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Highland Park Library is Saint Paul Public Library's busiest branch, and its neighborhood is growing rapidly. Branch Manager Mary Knox and her staff have made their library into a thriving community hub, enabled by efficient operations. Highland Park's programming highlights include a weekly Amharic Story Time, and much more.

A photograph of Emebet Haile flipping through Amharic-language books.

Highland Park Library is Saint Paul’s busiest branch, in terms of checkouts as well as in-person visits. In 2022, patrons checked out over 250,000 items and visited nearly 175,000 times. The library has exceeded those numbers every month this year, and the trend seems likely to continue. The Saint Paul Public Library branch is located on the south side of Ford Parkway, just a few blocks to the east of the Highland Bridge development that will eventually boast more than 55 acres of parks, 3,800 new housing units, and space for offices and retail. The development, one of the largest of its kind in the United States, sits on 122 acres, oriented on a north-south axis along the Mississippi River’s east bank. The site was previously occupied by the Ford Assembly Plant until it was demolished in 2013.

The rapidly growing neighborhood isn’t the only reason numbers are up, though. Director Mary Knox and her staff have made their library, renovated in 2014, into a thriving community hub enabled by efficient operations. 

Many patrons place holds on materials (DVDs are still very popular) and pick them up from designated shelves conveniently located near the entrance on the first floor. Just steps away, in a large room behind the main service desk, Chue Yang directs the library’s circulation operation and manages a state-of-the-art book sorter, “The Beast.” On Tuesdays, their busiest day, the library receives upwards of 30 milk crates (filled with library materials, not milk) to be processed by Highland Park staff. Yang is a library success story. In fact, she’s never held a job outside the Saint Paul Public Library. In high school, she was a frequent visitor to the Rice Street branch. When a position became available, a member of the staff encouraged her to apply. She was just 16 at the time, but she got the job. “I love working here,” she says. “I don’t think I’ll leave until I retire.”

Patrons that continue to the second floor will find most of the collection there, along with the childrens’ area, an outdoor reading garden, computers, and cozy spaces with tons of natural light perfect for working remotely. The second floor is also where story times are held. The English-language story time is so popular that it outgrew the room where it was originally held. Amharic Story Time, led by staff member Emebet Haile, is also popular. It takes place every Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. 

Haile began Amharic Story Time at Highland Park 11 years ago, and restarted it this May after a hiatus due to COVID. Each Tuesday, Haile reads a book in Amharic, and the community gathers. Families accompany their children to sing songs, share important information, and learn together. Haile leads instruction in the 33 letters of the Amharic alphabet, each of which has at least seven distinct versions. Yes, that’s well over 200 characters to manage! The library maintains a collection of books in Amharic (which are hard to come by), some of which were purchased by Haile on trips to Ethiopia. Many of Highland Park’s Amharic-speaking visitors are newcomers to Minnesota, just getting their start in a nearby neighborhood centered around West 7th Street. More-established community members travel to story time from places like Apple Valley and Rosemount.

Highland Park is also partnering with the nearby Minnesota Jewish Community Center to offer a book club this September through November. The club will read four books, three in translation from Yiddish, and a fourth exploring the immigrant experience, “Somewhere in the Unknown World: A Collective Refugee Memoir,” by Minnesota author Kao Kalia Yang.

There’s quite a bit going on at Highland Park Library, but there’s even more going on in the building and its property. That’s because the library is part of the Highland Park Community Center. There’s an auditorium, gym, fitness center, walking track, craft room, and kitchen, all right there. Outside, there’s a playground, baseball field, two soccer fields, and two softball fields. 

A visit to Highland Park Library offers so much, it’s a good thing its neighborhood is growing!

Written by

Zach Miller
Head of Communications