Wisconsin libraries cancel creative uses of federal relief funds
The Spooner Memorial Library in northwestern Wisconsin is outfitting its first bookmobile in more than two decades, thanks to federal relief funds given to 33 projects at Wisconsin libraries.
Spooner has worked with the Eau Claire Food Bank Feed My People to host “Books and Bread” pop-up events throughout the pandemic, where he sets up a table with staple foods and library books once per month in two different community locations.
With $97,000 in federal relief funds the Spooner Memorial Library received through the state Department of Public Instruction, the library purchased a van and outfitted it to serve as a hybrid bookmobile and mobile pantry.
“We find that bringing the library outside the building is how we reach people,” said library director Angie Bodzislaw. “People come here all the time too, but it brings the library to people.”
Library staff are already using the van to transport pantry boxes to their library site for “Compassionate Kitchen,” a pop-up pantry in the library lobby.
“Before, it was about taking our personal cars to the food bank and hoping it would work out,” Bodzislaw said. “Now we have this vehicle that’s big enough to do that.”
DPI has awarded more than $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to 10 public libraries and 15 library systems across the state. They are funding three types of projects – library space and security improvements, hybrid library service models that support virtual resources, and funds to make libraries centers of community resilience.
The Winding Rivers Library System near La Crosse has partnered with two other library systems in Milwaukee County and southwestern Wisconsin to fund digital resources for student tutoring, help with job seekers, employment and veteran services through the Brainfuse program.
“We expanded our database resources during the pandemic, and we really felt this was another good expansion of digital resources that we could do,” Winding Rivers director Kristen Anderson said. “It’s something people can access wherever they are.”
The online platforms will include live tutoring assistance between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m., as well as live assistance with resume review and job interview practice. Even before the DPI grant, Winding Rivers invested resources in digital programming — its Creativebug online courses teach knitting, cross-stitching and other crafts, and Gale courses range from public speaking to way to play the guitar.
The IFLS library system, which has 53 public libraries in 10 counties, is using its $88,000 in grants to build on some of the lessons learned during the pandemic about how to reduce disease risk by paying for things that make it easier hosting outdoor or virtual events.
As part of the grant, 11 libraries are getting reading bikes, which Leah Langby, IFLS Library Development and Youth Services Coordinator, described as “kind of like a miniature bookmobile, but for riding a bike with library materials and resources”. Nine others are getting canopies to make it easier to hold outdoor events or set up a table at community gatherings, and six are getting cameras and microphones that make it easier to capture in-person events so they can be broadcast live virtually.
“What’s really exciting about these ARPA grants is that they gave libraries and library systems a chance to try some things,” Langby said. “We work with a lot of very rural libraries and their budgets are very small, so finding funding for something like this is tricky.”
The use of grants by several libraries reflects what library leaders have been saying for years, that their physical collection of books, films and other circulating materials is only a small part of the services they offer. During the pandemic, libraries have boosted their Wi-Fi building capabilities so that community members can access the internet from parking lots even during their first pandemic closures, and the use of e-books and other digital resources is skyrocketing.
Although libraries have reopened, Langby said they are learning lessons from the pandemic.
“Outdoor activities are partly an opportunity for libraries to go where people are, which is something libraries have been trying to work on for years,” she said. “But it also makes sure people know we’re still here, still caring, and providing service.”