Baraboo library committee studies facility needs

October 3, 2016 GMT

Baraboo’s librarians are done being quiet.

They say it’s time to let the community know what a valuable community resource the library is, and how desperately it needs to expand.

“People have been too quiet for too long about the conditions at the Baraboo Public Library,” said David Wernecke, a member

of the library’s board. “It’s really time to move forward.”

He’s one of several new library board members working to plan the facility’s future. An ad hoc committee has formed to analyze the library’s role and compare its facilities and to neighboring libraries. The committee will report to the board in December, with an eye toward the library’s planned expansion starting in 2020. The city’s long-term plan for major projects has earmarked $5 million for the library that year.

In recent years the library expansion has been pushed back for two pressing projects, a science building at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County and a new police station and city hall. The up side of having the expansion delayed, Director Meg Allen said, is library leaders have time to plan.

“I feel like it’s our turn,” she said. “I think it’s perfect timing.”

Library needs

The expansion has been in the works for 15 years. The library’s last addition was built in 1982. Studies of the library’s space needs date back to 2001, and a conceptual design for an addition was created in 2009. It called for attaching a one-floor wing to the east side of the building, replacing an office building the library board bought in 2010.

An expansion would allow space for amenities common to libraries serving communities the size of Baraboo. These include private study areas and meeting rooms, which the library lacks. Also needed are additional program rooms (there is only one) and space for computers (the library offers 13).

A lack of space limits the programming the staff can offer. “Other libraries do so much more than we do,” Children’s Librarian Anne Horjus said. “We could offer them so much more.”

Community support

Not that the staff needs more to do. The library gets nearly 3,200 visits a week. Its registered users top 10,000. The reference desk fields 40 questions each day.

Adult Programming Coordinator Joan Wheeler said the library’s services nourish the community, and now the institution needs support. “It’s a valued resource in our community,” she said.

The ad hoc committee will reach out to the community, both to highlight the library’s contributions and to seek input from users. “This belongs to the city, so it should have the imprint of the city on it,” Wernecke said. “This is a critical project for the community.”

Allen said engaging the community could help convince the City Council of the library’s need for help. “We feel this process is critical to getting council buy-in,” she said. “We need to just shine a light on what we’ve got going on here.”

The cost estimate for the proposed addition is $8 million (in 2020 dollars) but that’s a soft figure based on a conceptual plan drawn up years ago. “The number is pretty squishy,” Wernecke said.

During its five meetings, the ad hoc committee will develop a research report designed to help the library board create more concrete plans. “We are working hard to gain a greater understanding” of the library’s needs and the anticipated role of libraries, committee member Keri Olson said. “We’re all learning a lot.”