The Present
(1984-1990)

In January, 1984, Mr. William Wilson became the library director in a period of unprecedented library growth.

Twenty years earlier, Miss Dudgeon had studied statistics on which to base plans for the size of the new building. At that time she wrote, "All library experts tell us that past growth in the use of library services will be dwarfed by the expected growth in use."

That expected growth touched all areas of library service.

For example, the circulation of materials increased from 166,388 in 1970 (when the new library opened) to over 291,024 in 1989.

During the same period, the number of library cardholders grew from 14,267 to 18,145 and the library materials collection almost doubled in size from 52,871 to nearly 100,000 items. By 1988, the number of answers supplied by the reference staff in one year reached 25,157, and 8,748 items were delivered to nursing homes, shut-ins and other "stations."

Each change that might result in a temporary slow-down in growth later resulted in greater library usage.

For a time the advent of TV appeared to keep down book circulation; then the better programs stimulated viewers' interests in a wide variety of subjects, and new borrowers sought out the library for materials on everything from astronomy to major zoos.

The great popularity and low cost of paperbacks might seem to cut down the number of library users, but this popularity also produced those who had acquired the reading habit, tentatively tried out the library and found it full of "good reads."

And the growth of excellent school libraries in the area lowered the number of students who formerly had to use the public library for school work, but it greatly increased the number of high school graduates who knew how to use a library and who enjoyed its resources.

Meanwhile, the library had been adjusting to fast-moving changes in the community.

Video tapes affected attendance at the film programs, and these were gradually replaced by such live entertainments as storytellers and folk singers. The popularity of audio cassettes and compact discs resulted in a shift in the type of music collection to be offered.

The soaring cost of magazines meant that many families had to drop their own subscriptions, and the library, recognizing this fact, shifted the budget to increase the number of periodicals it offered. Space was made for back issues of magazines in the adult reading room, and these files and attractive displays have made this section one of the most popular in the library.

These changes were witnessed by Mrs. Margaret L. McCourt before she retired from the Board of Trustees in 1986. To recognize her twenty-eight years of outstanding service, the Board named its meeting room the Margaret McCourt Conference Room.

The information explosion and the technological advances of the past decade have only served to accelerate the rate of change. Mr. William Wilson, director, describes how the library is meeting these phenomena:

The services offered by public libraries are likely to change as much or more during the next century as they have in the course the last. The format of materials, equipment, and methods of service that seem modern today will certainly come to be viewed as antique. New technologies, methods and formats will take their place. However, if the public library is to remain a viable public institution, change must be welcomed as a part of a natural growth process.

Much of the change and growth in public library service defies measurement by traditional means such as circulation. The introduction of computers as a means of making information resources available to the public has changed the quantity and the quality of information as well as the speed at which it is available. In evaluating a library's success we now need to look far beyond how often materials are checked out.

At McMillan Library, we have been quick to adopt new technologies, but at the same time, careful to recognize that it is the information itself and not the form that it takes that is the critical factor. The computer has opened and is opening new doors for our library.

We now have access to information that used to be available in only the largest most sophisticated libraries. We can locate millions of volumes in other Wisconsin libraries by using Wiscat. Through OCLC, we are able to share cataloging information. Our electronic mail link to the Wisconsin Valley Library Service speeds interlibrary loan transactions.

We can create effective indexes of local historical information; we can provide up-to-the-moment information through online data bases and through fax transmission. Our efficiency is enhanced through the use of an automated circulation system and on-line public access catalog.

But the computer revolution is certainly not the final chapter in public library history. Advances that will link technologies such as "hyper-text" are at our doorstep, and who knows what will follow. The McMillan Library must be alert and ready to adapt our methods if we expect to celebrate our two-hundredth anniversary.

This then is the library of today.

It is the result of the three forces that were present when it opened in 1890.

Philanthropy founded the library, kept it operating during its early years, gave it the first building of its own (the Witter home), provided the major funds for the present McMillan Memorial Library, and built an endowment fund that has made that building a cultural center for the entire area.

The tax base that supports the library has expanded until not only the city, but also the county, state, and federal governments now share the cost of providing what the founders visualized: the opportunity for everyone, regardless of residence, to have access to the library's resources.

And finally, strong civic support has helped make the library what it is: a beautiful and welcoming place which those who use and serve it always call - ours.

It is a place where we hammer flats together backstage and present candidates' political forums. It is where we help arrange exhibits in their cases and act as guides on library tours and assist in mounting art shows. It is where we enjoy the extra special magazines, art works and flower arrangements that our clubs have given to the library.

It is "our" library because, through one-hundred years, we have made it so.

It is our free, public library in its centennial year.

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