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Linda and Glenn Goecke have packed dozens of library visits into the past four years. But they weren't checking out books. They were checking out libraries.

To be sure, the Minnetonka couple occasionally took home a book or two. But the visits, begun in 2019, were part of a "tour de library," which included trips to all 41 locations in the Hennepin County Library system, beginning with Penn Lake in the southeast corner of the county and ending with Central Library in downtown Minneapolis.

The idea occurred to Glenn, 86, and Linda, 81, on a trip to a recycling center.

"We drove by Penn Lake and thought, 'Hmm, that looks interesting. Let's check it out,' and we went to a couple more in the area. And we just kept going," said Glenn, who is retired from a job in information systems.

"It's amazing how it became more and more interesting. You live in one little area and you're familiar with that area but not others. So we started to figure out, 'OK, we'll go to this library and then we'll be near these three others.' We started to get more organized," said Linda, a retired administrative assistant who shelved books at Wayzata, Long Lake and Eden Prairie libraries in 1989-91.

Linda began keeping a journal with notes on each library. Roughly their 10th visit was to Arvonne Fraser, near Dinkytown, in February 2020. They made plans to attend an upcoming presentation about its Ralph Rapson design. But COVID intervened, putting the presentation — and their project — on hold.

When they finished last month, the Goeckes exchanged high-fives with Central librarians and joined a select group of tour de library completists.

The Goeckes, who aren't much for social media (they don't have smartphones), assumed they were the first to visit all 41 libraries. But they learned differently. Linda said she'd be intrigued to meet fellow library fans now that she knows there's a community out there.

It's tough to count how many people have paid visits to every library in the county since it's something patrons can do on their own. But for at least a decade, library officials have been aware of patrons hitting all 41, including Rosa Marroquin, who rode her bike to them.

"We love to hear stories like this and hope more residents will explore the library system. There's so much to discover," said Hennepin County Library Director Scott Duimstra. "Visiting one library can give you a sense of a community, but visiting the entire system gives you a perspective on how we are all connected."

Linda and Glenn Goecke made their way through the aisles Thursday, October 19, 2023, at Central Library in Minneapolis, Minn.
Linda and Glenn Goecke made their way through the aisles Thursday, October 19, 2023, at Central Library in Minneapolis, Minn.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Occasionally, when the Goeckes told library employees or patrons what they were doing, they'd hear of others who had similar adventures. They also learned of a "41 club" among Hennepin librarians, whose elite members have worked at every single location.

Although the Goeckes — who moved to Minnesota from Illinois 38 years ago — declined to name a favorite library, a few stick out. Glenn fell for architecture, so he cites Roosevelt Library, which brought to mind Prairie school structures (it's technically Tudor Revival); Pierre Bottineau, which uses parts of the old Grain Belt brewery campus; and tiny St. Bonifacius, the western-most library, which reminded him of the one-room schoolhouse he attended as a kid.

"It's the cutest little building," said Linda, who's a fan of the three Carnegie libraries in the system, including Hosmer (Franklin and closed-for-renovation Sumner are the others), and of Webber Park, which was rebuilt and reopened in 2017.

"We'd always go during the day, so they weren't too busy. When the librarians would ask, 'Can I help you?' which they usually would, we'd tell them what we were doing and they were so enthusiastic," said Linda.

Knocking off as many as four in a day, the Goeckes learned that today's libraries are about a lot more than books. One surprise was not on the shelves, but on the walls.

"The artwork is very interesting in a lot of them. The Wayzata library has a big stained-glass window," said Glenn.

"No," interjected Linda. "That was the Plymouth library. I know it was." (She's right.)

"It's beautiful and it has these quotes on it, made by various writers. It's very impressive. Each library has art that is unique to the library," said Glenn.

Linda also was struck by subtle differences between branches. The Walker, in Uptown, has an inviting play area where they saw grandparents and kids playing together. Many libraries have bags of food for those who need them. A display at the Brookdale location brought Linda up short about the world we live in today and its impact on young people.

"It was called 'Tough Topics,' in the teen section and, unfortunately, you can guess the topics: gun violence, racism. I thought it was unfortunate to have all these books on gun violence but here we are. We need them," said Linda, who took home a couple of "Tough Topics" titles for further study.

They found lots of Russian literature at the Golden Valley location and DVDs in numerous languages, including Arabic, Somali, Hindi and Spanish at Walker.

"We just learned we didn't know a lot about our community and about how lucky we are to have this library system," said Linda, who often brought along a large manila folder labeled "Library Visit Project."

The Goeckes like to have an activity (when their kids were young, they tried to visit all of the county's parks). And, because their son lives near Rondo, they've already knocked off one of the 13 St. Paul libraries (there are seven others in Ramsey County).

Maybe the east metro is on the horizon?

"Oh, I don't know," said Glenn. "But we are trying to figure out what to focus on next."

How to Tour de Library

If you're thinking about launching your own library tour, the Goeckes offer some things to think about:

Scenery: Usually, it's what is inside a library that is compelling, but Glenn said to be sure to look outside. The Wayzata branch, for instance, is most scenic, in his view: "It's on top of a hill and the view looks out over the lake."

Circumnavigate: "We usually walked all the way around the library to start with. You see a lot of interesting displays," said Linda, adding that a full loop helps you get your bearings in unfamiliar libraries.

Geography: "Do them in groups. We tried to map them out ahead of time," said Glenn, the official Goecke driver.

Photography: "I like to take pictures, but I didn't. I wish we had taken more of them. Don't know why we didn't," said Glenn.