Better Jobs. Better Lives. Better Community.

Gratia Countryman: Library Heroine


Initially, the North Branch Library was run by James Hosmer, who was the head of the library system at the time.

Soon, Hosmer went to the University of Minnesota and said, “I need two of your brightest students who will not be in the professions.” At the time, that meant students who were not training to be doctors, lawyers, etc. Students in this category would most likely be women. The talented and ambitious Gratia Countryman was introduced to Hosmer, and he hired her.

Countryman was the daughter of immigrant farmers and lived from 1886 to 1953. She led the library system for 32 years, from 1904 – 1936. Countryman was passionate about the library as a democratic institution.

Countryman’s most important innovations in the North Branch library and the library system in Minneapolis include:

  • First open shelf library in the country
  • First children’s library room in the region
  • The idea for the bookmobile
  • Open public meeting space for the community, on the lower level

Gratia Countryman pioneered many ways to make the library more accessible and user-friendly to all of the city’s residents, regardless of age or economic position. We are certain that she would be pleased to know that her beloved North Branch Library is again providing critical resources to a community that needs them, in the form of the EMERGE Career and Technology Center.


EMERGE Community Development  |  1834 Emerson Avenue North  |  Minneapolis, MN 55411

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