Support builds for county library plan

Local branches ready to join new system
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Leader Photo by Scott Williams Bonduel Public Library Director Allison Schultz works inside the library at 125 N. Washington St., which is part of a city-county network that includes facilities throughout the county.

Library communities throughout Shawano County are getting on the same page with county officials who are considering a new system for managing public libraries.

The Shawano City-County Library has found support among all of its branch libraries for creating a centralized county-run library network — a transformation that could occur in January.

Community leaders in Bonduel, Tigerton and elsewhere have signaled their agreement with allowing their local branch libraries to become part of the new consolidated county system.

Wittenberg Village Board President William Switalla said local officials have wholeheartedly embraced the county’s reform idea, which he said would preserve the branch library and possibly save Wittenberg residents some money.

“Nobody really should be against it,” Switalla said.

The current library system is a patchwork arrangement in which the county partners with the city of Shawano to provide libraries about $600,000 a year, of which 80 percent comes from the county and 20 percent from the city. The system includes the central library in downtown Shawano and branches in Birnamwood, Bonduel, Mattoon, Tigerton and Wittenberg.

Each branch receives additional local support and enjoys some degree of autonomy from the city-county administration.

The problem is that the arrangement makes Shawano County susceptible to charges from neighboring library systems whenever local patrons cross into a nearby county to borrow a book or use other resources. The county has received bills exceeding $100,000 a year for such cross-border borrowing.

Under state law, surrounding libraries would be prohibited from collecting such fees if Shawano County converted its patchwork library structure to a consolidated county-run system. With such an arrangement, the county would take responsibility for all library funding countywide and would manage all facilities through a county-appointed library board.

Individual branches could opt out of the new system, but then they would be responsible for more local operating costs, as well as any bills that might come later for cross-border borrowing.

County officials have asked local community leaders to decide by April if they support the county library system.

Mattoon Village Board President Brian Owen said board members have unanimously endorsed the idea. Owen said he believes the village will remain as owner of the library facility, and the county will assume responsibility for paying library staff.

“It sounded like it was going to be a pretty good deal,” he said.

As county officials attempt to calculate their costs under the new arrangement, they have reached out to each library community to assess the manner in which it could be implemented locally.

In Birnamwood, the county would be dealing with both the village and local school district. A school library doubles as the public library branch in a cost-sharing partnership with village leaders.

Birnamwood Village Board President Mike Sprague said officials at both the village and school district have gotten behind the county’s plan as a way of avoiding more costs to the community if Birnamwood tried to opt out.

“We don’t have a lot of choice,” Sprague said.

Shawano city officials have not yet considered their role in the county library plan, although City Administrator Brian Knapp said he believes the management change is in the best interests of all concerned.

“It all makes perfect sense to me,” Knapp said.

Bonduel and Tigerton likewise have added their support to the proposal.

Tigerton Village Board President Dale Breaker said the library is a valued community resource, and he suspects it would not survive for long if county funding was not available. Breaker said local officials welcome the chance to join the county-run system and to share resources.

“It’s good that we’re all going together,” he added. “It might even make it way better than it’s ever been.”