Library manager will retire after 27 years

Click here to read about an open house honoring Mick Stoffers.

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

When Mick Stoffers interviewed for a job at the Elk River Library, she was asked how long she planned to stay in the position.

She told the interviewer she would know when it was time to leave.

Twenty-seven years later, Stoffers says it’s time.

Mick Stoffers is the branch manager at the Elk River LIbrary.

She is retiring as the library’s branch manager, a position she has held since 1987. She first began working at the library in 1985.

Asked what she has enjoyed about the job, Stoffers said: “I’ve liked the people. There are some amazing people in this town.”

Many are no longer just people who come into the library. They’ve also become friends, she said.

A new library, growing circulation, technology 

Stoffers has overseen many changes during her 27 years at the library, not the least of which is the facility itself.

The Elk River Library, located on Orono Parkway near City Hall, opened in 2007. Star News file photo

The old library, located at 413 Proctor Ave., was expanded in 1995. In 2007 the new library opened at 13020 Orono Parkway and the old library became an activity center for the city.

The new library is much more wired for technology, Stoffers said. It has 12 internet stations, compared to four at the old library, “and they’re busy all the time,” she said.

It also has about 25 percent more shelving space.

Despite technological advances, the demand for actual books has not gone away.

As Stoffers puts it:”It’s changed to a world of technology, but there’s a huge number of people who still want the book.”

The Elk River Library has access to about 900,000 items in the St. Cloud-based Great River Regional Library system, of which it is a part. In addition, through MnLINK Gateway the Elk River Library has access to any book in any public library in Minnesota.

During Stoffers’ tenure at the library, circulation — the number of materials checked out — has climbed.

In 1985 the Elk River Library’s circulation was 87,974; by 2011 that had increased to 323,299.

Technology has changed the way they operate.

Early on they punched cards manually when people checked out books. Now everything is computerized.

The library also carries fewer reference books, as people use the internet and computerized databases to find the information they need.

Now the library staff spends less time on reference questions and more time helping people find books and authors of interest to them.

Stoffers said among the library’s best-kept secrets are MnLINK and the number of databases available.

Library patrons have access to a wide variety of databases at the library or on their home computers. They include NoveList, which focuses on books and new bestsellers; EBSCO, which offers magazine and newspaper articles; HeritageQuest, which has searchable census information helpful to people doing genealogy research; InfoTrac, designed to help students with homework; LearningExpress Library, which allows people to take practice tests for things like ACT and SAT; and Chilton, which is used by people making vehicle repairs.

A farm girl, she has  an education degree

Stoffers grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota, 13 miles from the nearest town.

It was a family-oriented upbringing, with many aunts, uncles and cousins living in the area.

Every Saturday night they’d all get together. One of Stoffers’ favorite memories is of all her uncles gathered outside around a car, listening to a Twins game blaring on the car radio.

As a girl she liked to read and checked out books from her school’s library. Some of her favorites were the Little House on the Prairie series about Laura Ingalls Wilder and pioneer life.

Stoffers said they didn’t have indoor plumbing or running water in their house, so she could relate to Laura’s tales about her childhood.

“I must have read them over and over and, to this day, I could tell you where on the shelf in that school library those books were. I just couldn’t get enough of those things,” Stoffers said with a laugh.

After graduating from Bird Island High School, Stoffers went to St. Cloud State University. She got a degree in elementary education and married her husband, Steve Stoffers.

Early on in her career, she tutored a hearing-impaired student, worked as a substitute teacher and was the community education director in Bird Island. But it was library work that became her focus.

Stoffers was drawn into the library profession while living in Lake Lillian near Willmar. The librarian at the library there wanted to retire and asked Stoffers if she was interested in the job. “I was like, ‘Sure.’” Stoffers recalled with a chuckle.

It was while the Stoffers were living in Lake Lillian that they decided to move to Elk River. Steve was commuting to Minneapolis and they wanted to be closer to his work. Stoffers said they had driven through Elk River many times and seen its downtown. “It was a small town and it just looked like a nice place,” she said.

Not long after moving to Elk River, Stoffers started working at the Elk River Library. She said she has loved it and it worked out perfectly while raising their four children. All four are now adults. Angela is a social worker, Elizabeth is a biological archaeologist, Justin is a translator with the Air Force and Ashley is in medical school.

In retirement, Stoffers said she intends to continue hobbies she has long enjoyed such as knitting, quilting and reading. Among her favorite books are “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith and “Gift From the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Stoffers also would like to teach reading to adults who can’t read or teach English as a Second Language classes.

She and her husband like to travel as well. On her list of places she would like to go are India and China.

She commends city, and library employees

Stoffers  has  high praise for the people who work at the Elk River Library, and for the city for its support of the library.

She said the library’s employees are amazing and really do care about people and are dedicated to helping patrons get what they need.

And the city, she said, “gets it” when it comes to libraries.

People should know that they are really fortunate to live in a community where the city supports the library to the degree that it does in Elk River, Stoffers said.

Everything the library offers is free, and it has both recreational and educational opportunities that everyone can take advantage of and enjoy.

“They (city officials) really understand the importance of being able to provide information to people from the time they’re born until the time they die, really. It’s good that we live in a city that gets that,” Stoffers said.