Library Of The Year

In 1971 the Wisconsin Library Association named Mrs. Margaret L. McCourt the Library Trustee of the Year 1970.

In 1971 the McMillan Memorial Library received an Architectural Award from the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Institute of Architects with the citation presented to the library's architects.

In 1979 the Wisconsin Library Association honored the McMillan Memorial Library with the Clarence E. Lester Memorial Award for Library of the Year.

Such honors might have made the decade of the 1970s one of the happiest in the library's history, but these years were also filled with continuing concerns.

The first was the escalating problem of who should pay for non-resident use of the library. This had been debated for years, yet it seemed to come as a shock when, in 1971, the city's Finance and Budget Committee told the Library Board to notify neighboring communities that they must now contract for their residents' library service.

There followed over a year of meetings between the library trustees and officials of villages and towns in South Wood County. By state law, no member of a library board could be paid for his or her service, yet week after week the members attended special meetings with city, town, and village officials. Such meetings were aimed at clarifying misconceptions and finding solutions.

It was an ironic situation. Financially the McMillan Library had nothing to lose if county residents decided not to support it or use it. But to bar county borrowers went against one of the main purposes the library had pursued since 1890: the purpose of making its resources available to the whole area. No library board ever worked harder to keep that purpose alive.

Eventually officials in the area began to accept the situation, and seven of the nine villages and towns signed contracts with the McMillan Library, but by this time the whole situation was changing.

In June, 1973, the Wisconsin State Legislature voted to establish public library systems and a program of state aid to support them. Some financial aid was to be distributed in central Wisconsin by a newly created Wisconsin Valley Library Service, and Wood County would distribute its share through the new County Library Committee.

In August of that year, the Wood County Board of Supervisors accepted responsibility for county-wide library service by passing the following resolution:

WHEREAS, the primary objective of 1973 is to provide for legal access to public library services for all residents of the county with equitable financial support for such services, and

WHEREAS, this can be accomplished by county funding of public library services for residents of cities, villages, and towns not maintaining a public library,

NOW, THEREFORE, be it resolved that... a county levy for library service be made in 1973 for use in 1974.

It was also resolved that cities and villages that maintained libraries would be exempt from the levy. Funding the service would be made from the state aid and from the county levy.

The contracts with the villages and towns were now no longer in effect. During the next years progress was made in having the County Library Committee recognize that the McMillan Library provided seventy percent of all of the library services given to Wood County residents living outside of the municipalities that maintained libraries. This means seventy percent of ALL such services given by ALL of the county's libraries combined.

County support was designated for on-going expenses while cash grants from the library system were granted for specific additional library services. The McMillan Library used its system-grants to provide a book-van service for the elderly, the handicapped, shut-ins, and those in the county jail. Today that van makes regular visits to three area nursing homes (Riverview Manor, Edgewater Haven, and Family Heritage), to apartments for the elderly, and to local shut-ins. Library staff and volunteers help distribute the materials. The van also services the county jail and provides supplemental collections under contract to the Arpin, Pittsville and Vesper libraries.

It is all reminiscent of the days of the J. D. Witter Free Traveling Libraries and of the T. B. Scott Library's efforts to establish branches to serve county residents.

A second concern during the 1970s was the Lincoln High School students' use of the public library for non-library purposes.

The situation was created by the overcrowding at Lincoln High School. To illustrate: that building (now East Junior High School), in 1989, served seven-hundred junior high school students. At one point in the 1970s however, it was packed with twenty-two hundred high school students.

To handle this overcrowding, the school administration resorted to Senior Privileges, released study periods, and open noon hours. This meant that the nearby McMillan Library became a daytime student hangout with resulting loitering, littering, and vandalism. The costs for such day-time vandalism were heavy, and regular library work suffered because so much staff time had to be spent on supervision or on meetings with school authorities, police and insurance adjustors.

The problem was not completely solved until, in 1979, Lincoln High School moved to its new building and the East Junior High School was located in the old building. Both schools could finally have closed campuses, and the public library could now play its rightful role in providing ancillary services to the splendid Instructional Media Center at Lincoln High School and in working closely with Miss Janice Sisley, its director.

Again the irony is evident. From its beginning, the public library had aimed at helping young people gain a lifelong habit of using the library's resources. Yet, during the 1970s, the staff had been forced to become disciplinarians instead of friendly guides.

In spite of these concerns, the staff went forward with new programs. A rental collection of framed art prints was established; audio-visual materials multiplied; and the Lions Club continued its wonderful work of providing help to the visually impaired.

The All-Purpose Room was being used as planned for meetings of community organizations, library sponsored discussion groups, and for art exhibits. The Fine Arts Center offered the River Cities Film series, small touring theater groups, concerts and lectures. All of these were experimental - testing the public's preferences. And all of them were helped by the volunteer efforts of the Friends of the Library.

This organization had become a partner of the library in promoting library activities. It helped host library social events, conducted tours, and provided guides for art shows. Its own meetings promoted the works of local writers; its many gifts to the library included funds for purchases at the Hopa Tree Art Festival, equipment for the library's serving area, and framed art prints for the rental collection.

During this period of ever increasing library activity in 1973, came news of Mrs. Burt's death. At the services held in Wisconsin Rapids, Mrs. Milton Schneider represented the Library Board of Trustees in delivering the eulogy. Her beautiful words ended with a rededication of the library to "this fragile giant - its principal donor":

"May the library reflect her generosity and vision, her warmth and concern for human needs, her flexibility and capacity for growth.

May it serve to encourage and liberate - to add beauty and depth to the lives of others."

Mrs. Burt's will included a bequest to the library of another three-thousand shares of Consolidated Papers stock and thirty-percent of the residue of the estate. This nearly doubled the endowment fund, and in 1977, Mr. Jack Gennaro, treasurer of the Board, made two suggestions. One was that the yearly income, which was then about thirty-thousand dollars, be added to undesignated gifts, memorials, and bequests to be put in a Special Projects Endowment Fund that would be used by the Board for added services and resources. Up to this time, the annual income had been added to the principal and reinvested. The Common Council fully agreed that the entire endowment was under the sole control of the Board and was not to be used for ongoing operational expenses.

A second suggestion was that the endowment fund be handled through an investment management agreement with an appropriate financial institution. The principal was to be preserved. Both suggestions were accepted, and the McMillan Library Special Projects Endowment Fund was created. The same financial arrangements were made for handling the Witter Book Fund and the Carl Vaughn Book Fund of fifty-thousand dollars. This latter fund had been created by the son of one of the first library trustees.

When Mr. Gennaro retired from the Board, it was with the sincere gratitude of the trustees for his work as treasurer as well as for his efforts in formulating the plans for the theater facilities.

Miss Dudgeon retired in 1975 and was succeeded by Mr. Ramon Hernandez, previously director of the T. B. Scott Library in Merrill, Wisconsin. Mr. Hernandez was followed by Mr. William Wilson, formerly the assistant administrator of the Winding Rivers Library System, headquartered in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

A word should be said about these three librarians. They served and are serving in a period of phenomenal change and growth in library services, both nationally and locally.

Miss Dudgeon did the first truly professional work of creating an outstanding book collection, and she was indispensable during the construction of the new library. Mr. Hernandez helped develop the potential of the building by fostering activities that made it an area cultural center. Mr. Wilson is meeting the challenge of today's information explosion and computer revolution and is preparing the library for its second century of revolutionary changes.

During Mr. Hernandez's first year, in 1975, the long awaited organization of a theater group came about under the skilled leadership of Miss Cathy Meils. She enlisted the enthusiastic support of the new library director; Mr. Hernandez, and the Board gave its support by waiving rental fees. A representative of the Board was placed on the Board of Directors of the new Community Company of Players - now the Wisconsin Rapids Community Theatre.

According to William Young, one of the dedicated members of the organization, this group was composed of "ordinary people who like to see magic".

And magic has happened as these far-from-ordinary people have now produced fifteen seasons of plays and musicals in the McMillan Library's little theater.

Another cooperative relationship began when Mrs. Marie McIntosh started to form what has become the Arts Council of South Wood County. The library director not only worked on the project, but also found a way to provide space in the library for the Council's office.

An important outgrowth of the cooperative efforts of the Arts Council, the library, and the Friends of the Library has been the series of co-sponsored traveling art exhibits from such prestigious sources as the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, and the George Eastman House. The Arts Council also brought about a six-weeks residency of actors and crew members from the world renowned Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Two sculptures, Enlightenment and Space Station by Paul Yank were commissioned by the Council for the McMillan Library.

The expanded series of exhibitions were made possible by changes in the lower lobby. Previously, valuable art shows could not be shown in the lobby or All-Purpose Boom without constant supervision. This was supplied by volunteers from the American Association of Retired Teachers, the Brush and Palette Art Club, the Hopa City Art Club and the American Association of Retired People.

Now a reception desk that also served as a communications center was installed in the lobby, and loitering and vandalism came under control. Track lighting was added to the lobby, and a terrarium was placed under the turn of the stairway. The area now presented a show of colorful plants, cases of fully secured exhibits, a reception area, and well-lighted art shows that featured both national and local artists.

All of these improvements, plus part of the costs of the traveling exhibits were paid for from the Special Projects Endowment Fund. This fund also financed the security system which was installed in the upper lobby - a system which has paid for itself by cutting down the cost of replacing stolen materials. The greatly expanded audiovisual collections, the first computerized cataloging project (OCLC), many specialized reference works and special productions presented in the Fine Arts Center were also paid for by the Endowment Fund during this period.

The fund has also been used to purchase the library's first microcomputers, and to help the Heart O' Wisconsin Genealogical Society in its wonderful work of cataloging the county's cemeteries and indexing local newspapers. The library and this organization have formed an excellent working relationship.

Another working partner has been the Yard and Garden Club. When the library occupied the former Witter residence, this club kept the urns filled with colorful plants; in the McMillan building it has provided an ever changing display of fresh floral arrangements for the upper lobby.

The past years of work in both the adult and children's departments were now showing outstanding results. Under the direction of Mrs. Helen Remaly, the children's department experienced unprecedented growth in every area of service: book circulation, school visits to the library, staff visits to the schools, pre-school story hours, and summer reading programs.

These latter became more challenging each year. Just as an example, the Star Worlds program of 1980 involved children in activities touching on space exploration, astronomy, space technology, and science fiction. While a model Gemini space capsule rested on its pad in the children's room and a map of the solar system covered a wall, such visitors as Darth Vader and R2D2 came to the room to chat with the enthralled young readers. A model rocket launch closed the season's stimulating program.

A second area, the adult department, was now reaching a level commensurate with the needs of the business community. Expanded reference resources such as directories, specialized periodicals and financial services were now offered.

Both departments adjusted to the changing world of audiovisual materials as new formats and products became available. The use of microfilm, l6mm film and records became commonplace. Today, these materials are gradually being replaced by CD ROM, videotape and compact discs.

During these years, the deaths of two members of the library family were sad losses. Mrs. Marion Adams died in February, 1978, after twenty-three years as a tower of strength in any library project. As administrative assistant, she offered management skills and total devotion to the library. Mr. George O'Brien, a Board member who died in 1981, gave faithful service to both the local library and to the Wisconsin Library Trustee Association which he served as president. Mrs. Adams did not live to see the McMillan Memorial Library honored by the Wisconsin Library Association with the Clarence B. Lester Award for Library of the Year - 1979. Because the citation that accompanied the award expresses so much that the library has accomplished, it should be given in full.

It states that the McMillan Library is honored:

For its role as a library that is integrally involved in the community it serves;

For its contribution to the development of a more informed public through an active program of political education and its services as a center of civic activity;

For its contribution to the quality of the cultural life of the community through the development of a community fine arts center including displays of nationally prominent art exhibitions, film programs, demonstrations and exhibitions of crafts, and a home for the Community Company of Players;

For its outstanding service to the business community in the Wisconsin Rapids area, serving as a center for business information;

For its planning and development of a library building that is free of barriers to the physically handicapped and truly accessible to the total community;

For its cooperative role in facilitating the use of the library by special groups of citizens including the developmentally disabled, preschool and disadvantaged children, senior citizens, physically handicapped persons and others requiring special programs;

For its development of effective outreach programs to provide library services to groups unable to otherwise utilize the library's services and materials;

For its development of library programs that stimulate the intellectual and recreational interests of Wisconsin Rapids' area citizens and foster a greater use of library resources;

For consistently uniform and high quality service on the part of the library staff; for outstanding resources, programs and facilities; and for its valued place as an essential part of the community it serves; this award is presented with pleasure to the McMillan Memorial library.

A decade that had begun with solutions to problems ended with the McMillan Memorial library becoming a recipient of the highest honor that can be given a Wisconsin library.

Continue with Chapter 6.