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Menomonee Falls residents worried about future of community’s library

Emails show village trustees discussed closing the public library

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library shelves full of books
Franklin Heijnen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dozens of Menomonee Falls residents pleaded with village board members Monday night not to close or stop funding their public library after learning trustees discussed a possible closure.

Trustees denied the Menomonee Falls Public Library is in danger. But a recent $250,000 funding cut to the library’s budget, the ousting of three library board members and comment that Menomonee Falls residents are “affluent and can buy their own books,” paint a different picture.

That statement was made by Brad Jubber, the village board representative on the library board.

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Residents learned about Jubber’s feelings through an open records request made by Grassroots Menomonee Falls Area.

The group made the request after the Village Board voted 6-1 on May 15 to remove Peggy Haus, Ian Dickmann, and James Heiden from the library board without discussion.

Dickmann said he believes one of the main reasons his reappointment to the library board was rejected is because the current village trustees are planning to cut library funding. And they continue to hold a grudge about how the library was operated during the 2020 and early 2021 months of the pandemic.

“Ultimately, I believe the village board plans to replace all members of the library board and appoint their own figureheads,” Dickmann said in an email to WPR. “That’s why they haven’t publicized the (library board) openings. I believe they will cut library funds, setting our library director up to fail, and blame the library director when the library is unable to meet county standards.”

Grassroots Menomonee Falls Area obtained an email Amy Schlotthauer, president of the Menomonee Falls Library Board of Trustees, sent to her fellow board members on May 23. In the email, Schlotthauer detailed a meeting she had with Jubber and her concerns over multiple comments he made.

Jubber told Schlotthauer the village board would be requesting a book audit, and he planned to submit a request for reconsideration for “concerning teen LGBTQ+ titles on behalf of residents who may be hesitant to share their names and addresses that the form requests.”

He also indicated that at least three Village Board Trustees are already planning on not funding Menomonee Falls Public Library in the future.

“This is VERY concerning to me, and also good information to have so that we can be thoughtful of what types of data and information we need to demonstrate the value of the library to our community,” Schlotthauer said in her email to board members.

During Monday’s Village Board meeting, Jubber said his comments were “taken out of proportion.”

Menomonee Falls is not alone. Dozens of communities across the country have voted to stop funding their public libraries. In August 2022, voters in Western Michigan chose to defund their public library after a campaign organized by a conservative community group argued that a display of books showcasing LGBTQ+ characters and stories was “grooming children for sexual exploitation.”

A rural Texas community considered defunding its library system in April after a federal judge ordered it to return more than a dozen banned books to library shelves.

Andrew Guss, co-leader of Grassroots of Menomonee Falls Area, mobilized the community to try to stop future cuts or closure of the library.

“By uniting our voices and advocating for our library, we can make a tangible difference in preserving the educational and cultural fabric of our community,” Guss said.

Dozens of people spoke for just under an hour Monday, telling stories of how the library affects their lives and their children’s lives. Some called it a savior for elderly residents in the community.

Anne Matthews said she used the library when her children were young and has wonderful memories. She wasn’t planning to speak at the village board meeting, but was outraged at Jubber’s comments.

“How dare you. How dare this board presumes to have the right dictate how your constituents spend their money when we are the ones that elected you, the ones who pay the taxes here,” Matthews said. “It’s an incredibly disrespectful, demeaning and ignorant statement.”

Brittany Wohlfeil owns a bakery in downtown Menomonee Falls and is a telehealth nurse practitioner. She said most of her clients rely on the library for internet access and wouldn’t be able to have health care without it.

“I hope you can all go home and think about what everyone has said to you,” Wohlfeil said. “Take off whatever political hat you are wearing and think about what it means to represent an entire community.”

William Gottemoller is a graduating senior at Menomonee Falls High School. His home internet connection gave out when he was doing his college interview, so he needed the library.

Gottemoller now has a full scholarship to Harvard.

“The library has more uses than just books,” Gottemoller said. “We use it, retirees use it, I go there after school to do my homework and there are so many people there, I can hardly find an office. It’s abominable you are even considering closing it.”

According to the Menomonee Falls Public Library’s year in review, 437,294 items were checked out in 2022. The library averaged 474 visitors each day, offered 449 programs with 10,112 attendees and 20,997 reference questions were answered.

The library estimates it saved patrons $8.7 million last year through the programs and materials it provides. Although on Monday, Trustee Steve Taggart took issue with libraries using “savings” numbers.

“These materials are paid for by taxpayers, you rent them and return them, but they’re not zeroing them out when they’re returned,” Taggart said. “I think that’s really disingenuous and dishonest to the really nice gift the taxpayers give to the library every year.”

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