Historic St. Paul library to close to public next month

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The James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul is closing to the public next month due to a lack of money. But, after nearly a century, it’s an amazing space many people don’t even know exists.

"Every day, we get people walking in. 'I’m a lifelong resident of St. Paul. They’re in their 50s or 60s and say 'I never knew this place existed,'" said Tamara Prato, the executive director for the library.

The James J. Hill Reference Library opened in 1921, largely under the radar, even after a century. Inside, it’s nearly exactly as it was almost a century ago.

"Other than the elevator," adds Prato. "The chair I’m sitting in is from 1918."

It was James J. Hill’s vision to offer things that local entrepreneurs and scholars couldn’t get.

"Mr. Hill was very clear in his original intent that this was to be unique and distinct from the public library," added Barry Gisser with the library's Board of Directors.

Operated as a standalone nonprofit marketed in recent years as a business center and a wedding reception venue, they can no longer afford to keep it open.

"It’s been a real challenge for libraries of all sorts," says Gisser.

It will close to the public on July 3, but, in the meantime, all options are on the table. Can the library find new funding? Or should the space find a new tenant and a new purpose?

"We’re going to look at all opportunities," said Prato. "All partnership opportunities."

In the meantime, news of its closing is bringing in more people who didn’t know it was even here.