Roseville's Patrick Coleman: Shutdown Has Hurt History Center, Historic Sites
Senior curator says government state shutdown has denied researchers access to History Center Library; kids access to historic sites.
On Facebook, Patrick Coleman invites his friends to “chill” with him and his dog Finbar on Lake McCarrons in Roseville until the state reopens for business.
But privately, Coleman, the senior curator of the Minnesota Historical Society Library, said the state government shutdown is nothing to joke about. “I’ve spent more than 30 years building that library,” he said. “It’s the crown jewel of the Minnesota libraries. There’s nothing like it.”
Writers, researchers, students, and ordinary people tracing family histories come from across the state and nation to use the library’s resources: books, newspapers, sports histories, business histories,extensive legislative records and archives from school districts. Those resources are not available because they are deemed non-essential during the shutdown.
“The week before we shut down, I was helping a professor from Augsburg College with some very important work,” Coleman continued. “He was researching the history of the Nonpartisan League. He’d received some important grant to do this research. Now he can’t get into the library.”
Like most state agencies, the Minnesota Historical Society is operating with a skeleton crew. Ordinarily a total of 730 full-time and part-time employees staff the History Center and historic sites. That number has been reduced to 20, according to Lory Sutton, marketing director.
The center and historic sites ordinarily serve 830,000 visitors annually, as well as 250,000 students.
“This is where I switch hats from being a MHS employee to being a grandpa,” Coleman said. “I want to take my grandkids to Fort. Snelling or one of the state parks and historic sites, because we can blend entertainment and education. What a fun thing to do on summer day. But it’s off the table now.”
Coleman said he often shares his frustrations with his brother, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. “We usually don’t talk in depth, but we share our concerns,” he said. “Chris has been very concerned about the possible loss of local government aid from the state.”
When asked how his how his father, the late Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Nick Coleman, handled conflict when he was a leader in the 1970s, Patrick Coleman replied, “What I recall is that there was always, always conflict between the governor and the Legislature and between the parties. And yet, as a young person, I would meet my dad … and he’d be having lunch with Stanley Holmquist. [Holmquist, of Grove City, was the leader of the Conservative Caucus in the Senate.] Here are these guys fighting on the floor of the Senate like they were worst of enemies, and then, at lunch, they were telling dirty jokes.
"These people liked each other. Nobody thought anybody was the enemy. It wasn’t good versus evil.”
Coleman wouldn’t comment on the proposed compromise to the legislative stalemate offered by a panel of civic and business leaders organized by former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Gov. Arne Carlson. But he was glad the leaders stepped in and offered a solution.
“We have so many Mondale papers in our library," Coleman said. "All you have to do is look at the volume of his papers to see that there is no one else alive in Minnesota politics with this kind of record. He’s a giant. And much the same can be said for Arne Carlson. What a servant. I’m glad they cared enough to weigh in.”
Coleman has lived on Lake McCarrons for more than 20 years. He rows his canoe around the lake every day in the summer and fall. But he’s not happy to have the break from work the shutdown offers.
“I’ve met with my colleagues, and we all feel exactly the same way. I’m not enjoying a moment of this time off. My stomach has been in knots for days now. I woke up at 5 a.m. today (Friday) nervous about not going to work.
"It’s not just whether I’m working or not," Coleman said. "Other than the living, breathing things like my family and my dog, the thing I care about the most is the Historical Society Library. It’s consumed the best part of my life and for good reason. It deserves that attention. When I’m working, I acquire many books. When I’m not there, I worry about what I’m missing. What will be there for posterity?