More than 400 years of experience with the Saint Paul Public Library is checking out by the end of the year. The dozen retirees include volunteer coordinator Wendy Neurer of Highland Park and library specialist Mary Ann Berglund of Summit Hill.

Neurer has worked with thousands of volunteers over the years in all of the city’s libraries. Berglund began as a substitute, but spent much of her career at the Lexington and Rondo branches. They have nearly 70 years of experience between them. They each worked under half a dozen mayors, numerous City Council members and several Saint Paul Public Library directors.

“These retirements are a big loss for our library system,” said City Council member and Library Board chair Jane Prince. “We have so much institutional knowledge going out of the door.”

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Berglund and Neurer were part of many changes at the libraries over the decades, including the way patrons are served. “It was vital to grow with the ever-changing world to keep the public library current and relevant,” Neurer said.

The biggest change both women cited was in technology. Neurer remembered bringing volunteers to the Hamline-Midway branch to teach patrons how to use the internet. Some staff members were skeptical. “I had one librarian say, ‘This will never work,’” she said.

“Of course technology has made a huge change in our focus,” Berglund said. “Many people still don’t have computers at home, and if you don’t have a computer you can’t apply for a job, you can’t sign up for unemployment or other programs, you can’t find housing.”

librarians
Pictured, from left, are AmeriCorps member Charlotte Tjaden, library volunteer Nayni Paung, Wendy Neurer and Mary Ann Berglund in December 2019 during a CelebrAsia event at Saint Catherine University.

Berglund was looking for part-time work while she still had two children at home when she learned from a friend that the library had openings. She worked throughout the system as a substitute, getting to know staff and patrons in all of the branches.

In 1985, she started at the Central Library. One of her favorite jobs was manning the “phone room.” Before the internet, people frequently called libraries with questions and the staff would use phone books, city directories and other resources to find the answers. Berglund also worked in youth services and the children’s room.

Lexington and later Rondo were where she spent much of her career. She was on the planning committee for the construction of the Rondo Library, which opened in 2006 and is now the second-busiest library in the city after Central. “What I liked about Rondo was that there was always something going on,” Berglund said. “There’s just a lot of activity.”

She especially enjoyed the youth summer reading program, older adults programs and English as a Second Language program. Tax time was also a busy period at the library, with patrons lined up for assistance.

Berglund said she also liked working with the small business assistance resource center and the Neighborhood Development Center. “We were able to connect a lot of people who were interested in being entrepreneurs to classes and other resources,” she said. She also worked with people with disabilities.

“Looking back, what really comes to mind is the expansion in services,” Berglund said. “It’s so much more than books and movies. We provide connections to a lot of resources, all kinds of data bases, programs and help.”

Both women said they will miss the people they have met over the years. The pandemic meant that 2020 has been one of change for library workers, volunteers and patrons. Berglund was part of a group that sewed thousands of facemasks for city employees while the libraries were closed. She plans to continue sewing in retirement, as well as spending more time with her family.

Volunteers have not been allowed in the libraries for several months, leaving Neurer at loose ends. “I’m used to helping people and I don’t know how to do it now,” she said. “So I decided it’s time to retire.

“I’ll truly miss the volunteers and my fellow staff members,” Neurer said. “I know no better people.”

“These retirements are a big loss for our library system,” said City Council member and Library Board chair Jane Prince. “We have so much institutional knowledge going out of the door.”

Berglund was looking for part-time work while she still had two children at home when she learned from a friend that the library had openings. She worked throughout the system as a substitute, getting to know staff and patrons in all of the branches.

In 1985, she started at the Central Library. One of her favorite jobs was manning the “phone room.” Before the internet, people frequently called libraries with questions and the staff would use phone books, city directories and other resources to find the answers. Berglund also worked in youth services and the children’s room.

Lexington and later Rondo were where she spent much of her career. She was on the planning committee for the construction of the Rondo Library, which opened in 2006 and is now the second-busiest library in the city after Central. “What I liked about Rondo was that there was always something going on,” Berglund said. “There’s just a lot of activity.”

She especially enjoyed the youth summer reading program, older adults programs and English as a Second Language program. Tax time was also a busy period at the library, with patrons lined up for assistance.

Berglund said she also liked working with the small business assistance resource center and the Neighborhood Development Center. “We were able to connect a lot of people who were interested in being entrepreneurs to classes and other resources,” she said. She also worked with people with disabilities.

“Looking back, what really comes to mind is the expansion in services,” Berglund said. “It’s so much more than books and movies. We provide connections to a lot of resources, all kinds of data bases, programs and help.”

Both women said they will miss the people they have met over the years. The pandemic meant that 2020 has been one of change for library workers, volunteers and patrons. Berglund was part of a group that sewed thousands of facemasks for city employees while the libraries were closed. She plans to continue sewing in retirement, as well as spending more time with her family.

Volunteers have not been allowed in the libraries for several months, leaving Neurer at loose ends. “I’m used to helping people and I don’t know how to do it now,” she said. “So I decided it’s time to retire.

“I’ll truly miss the volunteers and my fellow staff members,” Neurer said. “I know no better people.”

— Jane McClure

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