The final stop on our fascinating sojourn to the upper Midwest brought us to North Dakota’s biggest city. Esoteric eateries and quirky outdoor installations abound. Broadway sports an adorable Peter Max style plaster buffalo and pastel dragonflies flitting across an electrical box. A block over, two permanently sidelined trains are the perfect canvas for a sunset orange Fargo emblazoned against a teal background melting into a rendering of an ND scene.
A vibrantly graffitied alley led me to Fargo Public Library’s (FPL) HQ steps away from the Red River of the North. On Third Street, native grasses and tall skinny trees flank the brick and glass structure and a xeriscape brook of large gray stones bordered by tan wood chips flowing gently along the sidewalk imparts a zen feel.
FPL has a budget of $4,500,000, more than 278,000 items and a million or so annual circulation. In 2018, over 27,000 attended happenings at the main location and two branches. Though this version opened in 2009, it began in 1900 in a corner of the Masonic Temple stocked by donated volumes. Using Carnegie funds the library moved to a dedicated building in 1903. A 1930 addition doubled their size and in 1968 they settled here.
Conveniently abutting the government complex, the east and west entries both access a corridor disclosing a bird’s eye view of the new Civic Plaza construction.
The breezeway’s shiny floor, smeared by shadows of tropical hibiscus and potted plants, leads to a café of the same name. Scanning the illuminating paragraphs accompanying the stunning seizure themed photos and drawings from the Epilepsy Foundation, I note phone chargers at the tables.
Appropriately near the Wellspring for the World fountain symbolizing the abundance of moisture in the Red River Valley, a stand contains an informational chart on an important water diversion project.
Before the security gates, two splendid sunflower mosaics cover the lobby walls.
Bright and cheerful they’ll warm the cockles of hearts during some of the harshest winters in the contiguous US. Despite the cold and being vulnerable to flooding, Fargo is growing by leaps and bounds and its 125,000 occupants account for 17% of ND’s sparse population. Often topping livability polls due to affordable housing, low crime rates and high employment, it’s awash in skyways so citizens can easily escape the frigid temps and often walk long distances above ground.
The main library has self check on both levels, wifi and numerous 60 minute internet terminals. Tourists get an hour for free while non residents pay five dollars for a three month temporary pass and under 18’s need parental permission. Cards are free to city dwellers and students and systems in West Fargo and the Lake Agassiz seven county region have reciprocal privileges.
At the front desk, Cheryl welcomed me warmly and kindly agreed to pose. I picked up a map, great for navigating the vast edifice and extremely useful later as a memory aid, and started poking around.
A clearly labeled tornado shelter is always a plus as are bins under self check stations so holds slips are recycled. By a banner for One Book, One Community, pamphlets and papers provide something to peruse while waiting for a meeting.
Or pop into the large Friends’ store and feel good knowing you’re supporting efforts to finance fun, fixtures and youth activities.
There are loads of opportunities to contribute. Memorial plaques add vivid splashes of color close to the Dawson and Fercho conference rooms. Benefactors sponsor labs, alcoves, an array of frontier paintings… Volunteers shelve and supply backup for programs.
The organization’s community spaces have A/V options and can be rented if free and open to the public. Most have kitchens and don’t charge book groups, municipal entities and some nonprofits.
The rest of the first level is devoted to Children’s and its many named family spots pay tribute to the generosity of inhabitants.
Girls and boys have twelve computers and a busy Wiggle Room theater for ages zero to six that focuses on early literacy and developmental needs. Toddler furniture, toys, alphabet rugs and styrofoam blocks lie behind a happy caterpillar crawling across the plate glass. Observing parents perch on a cushioned bench on one side.
I love the jigsaw piece cart, alligator of board books and the giant READ, each letter made of straws or crayons or plastic puffs.
Kids go to Crafternoons, Train Days, Little Squirt Science, Dizzy Dance and Pokémon parties and the Anime Summer Series, decorate pumpkins and gingerbread houses, and for a prize, guess the identity of a shredded book in a jar. There’s a zoo outing, scavenger hunt for the solstice, visits from the fire department and female airplane racers. Various storytimes, some incorporating ballet or ASL, are on the roster.
Subject specific Topic Totes for Tots and Story on the Go kits are composed of rhymes, songs, fingerplay, puppets and more. Launchpads have learning apps for three to five year olds. Find audiovisual combo packs by Star Wars and superhero paperback spindles and hanging from an enormous pencil, Adventure Backpacks filled with binoculars, bug catchers, flashlights and books are ready for camping trips.
Cushioned hassocks, seats in different sizes and a bronze lad engrossed in a tale surround a play area and low rectangles let in light next to primary hued chairs at white tables beneath a Lost in Space gallery of planetary art created by elementary pupils.
The system has a no fines for juvenile items policy and loans board games for every age. Iffy internet a problem? Borrow a mobile hotspot. Besides the usual fare FPL offers book club kits, video games, mini infrared thermometers, solar telescopes, electrical usage and energy check meters, ND State Parks passes and the Metro Arts Pass for free or reduced admission to museums.
Electronic books, audiobooks, music, comics, films and magazines are available online as is Tutor ND and links for homework and K-12. Resources assist academics, mechanics, genealogists, language learners and investors, while laymen search business, legal, medical, consumer and general databases.
Admiring the vertical slats and modern art on the flight of stairs, I bumped into Director Tim Dirks, Pam Strait from Outreach and several administrators. Delighted to meet some of the people responsible for this impressive bounty, we chatted for a bit.
FPL staff deliver to homebound patrons and senior living facilities, appear at fairs and police picnics and even go to bars to advertise services. At the Pride in the Park booth, you could make rainbow bracelets and enter a drawing to win LGBQT themed artwork. The Book Bike, shaded by an umbrella to protect materials from sunny or wet weather, is a fixture at city happenings.
Facebook has customer reviews and videos of money saving tips, ten year anniversary speeches, Irish folk dancers and bluegrass bands. Professionally designed notices mingle with pictures of the old library, kids making balloon animals and a wild turkey invasion. Whether dressed as pirates for an offsite storytime or riding a parade float by a Christmas tree tower of tomes lit by twinkly bulbs, the FPL team is game. Posts tout Bullet Journaling, printing and decluttering workshops, the Spring Gardening Series and a seed swap.
The page promotes three separate A Universe of Stories summer reading programs that let all ages participate. Far out functions include a Sci-Fi Movie Marathon, moon related crafts, astrology affairs and Stomp Rockets made possible by a STEM grant. Planetarium personnel teach youngsters the constellations and they get trinkets at Solar System bingo or watch a play about astronauts.
Teens get messy at Galaxy Slime, enjoy Galactic Glow Games, learn about Zodiac signs and astronomy, stitch space related embroidery and Escape from Outer Space rooms.
By the manga and a long display of new YA titles, signs advise users to put stuff in a basket for reshelving so nothing gets lost. Other amusements for teens involve fashioning leather bookmarks, polymer clay ornaments, key fobs for Father’s Day, acrylic pour paintings or Frankentoys (Stuffed Animal Taxidermy). Adolescents crochet sweaters, tie dye clothing, perform at talent contests, go to book group and cupcake wars, take the Oreo cookie flavor challenge and complete surveys on what they want to see and do at the library.
Passing a row of cool wavy couches, I came to the peaceful Otter Tail Fireplace Room.
Vistas feature the white sails of the Hjemkomst Center’s roof and the dragon steeples of its Hopperstad Stave Church replica in the bucolic Minnesota meadow where earlier, on my stroll along the sylvan riverbank, a deer and her fawn had trotted by as I stood motionless.
Sharing attitudes and associations, Fargo’s twin city, Moorhead, MN, makes up the other half of an MSA of about 250,000 so it’s natural to partner for transportation and cultural initiatives and for an MSA event welcoming diversity, FPL hosted a presentation on the customs and traditions of Pakistan and Ukraine.
Adult discover how to beat the winter blues, listen to wellness lectures, patronize author talks, book signings, poetry slams, photography and WWI poster exhibits, and join trivia contests, swing dance demonstrations and murder mystery/tours. When the Blue Angels came to town the library had three navy band concerts and last November saw the second Native American Festival and Education series.
Older members have puzzle afternoons and there’s also an exchange for children’s puzzles.
Most of the second story is open and airy. Rays stream in through floor to ceiling windows and there’re plenty of opportunities to relax and observe the action outside. Six study spaces fit up to either two or six and lots of plugs guarantee you won’t run down your battery.
Slim planks stick up from stacks announcing the genres below and a rack of pretty flyers for ongoing library programs reminds you of FPL’s wealth of choices. Microfiche machines herald the ND collection’s yearbooks, town and state histories and periodicals, Fargo directories from 1881 and forward, veteran’s registers and works of local writers.
Further on, a chartreuse wall matches its lovely, lonely painting of pines and pond and there are more intriguing pieces like the mixed medium Languages which for me, resembled hieroglyphics.
In the Duval Quiet Room, interesting ND winter studies in red and white celebrate the beauty of a frozen landscape.
Literacy, world languages, newspapers and adult graphic novels are up here too.
The website has news, and the calendar’s filters for subject, location and date range let you find times for yoga and meditation, Go, chess and book clubs, Tea Tasting, English and basic and night photography classes, a jazz quartet, an ND Air National Guard talk or the Captain Marvel screening and discussion. The juvenile section has lists, 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten, school prep, parenting info, and forms to get recommendations or for teachers to amass materials for lesson plans.
Sign up for the kid’s and adult newsletters or read Northern Narratives 2019, the third time the library has published a volume of works from regional writers.
Fargo folks are truly favored with a fantastic, futuristic, forward thinking library!