Message from Catherine Penkert, Library Director

It continues to be a time of great change in the world, and here at Saint Paul Public Library (SPPL) is no different. I will be stepping away from my role as director to make room for another leader of a library system that holds such a special place in our community. It has truly been the honor of a lifetime to serve you in leading libraries, particularly during the historic time of a global pandemic and racial reckoning.

My tenure at SPPL began in 2018 by having conversations with community and staff about their hopes, wants, and dreams – for libraries and beyond. The perspectives you shared informed SPPL’s plans for the future: a new mission, vision, values, strategic direction, and a facilities direction that have charted our path forward.

I am proud of the vision we have built together and of our accomplishments as a team. You, our library users, are at the center of building a library system that welcomes all people to connect, learn, discover, and grow.

We have done that by eliminating late fines to ensure libraries are accessible to everyone in our community. Innovative programs like Drag Story Hour and Read Brave allow everyone to see themselves in libraries and push us to have crucial conversations as a city. In partnerships, we opened Career Labs to support job seekers and offered TechPaks to connect people to broadband when our lives went digital during 2020.

We are investing in a culture-first Community Services approach to developing library services by, with, and for the Black, Hmong, Latinx, Karen, and Somali communities. We are shifting toward a community-first public safety practice by embedding social workers and community ambassadors in libraries and training staff on de-escalation and trauma-sensitive approaches.

With you, our community, we have built an inspiring vision for libraries as essential public spaces. We are finalizing schematic designs for three long-overlooked libraries and will begin construction on one of them, a new Hamline Midway Library, next year.

Mayor Carter’s proposed budget for 2023, which now moves to City Council for discussion and approval, suggests big investment in libraries. SPPL sits on a strong foundation for the next leader to build upon.

Beginning September 17, Barb Sporlein, deputy director, will serve as interim director.

While I will be leaving this role, I’m still a proud Saint Paul resident and library user. I’m deeply grateful for our Saint Paul community. It has been an honor to serve you.