Written by Chad Dally
For the first time in more than a decade, the Marathon County Public Library (MCPL) could see growth among its branches…
Officials from the Village of Weston and Marathon County have begun conversations to construct and operate a brand-new branch library that, if approved, would be housed in a new municipal center the village plans to build by 2019 or 2020.
According to Weston Village Administrator Daniel Guild, although discussions about a new branch are recent, the idea for a Weston branch dates back to at least 2013, when some village officials included a library in the list of goals in a long-term plan developed that year.
More recently, Guild approached Library Director Ralph Illick in late 2016 and asked that the library’s Board of Trustees and Marathon County officials consider the possibility in coordination with construction of a new municipal center for Weston.
Guild’s request prompted the library to hire a consultant to conduct a system-wide study of MCPL’s operations and if, or how, a new branch might fit into the mix. Based on that report (download the full report here), Marathon County’s Education & Economic Development Committee on August 28 voted in favor of proceeding with the idea of a Weston Branch Library, following a similar vote of approval by the library’s Board of Trustees in summer 2017 to continue negotiations.
Guild said that residents of a growing community like Weston expect public amenities like a library:
“We’re a young community — the average age of our residents is the mid-30s — so those folks are early into their adult relationships and marriages, many of them have young kids, and having place to bring their children for programming and education and reading that’s more community-based would be a wonderful contribution and amenity that I believe would be appreciated by that age group.”
Guild added that not only would a Weston branch benefit village residents, but residents throughout the eastern part of Marathon County could benefit, since MCPL’s Hatley Branch is the only one serving that part of the county.
Village officials have suggested that a Weston Branch Library follow the same path financially as other MCPL branches:
The village and county would split the cost of construction, and the operational costs would be fully paid for by the county, though those costs have not yet been determined. Any agreement between the village and the county would require the approval of the full Marathon County Board of Supervisors and Weston Board of Trustees.
Outside of the Wausau MCPL headquarters, the populations served by the eight library branches vary widely, from 605 in Hatley to more than 5,300 in Rothschild.
By contrast, Weston’s population was more than 15,000 in 2016 and is expected to grow to more than 20,000 by 2040, according to the Wisconsin Department of Administration. Guild added that, north of Highway 29, Weston has the third-highest population behind Wausau and Superior (and fourth-highest if you include Eau Claire, which lies just south of Highway 29.)
The village’s population is one reason why a branch library in Weston would make sense, the report’s authors note:
“The Village of Weston has the economic resources, demographics, and access to major arterial roads needed to support an effectively used branch library.”
The report’s authors also express optimism that a Weston library would result in a net gain for residents, and would likely not result in putting the Rothschild library out of business — even though the two branches would be relatively close to one another, and both are relatively close to the Wausau headquarters. (The Rothschild branch is just over 5 miles from the Wausau HQ, and the Weston branch would be a little more than 3 miles from the Wausau location.)
According to the report:
“Establishing a new branch library in Weston would have the positive effect of relieving some of the pressure on the Rothschild Library. While studies have shown that opening a building in a new service area may slightly reduce usage of surrounding libraries, most of the time a new branch results in a net gain in visits and circulation as a result of greater convenience and publicity.”
Although no decisions have been made regarding the future of any of the other eight branches, the fact that the village’s population is growing at the same time as a general trend toward declining populations in rural areas “may require the closing of branches in the future,” according to the report.
“Establishing criteria for making this decision now will create clear parameters before the process becomes fraught with the emotion of losing a valued service,” the report states.
However, the report also strikes a cautionary note that a Weston branch library cannot happen on its own while business continues as usual at the other nine locations, and that “support required for a new branch of the size needed in Weston would not be achievable within [MCPL’s] current budget.”
In short, opening a new branch will take some creativity on the part of county officials.
An initial capital investment will help but won’t solve the long-term operational costs, and restricting of current branch services would give the library some economic flexibility, “but will not cover many of the ongoing expenses,” according to the report.
So, as the village and library move forward with negotiations over a Weston library, creating a long-term, sustainable plan that incorporates a Weston library into MCPL’s mix of branches will require not only another look at funding and service priorities at existing locations that reflects the library’s ability to serve the greatest number of residents, but more importantly will also require a clear process that is guided by community input.
If the details can be ironed out, Illick said:
“The growing community of Weston would be a welcome addition to the Marathon County Public Library family.”
Although village and county officials are excited about the possibility of a new MCPL branch in Weston, the process is still in the early stages and by no means is a done deal.
That, in turn, means community input is still very much a valued part of the equation, whether it’s comments about a Weston branch or other changes MCPL leadership might make to accommodate (or not) a Weston branch.
- Do you think a MCPL library branch in Weston is a good idea or unnecessary?
- Would you like to see a branch in Weston but would like county officials to try to minimize impact to the existing eight branches and Wausau Headquarters?
- Do you have some ideas for how MCPL might add a Weston branch into the fold while maintaining the services our communities expect from the library?
If you’d like to weigh in with your thoughts, please contact the Weston Village Board, Marathon County Board, and/or the MCPL Board.
Library Specialist | Marathon County Public Library
Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction. He’s heard chickens are smart, but the small brood he keeps at home provides evidence to the contrary. Email Chad Dally
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