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Marathon County Public Library Looks to Leave WVLS

Travis Rogers, Jr.

Marathon County Public Library Looks to Leave WVLS

Library News
5 mins
January 18, 2021

Marathon County Public Library is sending signals of a plan to abandon the Wisconsin Valley Library Service (WVLS). For whatever reasons, the story and the effects of such a move are not being covered. Even the Clark County Board of Supervisors have not taken any action to dissuade Marathon County from such a move.

Clark County libraries are all members of WVLS and, according to Owen Public Library director Loralee Petersen, “there is a lot of money tied up in this decision.” 

She continued, “If Marathon county leaves, it will make a big impact on Clark County libraries in at least two ways. We may end up paying more for our Wisconsin Valley membership but receiving fewer services. We may end up paying Marathon County for services extended to Clark County residents. Currently Marathon County does not charge us for this as a courtesy. But if we were in different systems, there is no guarantee that Marathon County would continue to extend that courtesy to us. In addition, Clark County libraries cannot charge Marathon County for providing services to Marathon County residents. As a county-wide library system, Marathon County is not subject to fees from other libraries.”

The Seven Counties of WVLS

Currently, the WVLS is comprised of seven counties: Clark, Taylor, Marathon, Lincoln, Langlade, Oneida, and Forest. Marathon is the largest county by population and also represents the largest county library group. Marathon aims to leave the WVLS and join the South Central Library System (SCLS) which runs ribbon-like from Green County on the Illinois border through Dane County all the way to Wood and Portage Counties. If Marathon County joins the SCLS, it would run two-thirds the length of the state like a library gerrymandering.

Opposition of Move from Other Libraries

Several counties and libraries have written to the Marathon County Public Library (MCPL) task force in opposition to the move out of the WVLS.

Joyce Rondorf, president of the Greenwood Public Library Board of Trustees, wrote:  “If MCPL leaves WVLS, there will be significant loss:  Loss for library patrons: access to materials from MCPL will take longer  Loss for Clark County: maintaining local library services will be more costly  Loss for WVLS: anticipated cuts to staff and resources/services currently offered  

Loss for WVLS member libraries  

Staff cuts will mean less assistance for service in websites, technology, continuing education, training, consulting, marketing, youth services, literacy grants and more  

Changing to a new resource library will cost the libraries in time and money.

Given these tremendous losses, we are wondering what the reasons are for MCPL wanting to leave WVLS? Why would MCPL make such a big change when the state is in the middle of the Public Library Redesign Project?”

Beth Martin, a Wausau School Board member, and others expressed concerns that MCPL Director Ralph Illick had some personal reason for wanting to leave WVLS.

Loralee Petersen submitted a letter from the Owen Public Library which read in part: “If MCPL decides to leave WVLS, this is a decision that you will have to live with through several years of flux and long after. 

“I also can’t help but wonder, if moving to a different library system will have enough benefits to make it worth the upheaval of leaving the present system and the well-developed relationships that have been established here. To my knowledge, no problems with WVLS service or personnel have been brought forward that would warrant leaving the system over. Is it possible that differences could still be resolved if MCPL administration and WVLS worked together? 

“While the prospect of changing systems would be a major one at the best of times, it seems even more daunting now, in our present state of pandemic, economic turmoil and general uncertainty as to what the future will bring. At a time when economic hardship is hovering over us, does it make sense to divert money from Marathon County to Dane County? How will that serve your community? 

“In WVLS, Marathon County has the largest library and the largest system. You are the big fish in our small pond. MCPL is a leader and standard setter. In SCLS, MCPL will be on the edge of the system, far away from the movers and shakers in the Madison area. Do you think that is a good trade?”

Antigo Public Library Director Dominic Frandrup wrote: “I am unaware why MCPL would consider leaving WVLS, as it provides excellent service to its member libraries for the cost of its membership. Knowing how much it takes for me to attend WVLS meetings, which is an hour away, just in mileage reimbursement per year, I’d imagine the travel expenses alone for MCPL staff to travel to Madison for meetings would require a very large budget. 

“If there are any unaddressed issues within MCPL as to why they would even consider leaving WVLS, I’d encourage MCPLB leadership to investigate those specifics in further detail before making a decision which would devastate the services I am currently able to offer my patrons, and the patrons of all my fellow system libraries.”

The Deaf Ears of Marathon's Task Force

Apparently, the pleas and arguments from fellow MVLS members had no effect on MCPL task force member Sharon Hunter who pushed for the move from WVLS to SCLS. According to the task force minutes of December 21, 2020, “Task Force member Hunter provided a list of fifteen (15) reasons to move. Task Force member Frisch believes that the Library Board and the library staff have been following the County’s comprehensive and strategic plans. Task Force member Winch agrees with the comments and wants what is best for MCPL. He does understand it will have an impact on other libraries. Task Force member Beastrom expressed reservations regarding the loss of a resource library for the outlying communities. I have to disagree on the statements made that this discussion doesn’t only involve Marathon County, but it involves the northeast corner of the state. Task Force member Schultz explained more about PLSR and Resource Libraries.”

That was followed by Hunter’s motion to move to the South Central Library System. Scott Winch seconded the motion which then passed.

That recommendation will now go to the Marathon County Board of Supervisors for approval.


This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is the Publisher with Nicole and is the Editor-in-Chief and Sales Manager.

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