“I’m Glad You Asked . . .” The Top-5 Questions People Ask Staff of the Marathon County PUBLIC LIBRARY

Written by Ralph Illick

As part of its commitment to be open, honest, and communicative about the topics that Marathon County leadership and staff get comments and questions on the most, this month’s “I’m Glad You Asked . . .” article features:

The Top-5 Questions People Ask Staff of the Marathon County PUBLIC LIBRARY

Library Director Ralph Illick. (Photo courtesy of Chad Dally.)

Each year, libraries across the country take some time in April to highlight “the valuable role libraries, librarians, and library workers play in transforming lives and strengthening our communities,” as the American Library Association’s website notes.

Specifically, April 7–13 is National Library Week, and April 9 is National Library Workers Day. While the Marathon County Public Library (MCPL) doesn’t have events specifically planned to celebrate the week, one look at our jam-packed events calendar will give you a sense of the unique programming our 9 library locations offer throughout the year to engage and connect children, teens, working adults, retirees, and more.

We don’t want to pat ourselves on the back too much, but if you happen to swing through an MCPL location during National Library Week, we’d sure love to hear what the library means to you and if there are different or better ways we can serve the public. Feel free to email me your comments as well.

Below you’ll find answers to some of the questions we frequently hear at MCPL . . .


#1. What is the future of BRICK-AND-MORTAR LIBRARIES in an age when so many people prefer to access information electronically?


Libraries will continue to evolve as technology evolves . . .

The traditional model of libraries being books-on-the-shelf storage facilities is giving way to a more contemporary model of libraries being community centers that promote lifelong learning and engagement with others in inviting spaces, where visitors can make community connections and partake in a wide variety of activity-based interactions.

Patrons play cribbage at the Spencer Branch library in November 2018, while others use the public computers. (Photo courtesy of MCPL Spencer Branch.)

Since large amounts of information can now be stored in incredibly small spaces, libraries can re-purpose some of their “shelf space” to provide other offerings for community members to learn and connect in new and different ways.

During the coming months, surveys will be offered to library users in our branch communities to help define the technology and lifelong learning needs of our patrons. We will use the results to help guide our decisions for developing new programs and purchasing new print and digital materials for the communities we serve. In this way, we will continue to evolve as an organization and we will also stay in alignment with the Marathon County Comprehensive Plan by helping every child and adult in Marathon County to get a quality education and also support community-wide professional development and lifelong learning.

The 2016 Marathon County Comprehensive Plan.

You can expect to see the public library in your community continue to be a vibrant place for learning — where ALL are welcome — filled with traditional print materials, as well as some new technologies to help guide learning and workforce development in the 21st century.

#2. Where did the library’s giant SALTWATER AQUARIUM come from, and how does MCPL use it to advance its mission?


The Phyllis Donner Memorial Aquarium was made possible by a very generous donation from the estate of the late Phyllis Donner. This 650-gallon marine aquarium contains a living coral reef with more than 30 species of tropical fish, crustaceans, coral, and other aquatic life. (Click here for a complete list of the fish, invertebrates, and coral that can been seen at the library’s Wausau Headquarters.)

This popular, interactive, live science display furthers the mission of MCPL by bringing a vibrant world of scientific exploration to Marathon County that would otherwise be impossible to have in the Midwestern United States.

School groups, clubs, and visitors alike enjoy Marathon County Public Library’s saltwater aquarium as a living STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) exhibit.

The aquarium was constructed in 2012 by Las Vegas–based Acrylic Tank Manufacturing (ATM) — famous for their Animal Planet television show “Tanked.” The aquarium’s construction and ongoing operation has been a true team effort . . . Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork in Wausau hauled the tank from Las Vegas; Crystal Finishing Systems in Schofield built a custom frame to support the massive tank; annual maintenance costs are covered by The Friends of the MCPL and The MCPL Foundation; and Darren Letner (owner of Tank Mates in Wausau) cleans and maintains the aquarium.

I invite you to visit the aquarium to see our beautiful marine life up close. You can also view the library’s aquarium photo album on Facebook, showcasing the construction of the Phyllis Donner Aquarium and some of its initial inhabitants.

#3. Can staff at the public library help people who aren’t comfortable using computers complete an ONLINE EMPLOYMENT APPLICATION?


Yes, we’d be happy to help! In fact, that’s a primary focus of the staff at all 9 MCPL locations.

We want the library to be your first stop for updating your resume, researching new employment opportunities, or even determining your next career path. On the 2nd floor of the library’s Wausau Headquarters, our Career Connection area features dedicated computers for job searches, resumes, and online applications, plus books and pamphlets to help you get a job. Our 8 branch libraries are also prepared to assist users with similar resources to aid in job searching, technology skills development, and interview preparation.

We offer classes on basic computer programs and social media (for example, earlier this month our Wausau Headquarters offered The Wide World of Google Resources and in early April we’ll be offering classes like Intro to Microsoft Word & Resume Building), as well as FREE web-based tutorials and personalized help in getting you connected with your next career opportunity. We also have a list of several upcoming seasonal positions with Marathon County Government (e.g., park rangers, lifeguards, highway laborers, sports leaders), as well as links to job postings across the state and nation.

And did you know that MCPL offers 375+ Gale Courses — a wide range of NO-COST, interactive, instructor-led online courses to enhance workforce skills? As a library card holder in good standing, you can take these educational courses FREE! Courses run for 6 weeks, and new sessions begin every month across a variety of topic areas like: Technology, Accounting & Finance, Writing & Publishing, Law & Legal, Healthcare & Medical, and MUCH MORE! Learn more about Gale Courses here.


I invite you to read about MCPL-Wausau Headquarters’ in-person technology classes for 2019 or online Gale Courses. You can also call our reference desk at 715-261-7230 for details on other job-search resources available at MCPL.

We’re here to help you!

#4. What is the connection of the library to LENA START MARATHON COUNTY?  


LENA Start Marathon County is a program for local parents that utilizes a speech device that measures language exposure for their children (birth to 32 months). Children wear the LENA (Language ENvironment Analysis) device in a vest pocket, and results are measured by trained professionals and shared with parents on how to improve language interactions with their children.

Several community partners came together to implement the LENA Start program across Marathon County to enhance local children’s brain development to help prepare them for school. The first sessions were run at MCPL, but since then we’ve expanded the program to include sites at North Central Health Care,  Northcentral Technical College, and Head Start Barrington Center.

Through the LENA Start program, we’re building the foundation in Marathon County for a well-educated citizenry, with an emphasis on helping to create a vibrant, capable workforce for the future.

Interested? Learn more about the LENA Start program here.

One of the two graduating LENA Start Marathon County classes (May 2018).

#5. Why isn’t there a branch library in WESTON? How does MCPL decide where and when to locate a branch library?


MCPL is a consolidated County library, so decisions about branch locations are determined first by communities and then by the Marathon County Board of Supervisors.

The Village of Weston can work together with the County Board if they wish to have their own branch library. In fact, in 2017, in response to a branch request from Weston, the library hired a consultant to conduct a system-wide study of MCPL’s operations and if, or how, a new branch might fit into the mix. You can learn more about the report’s findings here.


We would welcome any conversations about the possibility of locating a branch in Weston. If you’d like to weigh in, please contact the Weston Village BoardMarathon County Board, and/or the MCPL Board.

If you have other questions about MCPL not answered here, feel free to check out the library’s FAQ page, or these past newsletter articles:

And please join us Saturday, April 6, for the 46th annual Children’s Festival at Marathon Park East Gate Hall!

Children's Festival
Children painting at the annual Children’s Festival in Marathon Park. (Photo courtesy of MCPL.)

Stop by MCPL’s booth between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to learn about all the FUN things you can do at the library, get a sneak preview of our Summer Library Program events, and do a craft! It’s FREE and open to the public.

We hope to see you there!

RalphIllickRalph Illick

Director  |  Marathon County Public Library

Ralph Illick is the Director of the Marathon County Public Library. He oversees the operations of the Headquarters Library in Wausau and 8 branches located throughout the county. Ralph began his career in library service in the Orange County Library System in Orlando, Florida, in 1987, where he started as a page, shelving books. He received his Master’s degree in Information Studies from Florida State University. After moving to Wisconsin in 2001, Ralph served as the Head of Adult Services for 8 years at the Pauline Haass Public Library in Sussex. He joined the MCPL team in 2010 as the Director, and he has especially enjoyed and appreciated the sense of community and collaborative spirit that we share in Marathon County. When he is not working, Ralph enjoys spending time with his wife Andrea and his two cats, reading, and cooking.  Email Ralph Illick.

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