The New London library/museum board has stepped off the plate to start a whole new ball game for the library’s future expansion.
The board hosted its first expansion meeting Nov. 15 at the library, inviting city council members and interested citizens of the library and museum. The agenda included an overview of the new plan, a tour of the current facilities, a power point presentation of The Past, The Present, and The Future, and an opportunity to address some questions at the end of the meeting.
Mayor Gary Henke reported on the city’s position with the library expansion. “The city is in good shape financially, however city council right now is afraid to borrow any money, and with good reason. With our debt limit at 16.6 percent, I’d say we’re doing a far cry better than Menasha with their 90 percent.”
“Over the past four years we have streamlined and kept our debt low. We can’t afford to do anything with this right now, but who knows,” said Henke, “in five or six years we may be able to.”
Board President Ron Steinhorst presented a new footprint for the new library, across the street from the existing building. He then put his money where his mouth was and announced a $35,000 personal gift to be used by the city for purchasing a part of the property across the street from the existing library and museum.
“We have to start moving forward,” said Steinhorst. “The overcrowding situation at both the library and museum isn’t going away. Even if the city is not ready yet, we can still get the ball rolling. I hope that others will step up. The board encourages open thinking to this big dilemma.”
That is not to say our beautiful library building will go to waste,” Steinhorst continued. “The museum could easily take over the entire Carnegie (library) building. We have more than enough artifacts to fill it.”
Museum Director Christine Cross illustrated that New London museum is over and above the caliber of any city museum of its size in the collection and artifacts found there. There are many ways, Cross said, that the museum could draw crowds into the city. Cross has ideas for programs that can be developed to put New London’s museum on the map once again.
“Both Milwaukee and the Madison museum’s envy us for our Native American Collections and other one-of-a-kind items. We as a community should be unabashed when it comes to our collection, and not be keeping it such a secret.” The museum will be working with other museums throughout the country to bring in traveling exhibits should the library be built, and the museum occupy the Carnegie building.
In a tour of the building, city council members and citizens got an eye-opening experience as to the limitations of the old building. Library Director Ann Hunt and Museum Director Cross gave their observations of space restrictions.
The lower level houses less than 3,000 square feet for the museum and contains one meeting room with a capacity of 40, which is booked consistently. Also downstairs is one small staff kitchen, one storage room for the library that is filled to capacity, one storage room for the museum, also filled to capacity. The furnace room takes up the remaining space.
Floor to ceiling bins are packed tightly in storage rooms and the library is forced to purge their book and children’s collections regularly to manage the collection.
The library, housed on the main level, is no longer purchasing audio or video items, as CD’s and DVDs have taken center stage in technology. There is no place for people to spend time at the library who would like to come to read. “We have no real teen space or adult space left here,” said Hunt. “It’s just all packed in with no place to sit unless you are at a computer.”
Hunt’s presentation included the fact that last year alone with the Outagamie Waupaca Library System (OWLS) exchange program, citizens borrowed 30,000 items and New London sent out 25,000 items. Hunt said that amounts to 10-11 bins of reading and listening material delivered each day. “Were it not for the OWLS program, our library could never keep up with demand from the public,” said Hunt. “It’s a fantastic sharing opportunity.” OWLS includes all libraries in Outagamie and Waupaca Counties and includes access to 50 additional libraries within the state.
There are eight school network computers setup in the library that are heavily used. Adults also use five computers for job searches, resume submissions and a plethora of additional uses. “Most companies are asking for resumes to be emailed now,” said Hunt. Computer access and training is a constant process in the library, which keeps library staff busy.
Hunt said that the keys to unlocking growth and change include bridging the digital divide. “We need a 21st century facility to house the 21st century technology in our midst. Seventy-six percent of homes now have a personal computer in them.” If anyone was to think back to when telephones came on the scene, the surge in usage must be comparable.
The Internal Revenue Service is bridging their technology gap and soon paper forms will be obsolete. If you don’t have a home computer, you will have to go to your local tax preparer or your local library to file your claim online.
The Ameritech building has been ruled out as an option to expanding the existing library building, as their fiberoptics were recently updated and that substation is there to stay. The nearly empty block across the street from the existing library/museum buildings is the site selected by the board.
“This location keeps everything central in our city,” says Diane Dorow, vice president of the board. “Having the museum on one side of the road and the library on the other makes perfect sense. Having some sort of a pedestrian walkway to the two places is an element we can develop in our planning.”
Steinhorst said he saw this this panning out into three phases. The first thing is to acquire the sites for the new library. This can be done like so many things have been done in this city, with endowments, fundraisers and matching funds. Grant writing may also come into play at one time or another.
“I am excited on this first step in what can be a revitalization not only to our library and museum, but also a step to invigorating a community image,” said Steinhorst. “An old adage speaks of opportunity striking only once; at this point the opportunity is here; can we take advantage of it?”