Wisconsin Sen. Janet Bewley and her assistant, Ryan VanLanduyt, visited the Spooner Library on Nov. 2 to chat with Library Director, Angie Bodzislaw about the Library, an upcoming opportunity with Wisconsin Humanities, and Compassion Kitchen.
Bewley is state minority leader and senator of District 25. The district covers 7,500 square miles in northwestern Wisconsin along the Minnesota border and the shore of Lake Superior.
The 25th District includes all of Ashland, Barron, Bayfield, Douglas, Iron, Price, and Washburn counties and parts of Burnett, Dunn, Polk, Sawyer, St. Croix and Vilas counties.
Bewley is a library advocate, especially supporting the libraries in her district.
Bewley and VanLanduyt were especially interested in a Wisconsin Humanities opportunity offered to the library. Spooner Library was selected as one of four in the state to participate in a Wisconsin Library Association-endorsed initiative, Community Powered.
Dena Wortzel, executive director of Wisconsin Humanities remarked that “when we asked Shawn [an advisor for the program] to think about libraries that would be an ideal fit for the project, she immediately said ‘You have to talk to Angie in Spooner!’”
After an interview and board approval, the Spooner Library is on board with the two-year pilot program.
Community Powered is an initiative that builds resilience among Wisconsin communities by helping them recognize, communicate, and act upon their strengths, their challenges, and their histories to envision a vibrant future.
Residents of participating Wisconsin communities will experience new ways to unearth and tell stories of their communities and will take concrete steps toward making their hometowns even better places to live.
For the 2021-22 pilot, Wisconsin Humanities will work with four communities from different regions of the state, Spooner Library being one of them. They will hire and train four recent college graduates and pair them with a local librarian in their hometown.
With the library serving as the anchor organization, they will train these young people and their librarian partners in humanities and digital media skills, and then support them as they collaborate with local nonprofit organizations, businesses, and citizens to create a locally meaningful project.
Bewley remarked on the incredible work of Wisconsin Humanities and is excited to see what comes out of Community Powered in Spooner. This discussion led into the topic of community conversations, such as the recent One Book, One Community discussion at the Library where community, mental health, and the book “Midnight Library” by Matt Haig, were discussed.
Bewley and Bodzislaw talked about the importance of these conversations in communities.
They agreed that awareness of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), training on how to serve community members with mental illness, and community unity were important and could be tackled with community conversations in a library.
Bewley was curious about the Compassion Kitchen resource at the library and its history. Compassion Kitchen is a food and care package resource in the lobby of the library where people can stop in and pick up food items and hygiene and cleaning supplies without sharing their names.
Bodzislaw explained the huge impact of a Washburn County food insecurity summit that took place last spring. She talked about the library’s partnership with Feed My People Area Food Bank (FMPAFB) out of Eau Claire and their ability to offer Books and Bread in partnership with FMPAFB, Shell Lake Public Library, and Community First.
The library works closely with Community First, as Bodzislaw was part of the first group of leaders in this organization and now serves on the board.
Bewley also spoke about the future of the library building, as a Feasibility Study with Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH) is in progress. The building is currently 5,500 square feet, and two separate space needs assessments suggested the library should be around 22,000 square feet to fit the community’s needs, with over 8,000 square feet for the collection alone.
The current library location is ideal, according to Bodzislaw, downtown and walkable; however, the lack of accessible and safe parking is not ideal.
SEH is investigating the ability to add on to the current library and also researching other sites that could work if the library has to move.
Bewley spoke of other library projects she has seen in her district and the difficulty of some old Carnegie libraries and the Spooner Library in regards to increasing accessibility for patrons.
Lastly, Bewley and Bodzislaw spoke about bookmobiles and the dream that Spooner Library can purchase one to serve the ever-growing aging population in rural Washburn County.
Bodzislaw and her board would like to purchase a pop-up style bookmobile for $95,000. She has applied for American Rescue Plan Act funds with Washburn County and Wisconsin Department of Instruction but hasn’t heard back.
The county referred Bodzislaw to the townships, which did not receive as much ARPA funds if at all.
Bewley and Bodzislaw remarked on the struggle amongst entities like the townships and libraries that continue to have increased costs but are not guaranteed increased funding.
The meeting came to a close with Bewley checking out two puzzles; she has library cards in multiple systems in the state and she wished a kind farewell to the library team.