A Bold Re-Design of the Teen Space

In 2014, teens started showing up at the downtown library in increasing numbers, and the youth librarians were delighted to welcome them. But the librarians soon realized they had a wonderful problem: There was not enough furniture in the teen space to accommodate the number of teens who were coming to the library to read, do homework, and hang out with friends.

Discussions with Library Manager Carla Powers and Youth Services staff brought about an idea: to re-design the teen space, bringing in lime green and sky blue furniture, a vibrant new carpet, and an edgy mural that would identify it as a place specifically for teens. Once the idea was conceived and a budget developed, the Foundation sought funding to make it happen.

As the school year began, the new area was revealed to the public—to the delight of teenagers.

Harbor City International School senior Sara Walsh, who was at the unveiling, said, “I’ve been coming here since, like, sixth grade, so I’ve seen it go from worn-down couches with holes in them to this.”

She added, “I’m so happy.”

High school students pose in the library’s new Teen Space the day it was unveiled in 2014.

Perchance to Dream

“Good night, sweet prince.” With these words from Hamlet, Rebecca Killen Hawthorne ended the eulogy for her father, attorney John Killen, in July 2013. It was a fitting farewell for a man who relished the works of Shakespeare, referencing them often, and who loved the English language that Shakespeare enriched by his writing.

“He was known to have quoted Shakespeare in his closing arguments in court,” recalled his widow, Elaine Killen, with a smile. The highlight of a visit to London was the side trip he and Elaine made to Stratford-on-Avon, to see a performance of The Tempest; in his library, John had a collection of books by and about the Bard.

So when Elaine considered how to honor the memory of her late husband, one of the ideas that suggested itself was to add his name to the William Shakespeare section of the Duluth Library Foundation donor wall at the library. She timed her gift to arrive on May 4, 2014—on what would have been his 87th birthday. Her gift was added to the permanent endowment, where it will continue to benefit the library into perpetuity.

“He lived a life framed by Shakespeare,” said Elaine. “It is nice to see his name beside that of William Shakespeare.”

John and Elaine Killen.

O’Keefe, the Library Cat

Soon after the Duluth Public Library opened its new building on Superior Street and 5th Avenue West in 1980, it added a new member to its staff: a long-haired black cat named O’Keefe.

Biz White, who worked in Adult Services, had a friend who was moving and could not take O’Keefe with her. White mentioned it to Janet Schroeder, who was the library director at the time. “We decided to hire her to be a mouser,” recalls Schroeder. She wasn’t aware of any mice in the building, she said. “But if we had any, she got them.”

O’Keefe was not particularly friendly. The staff took care of her, though: she had a litter box in the staff locker room, and people took turns emptying it.

Laura Fournier recalls that the staff developed a discreet public address system code phrase, “Mrs. O’Keefe to the Circulation Desk,” to signal if there were trouble somewhere in the library, although they never had occasion to use it. This would communicate to staff that a problem needed to be attended to without worrying the public.

O’Keefe lived on the lower floor of the library and prowled mostly in staff areas. She soon proved invaluable in solving another problem: bats in the library.

Evidently, during the construction of the building, some bats had made a home in the library and were now trapped. The library featured a motion-activated security system. When the bats flew through the building at night, they triggered the alarm. The library had a problem.

Things changed once O’Keefe arrived.

A custodian, Mairie Lind, witnessed O’Keefe in action early one morning and told Schroeder about it. “O’Keefe took off and made a one-pawed swipe–and that was the end of the bat.”


Janet Schroeder, former director of the Duluth Public Library and one of the Duluth Library Foundation founders.
No one has a photo of O’Keefe, so we are including a photo of another book-loving cat, Indigo, instead.