By Carlienne A. Frisch

“I’m a passionate advocate for libraries,” said Kelly McBride. “My ultimate goal is to serve others.”

McBride has been doing just that for residents of the greater Mankato area since she became the director of the Blue Earth County Library system in January 2019. Through obtaining grant funding for a variety of purposes, she has brought creative programming to the system’s three libraries—Mankato, Lake Crystal, and Mapleton. She is adapting programs to fit the COVID-19 culture, including no-contact checkout of books and other materials and virtual programming for a variety of activities.

“Library staff are learning to do virtual programming,” McBride said. “Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, we have live, virtual story time for children. Staff are also doing book talks—videos of them recommending books. For adult story time, we have a Zoom discussion on a topic with a ‘local celebrity’ and a virtual discussion of an adult book.

With the “no contact” checkout system, a library patron (which is what library users are called) can order a book, DVD, etc., from the Mankato library online or by phone and receive an email or phone message telling them when it’s ready for pickup.

Since age four or five, I’ve always visited and been to libraries. Growing up in Duluth, I had my first library gig in fifth grade as a library cadet at my elementary school. Kelly McBride

After parking in a particular space in the library’s lot, the patron phones the posted number, a library employee sets a bag outside on a table, and after the employee returns into the building, the patron walks to the table and takes the bag.

There are plans for this system to be introduced in the branch libraries by early September. Although the library system has no bookmobile, rural and home bound residents can get requested materials mailed to them, with a pre-stamped return envelope supplied.

Photo by Don Lipps - Kelly McBride, Director of the Blue Earth County Library System
Photo by Don Lipps – Kelly McBride, Director of the Blue Earth County Library System

A “Real” Visit to the Library!

But it’s still possible to “go to the library” in Mankato. Patrons who want to browse for books, or to use the library’s computer, printer, or copier, may make a reservation to spend one hour in the library. A face mask is required, and there are sneeze guards, six-foot markings, and hand sanitizer for additional protection. McBride said the same arrangements are planned for the branch libraries.

One of the new pieces of library equipment available to patrons is a large microfilm machine that can be used to look at Mankato Free Press editions going back 100 years. The purchase was funded by a $10,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, one of numerous grants McBride has obtained.

A Well-Paved Path

There always has been a focus on libraries in McBride’s life, along with an interest in history and culture. Her experiences and education have provided her with a variety of ideas on how to expand library services to a diverse community. She said, “Since age four or five, I’ve always visited and been to libraries. Growing up in Duluth, I had my first library gig in fifth grade as a library cadet at my elementary school. I emptied the book drop, shelved books and had the opportunity to draw a book cover for a book that didn’t have one.”

McBride earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and women’s studies from the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2003. She commented, “I loved learning the stories.” She then came to MSU-Mankato, where she told another story in her thesis, The Changing Depictions of the Virgin Mary during the Reformation, earning a Master of Arts degree in history in 2007. Her job as a substitute aide for Minneapolis Public Libraries gave her the opportunity to observe how a variety of libraries operated. In 2016, she received her Master of Library and Information Science degree from St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul. Her thesis topic: Library Management.

Photo by Don Lipps - A sampling of books in the Lovelace Wing of the Blue Earth County Library.
Photo by Don Lipps – A sampling of books in the Lovelace Wing of the Blue Earth County Library.

While serving for six years as the director of the Osceola Public Library in Osceola, Wisconsin, Kelly received two Chamber of Commerce awards for her work as an advocate of the theme “Learning from your Neighbors.” Kelly said, “We pooled our resources with two other libraries to get a grant for an Imagination Playground for creative play.”

Another important aspect of McBride’s work in Osceola was fund-raising for a new library. She said, “We raised over $8 million, and I got to help design the library. I most enjoyed designing the kids’ space, but it was wonderful to help design a 21st-century library, exemplifying what it can do for the community.”

Growing in Mankato

McBride’s major goals in Mankato are to encourage library use by a diverse population and to increase programming. One of the new creative programs, Maker Monday, which began last fall, was grant funded. Every Monday evening, a local organization or business representative brought supplies to the library and showed participants how to make jewelry, paint pottery, etc. she said, “People learned it was okay to get a little messy. Now, I hope to arrange funding to have craft kits for people to pick up and work on at home.”

I want to make the library feel safe and welcoming, to encourage a more diverse population of patrons. We are examining the collection (books, magazines, etc.) to see how it reflects the community. Kelly McBride

Through a grant the library received from Blue Earth County, a staff librarian is interviewing immigrants and refugees to compile their stories for a book—a project that will move the library toward McBride’s goal of inclusiveness. She said, “I want to make the library feel safe and welcoming, to encourage a more diverse population of patrons. We are examining the collection (books, magazines, etc.) to see how it reflects the community. We want more multicultural materials for both children and adults, including non-fiction materials on social justice, to draw people who might not yet use the library. To do this, we’re working with other organizations in the community.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, McBride is considering how the library can be a welcoming destination for people whose activities may be limited. She said, “We will have to look for grants that will provide more ways to continue our level of service. When the economy tanks, libraries get busier, and the budget becomes tighter.”

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Author

  • Carlienne A. Frisch

    is a Mankato writer who enjoys learning unusual and intriguing facts about a variety of people. After working as a magazine writer and editor and writing non-fiction children's books, she now enjoys writing about a variety of topics as a freelancer.

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