MINNETONKA — Minnetonka senior Astrid Liden loves the library.

Liden says the public library has given her a lot in life and as she leaves Minnetonka High School and heads off to college, the library gave her one last parting gift.

When applying to colleges, Liden had to write several essays. She decided to write one of her essays about how the library has influenced her life — she spent a lot of time as a child there while her parents were struggling financially and needed access to information and computers. Today, Liden works at the Hennepin County Library in Hopkins, helping teens find the resources they need.

“The library was a really pivotal part of my life when we went through some financial struggles,” Liden told Lakeshore Weekly News. “When we were staying with friends, we didn’t really have our own place, we’d go to the library a lot so we could do work or finish up school work or so that my mom could look for things online. Even when I was younger and we were in a really good and positive situation, I would still use the library to read because I read a lot when I was a kid.”

When Liden found that her essay fit into the guidelines of the New York Times’ “Your Money” college essay contest — the topic has to pertain to work, money and social class — she sent her essay in without a second thought.

Linden never thought she’d get a call from Ron Lieber, the journalist in charge of the contest and who pens the New York Times’ “Your Money” column, telling her she’d be getting a byline in the New York Times. She is one of five students whose essays were chosen to run in the Times.

Liden believes the International Baccalaureate program — where she spent her junior and senior year at Minnetonka High School — is a main reason she felt compelled to submit her essay to the Times. The IB program, according to Liden, attracts students like her — students who never see anything as truly done, but as a project that can still be improved upon.

Once her essay was chosen for publication, it wasn’t an easy decision for Liden to allow the Times to publish it. Her writing contained a lot of personal information, things people didn’t know about her and her family. In the end, Liden decided that what she had written was a part of who she is, but it didn’t have to define her.

“I felt like this was part of my identity that encapsulated everything, and I realized that really fit into my identity and I shouldn’t feel ashamed,” Liden said. “I realized that I could have pride, too, without making it my identifying mark.”

Liden will attend Columbia University in the fall. She plans to study human rights or international relationships. While journalism was not on Liden’s radar, she has now started to think about the possibility of using her writing skills in an international setting to focus on human rights and immigration rights.

“I would for sure go to a country where my family has been affected like Venezuela, I would love to go back and work in journalism there once the situation gets better and journalism is allowed,” Liden said, noting she has family from Venezuela. “That is something that I am very interested in because I feel like so many people see it from the outside in a completely different light than people internally see it.”

Once in New York City for her freshman year at Columbia, Liden will have the opportunity to have breakfast at the New York Times, tour the paper’s facility, meet the journalist of her choice and sit in on a Page One meeting. Liden’s first choice for a journalist to speak with is Nick Kristof, who writes about human rights and global affairs, among other things.

Above all, Liden is happy her essay has started a conversation about public libraries and why they are important to communities. Liden says many economically well-to-do folks see the changing demographics as a challenge for libraries and as disadvantage.

But Liden disagrees. Although the way people use libraries has changed quite a bit with many looking to use computers rather than check out books, libraries still have the same mission — it’s about providing resources and education, she says.

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