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Neuenschwander: Monroe Library about more than books
Gary Neuenschwander
Gary Neuenschwander

Quick quiz. Name five services offered at the Monroe Public Library.

Sure, the easy ones are books, computers and internet. But give yourself a gold star if you named two organizations located within the building itself: The Literacy Council of Green County and the Green County Genealogical Society.

Both have been longtime partners with the library. Both are used extensively. And both have sorely outgrown their allotted space. When the time came to look at updating the 25-year-old facility, both were in the mix for needed renovations.

“Our partners fit well into what we’ve built at the library,” said Suzann Holland, library director. “We can’t imagine planning renovations without including ways to make serving their patrons easier.”

Renovations, however, come with a price and even basic structural changes add up, especially in a building as large as the library. A capital campaign to raise $1.5 million – “Let’s Do Something Extraordinary for Monroe” – is now underway, and Holland said response has been extraordinary.  

The Literacy Council actually began in the library almost 25 years ago with its mission to empower “adult learners with the English language, one word at a time.” Volunteer tutors offer one-on-one learning as well as occasional group classes.

Executive Director Karin Monzon Krimmer knows the importance of the council; she was once a learner herself.

“With the support of the library, we have been able to provide a safe and confidential space for everyone who wants to learn English,” she said. 

The Literacy Council currently functions out of a small space on the library’s second floor, tucked near the meeting room at the front of the building. The area is large enough for a table and six chairs; at times as many as a dozen attendees are at an event.

“It will be better if we have a bigger space and more privacy, because sometimes learners and tutors get distracted,” Krimmer said. “The closing and opening of the elevator or people coming to the restroom or just people being curious about what is going on can be big distractions.”

With the proposed renovations, the Literacy Council would move its operations to the opposite end of the second floor and include office space, housing for its collection of learning resources, additional tutoring space and priority use of a new conference room on the second floor.

“A larger space would help them fully live their mission,” Holland said.

The Green County Genealogical Society was created in 2001 to bring together family researchers interested in their ancestry, to copy cemeteries in the area and to stimulate interest in genealogy. The organization has been located in the library’s lower level since 2012.

What seemed like a large space in the beginning has proven to be inadequate as resource collections have grown. Space-saving mobile shelving was purchased in 2019 but space remains cramped. Ginny Gerber, president of the Society, credited members with being “very creative at finding space for everything that we would like to have available to the public for doing their family research.”

Adding to the space problems are water issues in the main room and outdated restrooms with gaping holes in the walls.

“The bathroom area is embarrassing to send our visitors to,” Gerber said. “So we are very much looking forward to updated restrooms.”

Other renovations include refurbishing the lobby area outside the lower level elevator, additional of a storage room adjacent to the main room and installation of a display case in the lower level lobby.

“The renovations are sorely needed, especially the water issues when dealing with historical documents,” Holland said. “And the restrooms truly are outdated.

“Our campaign is going well, but we are not quite finished,” she said. “The library is where Monroe’s children learn the value of life-long learning. We want it to be the best it can be.”

Krimmer echoed those thoughts. 

“Libraries are not an expense,’’ she said. “Libraries are an investment.”

Powerful words.

— Gary Neuenschwander is on the Campaign Committee for the Monroe Public Library’s “Let’s Do Something Extraordinary For Monroe” project.