Hanska Library Connects Community Members to Each Other and the Internet

Most people think of buying books when they want to support a library. But a generous couple from outstate Minnesota had a broader vision. When they established a permanent endowment with the Catholic Community Foundation (CCF), they directed a portion of the grants to “bricks and mortar” projects at local libraries.

Having been active at her local library, the wife understood how important libraries are to building community — and the difficulty small communities have in raising money to build libraries.

Charged with making the first grant on behalf of the anonymous donors, CCF program officer Meg Payne Nelson turned to Ann Hokanson, executive director of the Traverse des Sioux Library Cooperative for a recommendation. “I immediately thought of Hanska,” said Ann, whose organization serves the area where the donors had lived. “They’ve worked so hard to raise money for their library.”

A community in need of connection

Located approximately 100 miles southwest of the Twin Cities, Hanska, Minnesota, is a tiny town with two main roads that intersect near the post office. For many of Hanska’s 378 residents, accessing high-speed internet is a challenge.

Established 35 years ago, the Hanska Community Library had moved five times in its history and had been “temporarily” housed in the Hanska Community Center for a number of years. Every time the community center was rented for a community event, the 5,000 books in the library collection had to be rolled into storage.

For Hanska Library Director Darlene Nelson, finding a permanent home for the library had become something of a crusade. A lifelong reader and longtime resident of Hanska, Darlene knew the importance of a library to the town. “We don’t have a school here anymore,” said Darlene. “There had to be a place for the kids to go.”

In addition to writing hundreds of appeal letters and grant applications in her “spare” time, Darlene called upon every resource imaginable to raise the $55,000 needed to turn a former car dealership into a working library.

“She’s a force of nature,” said Ann. “If you were anywhere in the surrounding area and didn’t know Hanska needed money for the library, you were dead.”

“We did everything from musical shows, silent auctions, quilt raffles, and spaghetti dinners to selling pie cards for Baker’s Square and a wine/beer tasting for Schell’s Brewery,” explained Darlene. “We took advantage of each opportunity.”

Darlene was particularly gratified when a $12,000 grant from CCF provided the funds needed to finish the project, “When Ann told me there was a lady who wanted to donate to small rural libraries, it was such a nice surprise.”

“Libraries rarely get money to finish a job that’s already in progress,” agreed Ann.

A new home for Hanska’s books and community members

In May of 2018, the Hanska library made its final move from the community center to its new location on Main Street. The new library features a renovated bathroom, baseboard heating, dropped ceilings, and fiber-optic cable for broadband internet and Wi-Fi.

Use of the library has quadrupled since the move — even after hours. “People sometimes wonder why kids are hanging around the library all times of the day,” said Darlene. “They’re not up to any mischief, they’re just using the Wi-Fi to play games or finish their homework.”

Seniors are also regular visitors and users of library services. The library has become a hub for community groups of all kinds. Since her retirement in August, Darlene has become an active member of the Seasoned Citizens Book Club she herself established 10 years ago.

While Darlene’s work may be done, the community spirit she mustered will live on permanently at the Hanska Community Library.