‘Club Book’ organizers defend pricey allocation
by Betsy Sundquist
Published: April 23,2010
Time posted: 2:59 pm
The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, approved by voters in 2008, was a financial windfall for supporters of the state’s wildlife and wetlands, drinking water, arts, history and cultural heritage.
And for Neil Gaiman.
The 2009 Newbery Award-winning author earned $45,000 — all of it coming directly from so-called legacy-amendment funds — for an appearance a week ago at Stillwater Junior High School in the kickoff event of Club Book, a project of the Metropolitan Library Services Agency. The project brings well-known national and regional authors to Twin Cities-area libraries by tapping into the arts and cultural heritage fund portion of legacy-amendment funds.
Gaiman, who lives in Green Lake, Wis., slightly more than 230 miles from Stillwater, spoke to approximately 500 people on a pleasant Minnesota Sunday afternoon. He brought along his dogs, who sat in the audience during his presentation — which was free to the public — and afterward presided over a “meet and greet” with fans.
(Update: Gaiman says he’s “never been” to Green Lake and, in fact, lives even closer to Stillwater — only a half-hour away.)
Gaiman is a prolific and popular author of science fiction, graphic novels and comics who earned the 2009 Newbery for “The Graveyard Book.” He posted this update on his Facebook page after the Stillwater appearance:
“The Stillwater event was really brilliant: intimate and nice. I think I enjoyed it every bit as much as the people there did. I even did a meet and greet.”
Chris Olson, director of the Metropolitan Library Services Agency (MLSA) and one of those who helps oversee the $4.25 million in legacy amendment funds that were allocated to the state’s regional public library systems, admitted last week that he was somewhat taken aback when he learned the amount of Gaiman’s fee for the Stillwater event.
“Frankly, yes, I was surprised,” Olson said. “That was my immediate reaction.”
But Olson said he and the others charged with distributing the library legacy amendment funds — $150,000 of which was earmarked for the Club Book project — carefully weighed coughing up the $45,000 fee against the potential benefits.
“We thought about the type of audience that he would attract, and the sort of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make this happen,” he said. “This was a new metrowide event, and we knew this would bring media attention to it and enhance the other programs that would happen after this one.
“I think we pretty seriously weighed whether we wanted to do it, and we came to the conclusion that it would work.”
Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, said she wasn’t familiar with the MLSA’s plan for the Club Book series, and she has little knowledge of speaking fees for well-known authors.
“I’m not familiar with the going rate for the author series, and I have no clue what the cost is to bring in an author,” said Smith, who helped shepherd the arts and heritage angle of the legacy amendment. “I’m assuming that there might be quite a spectrum.
“I guess it depends on what the curatorial vision is for the series and why you’d choose certain authors over others.”
Gaiman’s inaugural appearance kicked off a schedule that includes upcoming Club Book appearances by other nationally recognized authors, most of whom also live close to Minnesota.
The main difference between the appearances of those authors and that of Gaiman, according to Olson: Their fees are “significantly less” than Gaiman’s.
“It varies between $2,000 and $3,000 for the other authors,” he said. “And sometimes when they’re on their book tours, they ask for even less because they want to promote their books.”
Olson, who has served on the American Library Association’s governing council, noted that such heavy-hitter speakers as former Vice President Al Gore and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright charged the group $60,000 to $75,000 for speeches.
Olson also said timing considerations — the amendment was approved in late 2008, but didn’t become law until July 2009 and the money, intended to be spent over a biennium, wasn’t allocated until last October — forced library managers to operate under a compressed timeline.
“That was another incidental factor,” Olson said. “Libraries are the only group [among those receiving legacy amendment funds] that don’t have the ability to roll over these dollars from year one to year two of the biennium, so we had a fairly large pot of money that we had to spend by June 30, 2010.”
Olson said MLSA expects to receive the same amount in the next round of allocations, and that it will likely continue the Club Book program in the fall.
Patricia Conley, director of the Washington County Library in Woodbury, also defended Gaiman’s $45,000 fee, though she admitted that she, too, was somewhat surprised by the requested amount.
“I don’t have a problem with having the people of Washington County benefit from this program,” she said. “This is not money that was going to be spent on operating libraries. This is money that was given to regional library systems so they could have arts and cultural heritage programming.
“The people of Washington County paid that money, and they had every right to see it spent in their community, with all the attendant benefits. People stayed after the event and had dinner. People came out and enjoyed Stillwater. While it’s a large fee, whenever you bring in a major national star, it costs money.”
Yet, despite Olson’s and Conley’s assurances that Gaiman’s Club Book kickoff appearance was worth the price, at least one librarian (who requested anonymity) expressed outrage over the expenditure.
“I am a librarian and on the library side, supposedly, but this makes my blood boil,” the librarian said. “This is ridiculous. There are people who need food and who have lost their homes, and this is just plain disgusting.”
Club Book’s author appearance schedule
The writers who will split the remaining Club Book allotment of $105,000 left after Gaiman’s payout:
• Frances Mayes, author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” May 4 at the Stafford Library in Woodbury and May 5 at the Southdale Library.
• Minnesota native and memoirist Patricia Hampl, May 19 at the Stillwater Library, July 8 at the Southdale Library and July 9 at the Chaska Community Center.
• Minnesota native Tim O’Brien, author of “The Things They Carried,” May 21 at the Chaska Community Center and May 22 at the Schwan Event Center in Blaine.
• Wisconsin resident Jane Hamilton, author of “The Book of Ruth,” June 3 at the Southdale Library, June 4 at the Chaska Community Center and June 5 at the Highland Park Library in St. Paul.
• Michael Perry, a Wisconsin author who writes humorous memoirs, June 10 at the Ridgedale Library in Minnetonka and July 19 at the Shakopee Library.
• Garrison Keillor, June 14 at the Maplewood Library and June 15 at the Schwan Event Center in Blaine.
• Kate DiCamillo, author of “Because of Winn Dixie” and other children’s books, June 19 at the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley.
• Playwright Kevin Kling, Aug. 18 at the Stillwater Library and Aug. 26 at the Maplewood Library.