Libraries open to new county system

Branches eager to halt outside fees

Library administrators in Shawano County say they are willing to consider restructured governance of their facilities to guard against unwanted fees from neighboring library systems.

Representatives of libraries in Bonduel, Tigerton and Wittenberg said they would welcome discussions about converting to a county-run library system.

The libraries currently operate as branches of the Shawano City-County Library system, which involves a different funding method and allows for community support of the branches.

Although some library representatives acknowledge concerns about losing local control, librarians said they recognize the need to stop fees exceeding $100,000 a year assessed by libraries outside the county.

“We would love to stop having those charges go back and forth,” said Allison Schultz, director of the Bonduel Public Library.

Shawano County leaders are trying to gauge support for reorganizing library branches into a single consolidated county system that could, under state law, block neighboring library systems from assessing Shawano County for cross-border borrowing of materials.

Such a restructuring is among the options being considered by a special committee created to examine the assessments, which cost the county $141,000 last year and could cost another $123,000 this year.

The committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the complex issue with branch library representatives.

Leslie Hill, director of the Wittenberg Public Library, said although she wants to know more about the restructuring idea, she agrees that something needs to be done to stop the annual financial demands from outside libraries.

“It could be for the best,” she said.

The assessments stem from Shawano County residents venturing outside the county and using public libraries elsewhere, including Pulaski, Marion and Clintonville. Under state rules, one library system can seek payment from another for such cross-border borrowing.

Shawano County has been billed by libraries in Waupaca County, Brown County and Langlade County.

A state library administrator has encouraged Shawano County officials to consider forming a consolidated library system, which would mean that outside library systems no longer could seek such payments. Under a consolidated system, Shawano County would control and fund all libraries, including the main Shawano library and the branches in Bonduel, Birnamwood, Mattoon, Tigerton and Wittenberg.

The system now operates on a yearly budget of about $600,000, which is funded 80 percent by the county and 20 percent by the city of Shawano.

Details have not been spelled out on how funding and governance of individual libraries would work under a consolidated organization.

Caitlin Selle, director of the Tigerton Public Library, said she enjoys working cooperatively with other libraries in the county, and she is willing to consider the countywide concept.

“I wouldn’t think it would be a huge difference,” she said.

Proponents of the restructuring have indicated that it could allow for greater uniformity in how libraries throughout Shawano County are operated, what services are provided and how staff are trained. No timetable has been presented for the special committee to issue recommendations.

Hill joined other branch librarians in voicing support for finding a solution to the cross-border assessment issue, including by creating a tighter alliance among one another.
“It depends how they want to govern the branches,” Hill said. “I work really well with Shawano, so I don’t see much of a problem with that.”