As the bustling metropolis of Minneapolis turned into the 20th century, the immigrant families trying to scratch out an identity in America, factory workers, farmers, the blind and every hard-working commoner had a champion in librarian Gratia Alta Countryman. As a young girl in 1884 she moved with her family to Minneapolis where she enrolled in the University of Minnesota and soon joined the Minneapolis Public Library staff. It was here that her vision of access to good literature for all no matter their station in life became the work of her life.
In the 1890s this hard-working visionary started a program to lend books to neighboring communities and, as a result, was the mother of the very successful initiative known as the Bookmobiles that brought free books to all corners of the state. In 1899 the young librarian shepherded a successful initiative through the Legislature to provide public support for the growth of libraries throughout Minnesota. By 1904 she became the third director of the Minneapolis Public Library, a position she held until she was forced to retire at age 70 in 1936. She was recognized nationally as one of the strongest advocates for meaningful public access to good books and even served a stint as the president of the American Library Association.
Due to her commitment, her alma mater bestowed on her an honorary MA degree for Distinguished Public Service in 1932, only the fourth of such degrees given by the University of Minnesota at that time and the first conferred upon a woman. Minnesota certainly is a better place due to her tireless commitment to make the treasures of good literature accessible to all of our communities and citizens.
At their meeting this coming November 14th, the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC) will be struggling with a similar issue of access. Due to pressures from the Legislature, the LSOHC must consider whether they should make appropriation recommendations every two years as opposed to their present practice of annual recommendations. The Legislature required LSOHC to study this question because some legislators believed it is better if the funding were distributed every two years following the Legislature’s biannual process. One of the main arguments for the conservation community in support of the annual appropriations was greater transparency and access by community groups to the Legacy funds for the protection of the great outdoors.
The LSOHC commissioned a study by the State’s in-house management consulting group through the Office of Management and Budget known as the Management Analysis and Development to look at the pros and cons of the different funding cycles. This team did an extensive overview comparing the benefits of moving to a biannual funding cycle or remaining with the annual cycle. One of their major findings was that:
“Stakeholders agree that public awareness, understanding and participation in conservation and environmental efforts will be essential for long-term success. The Outdoor Heritage Fund is important not just for the money it provides, but for the opportunity it creates for generating volunteer support and additional funds from other sources. In addition, the constitutional amendment generating the Outdoor Heritage Fund is good for 25 years; after that, the public will be asked to reconsider the additional tax, and success can be impacted by the number of people who have participated or believe they have benefitted from the process. Public perception is an important aspect in cycle consideration.” P.20
Even though they were not asked to give a conclusion on which funding cycle would be best for this endeavor, they came up with the conclusion that:
“While it is not the purpose of this report to make a recommendation –a role assigned to the Council by the Legislature –it is apparent that, overall, the analysis strongly concludes that the Council’s work appears to be better served by an annual cycle rather than by a biennial cycle.” P.4
Just like Countryman, the independent team reviewing the LSOHC process came to the conclusion that accessibility should be the primary consideration when it comes to distributing this valuable public treasure for the protection of our great outdoors. If you desire you can read the full report to be presented on the 14th.