WisCommunity is starting a series of interviews with interesting people in the Dunn County community. Since the Menomonie Public Library recently received a grant to improve the outdoor facilities of the library, we thought we would start with Joleen  Sterk, the Menomonie Public Library Administrator. I talked with Joleen about the plans for the library, the challenges of running a modern library, and the attempts from members of the community to limit the range of books available in the library. 

Below is a machine-generated transcript of our conversation.


library, community, people, grant, years, funding, talk, public library, work, challenges, menominee, city, developed, understand, picnic benches, grant proposal, outdoor space, service, plan, children


Steve Hanson, Joleen Sterk


Steve Hanson 00:01

Today I'm talking to Joleen Stark, the director of the Menominee Public Library. And we're going to be talking about what's going on with the library. Its future plans and other library related things. Hi, Joleen. I'm doing fine. I hope you're doing well, too. I'd like to talk to you partly partly about your the grant you received recently, which was partly a personal grant and partly a governmental grant, and was wondering if you'd like to talk about that and what the plans are for the library, and how that's going to go?


Joleen Sterk 00:43

Okay, sure. Well, it all began a couple of years ago, when our different Joan Pulaski passed away. And we learned after her passing, that she had left a sum of money for the library's behalf to our gift accounts, with a stipulation that it'd be used to kind of celebrate the art and the architecture that is Menomonee Public Library, to support mental health and general well being and to draw attention to our Lakeside location and really highlighting the gem of a library that we have. So the board, I think wisely decided to not do anything with her money immediately, but rather put it in a safe savings account, separate from our community of controlled funds. And, you know, waited until something more concrete was figured out in terms of what that might look like. So, initially, I talked to the staff to see what ideas there might be for utilizing these resources. And some time, I want to say toward the end of 2022, we learned about an opportunity through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. And they had a challenge for Wisconsin communities called a vibrant spaces grant. And they were going to pilot this in, I believe, 20 different locations around the state. It was a competitive grant process. And one of the stipulations is that there might be matching funds, up to a maximum of $50,000.


Joleen Sterk 02:21

So the board and I saw this as an opportunity to essentially double the impact of John's gift. And the community of Menominee could only apply for one of these vibrant spaces grants. So I spoke with Mayor Canac, and mobile primate, and Randy ID, and they were all in support of this concept of the library. Working on outdoor space development, that was another component of the grant is that it'd be used to draw attention to a community area, not overall Menominee, but rather a very specific location. It's something that may drive some economic development, or at least interest in our community space and interest in local businesses. It had to be used for outdoor purposes. So there were items like outdoor restaurants, picnic benches, sculpture, things of that nature, that might enhance an outdoor space, but we couldn't do any construction, or use it programmatically like to hire extra bands for music over middlemen, for example. So with a lot of support from different community players, I think there were about 13 to 15 community people that looked at our grant proposal that read it over that submitted letters of support.


Joleen Sterk 03:42

I got this written and submitted by the end of January this year. And then we waited. And they didn't announce the winners until earlier this month. asked us to kind of keep things under wraps until it was time to make the press releases. So it all came out sort of in a flurry with their specific language around the press releases. And I'm sorry if that's probably stunning confusion for our community locally. But in order to have a legitimate grant proposal in place, we had to spend money on developing the plan. And the board took a portion of these gift funds, not tax dollars, but gift funds to enlist the help of an architectural firm hears associates. Really listen to what the community had to say about our library, which has been that rescue Bay for almost 40 years. And what we might want to do moving forward that would honor the wishes of Joan that would meet the requirements of this grant and would ultimately help serve our community better. So we had a group of about a dozen core people, people from the community like Leland Schweppes was actually a council like Yo Jax was spent at UW Stout for a very long time and was very invested in the original building of our location at Wolski. Bay, as well as some city department heads, library staff from the foundation. So folks that really had a vested interest in this project, and through Aris process, we identified several key components that we wanted to focus on to make the library outdoor space, better utilized. Frankly, the building itself. And in my view, in the view of many of our board members and several community members is that the space itself really shouldn't be touched. It's architecturally, a treasure it was developed by John Howell, who you probably know was Frank Lloyd Wright's master draftsman and writing on demand. And it had quite a career of his own as an architect, so we don't want to mess with that. A lot of time and energy went into developing the library as it is. But we thought that we really could work with the footprint outside and create more usable space for the community. That's kind of a long answer to your question. But were there any aspects of that?


Steve Hanson 06:18

Well, I think one of the things that people are wondering about is the timeframe for it, because I think some people took the picture that went out with a press release and took that to mean, you know, everything is happening this summer. And that's really not the fact right. It's just going to be the lounge portion of the grant is being implemented right now. And the rest of it is long term plan. So can you talk a little bit Rocco once is all going to take?


Joleen Sterk 06:49

Sure, the plan itself, but I apologize for not having a plan right in front of me. But the plan was developed to be executed over a number of years. And the first phase of the plan would address the requirements of the grant. There was no picnic benches, lounge furniture and outdoor firepit feature, a shade canopies some trees softscaping I think he called it a trash receptacle. So sadly, $100,000 doesn't go as far as we might wish that it would. But that's essentially what we'll be able to do with phase one. And depending on what kind of support we might get from our local business community, from philanthropists, from other grant sources, that's really going to determine how much we need to try to raise within the community itself through the pockets of people like you and I. But the plan is, I would say ambitious, and perhaps developed in exactly the way that it was imagined. We've gotten feedback on that, say, for example, having a floating dock structure. And people within city saying, Who's going to take care of that it would need to be regulated? Where are you going to store it? So there are some very practical questions that definitely need to be thought through. This could be a five or 10 or 20 year process. And we really don't have a time frame attached to it. This is just sort of a broad brush, looking at what where we'd like to have in the library space, people. And when you talk to potential funders, they really liked the pictures. So that's why we had the whole picture developed to show the overall goal, even though we're only a small portion.


Steve Hanson 08:55

Sure, I saw a little bit of concern about music over Mahnomen. And whether that would be you know, somehow I think people really liked the setup right now. And I think some people are worried that will change in a way they don't like but you know, people are always really worried about change in general.


Joleen Sterk 09:17

And change in general is hard for all of us. But I think it's a necessary part of growth. If we just sit still, then I feel like I'm not doing my job in moving our community forward and moving our services forward to meet the needs of a changing Menominee. The second phase of the project would address electrical access for amplified music, and what address having a better vantage point for people to view bands or performances from using the lake as a backdrop rather than sitting caddywhompus on a hillside and looking straight to the east. The goal also is to make it more accessible for people who may be mobility impaired paid using a walker or wheelchair stroller. What have you. And the landscape architect, Chris Celeste view from IRS that developed this plan was on hand, the first night of music over Binyomin. So we saw that we had 450 people on our lawn. The other interesting bit that we've learned in the process is that it's not really our lawn, it actually wants to sell energy. So in order to make any structural changes to the landscape, we need to know this is not going to happen tomorrow, we need to go through a process with Excel to see how, if that might be more agreeable to them, and what what that might look like. And obviously, we're working with the city public works director and city administrator. So we want to hear this isn't set in stone, by any means.


Steve Hanson 11:06

Sure, I've seen the whole plan, I think it's really exciting addition to Menomonie, potentially, and of course, him of the library really is a community center for the city and the surrounding areas. So I think that's great. And you know, people do love music over Menomun. I've had a great time at them a few times myself. So let's move on from that. Let's talk a little bit about just libraries in the modern era, and the kinds of challenges you face and the kind of exciting things that are happening.


Joleen Sterk 11:44

Sure, I would say one thing in closing, if people have questions about the plans, we do have some plan documents linked on our website. So they can go to Menominee library.org. And look at our announcement of the grant. And there are some documents that might help people better understand what it is that you and I are chatting about. Generally, as far as particular challenges for libraries, we're coming up on 150 years next year, we've had a presence, a library presence in Menominee. And that's pretty fantastic. In terms of the number of communities in Wisconsin that can can claim that history. And what started out as a way for the ladies of the town to contain the gentleman who after Prohibition didn't have anywhere to go with their free time, to a place now where people can access resources 24/7 from their home, if for wherever if they're lucky enough to have internet access, just shows how far we've come and yet how we're trying to stay central to our mission.


Joleen Sterk 12:55

And that is of collecting stories, sharing stories, and gathering our community in a way that helps us to understand one another and work through the particular challenges of our of our time. One of the big challenges that I see when I talk to other directors, regionally and around the state is managing the expectations of our power users who really love their libraries and would love for us to be open, many, many more hours than we are currently for greater access and flexibility with their lives. And then on the flip side of it is making a case for publicly funding an institution that perhaps people haven't felt comfortable using it in the past. And just last week, I was chatting with my brother. And he needed wiring diagrams for his boat motor. And basically we have that we have these service manuals. And it's like, really, really, yeah, we have a lot of information that you know what's helpful in your life, even if you don't set foot in the building.


Joleen Sterk 14:09

We serve a lot of young families in our area and a lot of retired folks who have time during the day to come in and gather. But certainly, you know, in 21st century libraries, we're doing an awful lot of work through our website and through outreach. Working, you know, to get books in the hands of young people say by taking the book bike to the farmers market, or collaborating with school districts and offering programming around mental health issues in our community, taking deliveries to residential facilities for seniors who may not be able to get out and about. So, those are just a couple of examples, but my intention is really for our library staff to be community The participants and probably stopped solvers to the extent that we can use our resources to help move Menominee forward, rather than saying, Well, this is the library, and you need to use the library on our terms.


Steve Hanson 15:13

So I know funding is a challenge for all kinds of organizations, and I know I personally have been finding it, you know, a little sad that the library's hours have been curtailed as much as they have, although I sure understand why do you see any improvement happening? There are ways that people could help with that.


Joleen Sterk 15:40

Potentially, I think the, the way that people can help the most is to understand how libraries are funded and why. And what we're trying to do. I think it's easy for people to be reactionary and say, they, the government, the city is doing this and taking all of my money and not thinking about who they is, it's representatives that have been elected by the people. And I think there's a need for people to more actively participate in local government local issues. And to be informed about where their tax dollars are going. And to understand that roads don't happen accidentally. Water doesn't happen accidentally. Having infrastructure and Library Services doesn't happen accidentally, it's an investment. And these investments are, I believe, what's going to attract people to Menominee. Because if you're a person or a family looking to locate somewhere, especially now when people can work remotely, what makes your community more attractive to someone, I think it's quality of life thing. It's like having strong libraries and having a space for kids to go and play where they're safe. Those are important things. And that's what I wish people would see more of and see the good work that's being done with local government, with local employees that work for the city or the government. We're people like everyone else should work just trying to do the best we can with the dollars. We've been given stewardship over.


Joleen Sterk 17:27

As far as like library specific challenges, it's hard to keep up with a Kwik Trip is paying $15 an hour for someone to run a cash register. And for me, to get and retain talented employees that are really passionate about library work, not just collecting a check, I need to be able to have some financial flexibility to do that. I'm not going to get extra dollars from the city or from the county, then we need to look at other ways other areas to cut, which would be hours of service and materials. Those are the two things that aren't really fixed. But I would say that we have a good relationship with Dunn County, we've worked really hard with other libraries and Dunn County to explain and take questions from county leadership as to why libraries are important how they're impacting communities and folks in rural areas, and they've made their investment. Dunn County has supported our Public Library at 100%. Under state statute, they're only obligated to reimburse us for 70% of the cost of business. But I don't know about you, but when I go to get my car fixed somewhere, I can't just pay them 70% of what that Carfax was worth, I have to give them all of the money that they want. So in the same way, you know, libraries aren't going to be optimally functioning, if they're not getting the reimbursements that have been a lot are out laid out in state legislation. You know, with the city, we had a great stable leadership for many, many years. And I think that served the city really well in terms of keeping funding stable and not, you know, digging us into a lot of debt. But looking at a 20 year history of funding for the library, specifically $400,000 doesn't buy as much as it did 20 years ago. And we're actually headed backwards. So my hope is that the council will get this message will decide that they're ready to step up in funding their library.


Steve Hanson 19:38

Money just doesn't go as far as it did 20 years ago for anything. You know, I was one of those kids who was never as happy anywhere as my public library so it's dear to me. So I've covered the spirit of the school system pretty heavily and school board meetings. And you know, there has been a continual issue there about books that are in the schools and books that some parents aren't happy about seeing in the schools and I understand library faces that same issue. How has that been going?


Joleen Sterk 20:22

Luckily, it hasn't been as horrible as we've seen in other areas of the country. Certainly, I sent you a link to some information from the American Library Association, they have an office of intellectual freedom that tracks how many books have been challenged, or how many materials have been challenged over the years. And at the state level. In Wisconsin, we're fortunate to have a library at UW Madison, Cooperative Children's Book Center. And they identified similar trends, but only in children's literature. So that's both organizations have some interesting resources, people want to dig a little deeper. Locally, I would say that there are people in our community that perhaps skews socially conservative, or at the very least have strong convictions about identities of people, folks being in same sex relationships, that sort of thing. And I understand that people may not want to, you know, elect to read materials that feature communities in a, in a way that's not comfortable for them. But that doesn't mean that they have the right to make that decision for everyone else in the community. So for example, if there's a young adult book that's being challenged, and we've had four challenges in the past year, if there's a young adult fiction title that's being challenged, because it features a relationship between two teenage boys, I'm going to want to protect that material and protect people's freedom to make that decision for themselves rather than letting a small but vocal minority of the community make that decision for them. And luckily, our board feels the same way they feel very strongly about it. That's my professional oath is to make sure that people have access to information that they can find their perspective represented their their story represented. And it's no one's job is to try to take that away from people. The school is a little different in the sense that you're dealing with children, and they're acting in ways of the parents during the school day. And parents certainly ever want to restrict what they what their own children have access to. But in a public library, we really need to think about intellectual resources for everyone, not just


Steve Hanson 23:11

So, anything else you'd like to talk to our readers about in regard to the library or anything else?


Joleen Sterk 23:22

Just that we are open, I'm very open to having conversations. I want to listen to people and see what's on their mind. And I'm happy to have coffee with anyone. I hope that everyone that walks through our doors to touch one service and know that they are a valued and welcomed part of our community, whether they've lived here for five months or 50 years. I think there is strength and a variety of perspectives or strength and having a variety of experiences out in the world. And I think that the library is really one of the last places people can go to where they can get professional service where they can be seen and valued for what they bring to the table and not being judged in any way, but rather welcome because it's the diversity in our that makes us not


Steve Hanson 24:20

Well, thank you for your time Joleen. I've been talking to Joleen Stark, the director of the Public Library about library issues in Menominee.


Joleen Sterk 24:31

Thanks very much.

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Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers and the Local Media Association, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley



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