Should Wisconsin libraries always notify guardians when kids check out materials?

Leader of 2023 'Library of the Year' says libraries already allow enough parental oversight

Brown County Library branch
Photo courtesy of Brown County Library

Proposed mandates to alert parents about any library materials checked out by their children are unneeded, according to the head of a “Library of the Year” in the state.

Already at public libraries, parents often must give permission for kids to get library cards and parents may see what their children are checking out, Brown County Library executive director Sarah Sugden said in a recent interview on WPR’s “The Morning Show.”

“We feel there are good safeguards in place ensuring that parents, caregivers and guardians have the control that they should have,” Sugden said.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Republican-backed proposals in the state Legislature would require public librarians and school librarians to notify parents about check-outs for children who are younger than 16. State Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc, introduced the bills and previously told WPR that parents know best what material is suitable for their children.

On “The Morning Show,” Sugden agreed that parents should be informed about what their children are checking out — she just believes parents already can through existing practices.

“We know that parents and guardians are children’s first and best teachers,” she said. “We don’t want to interfere with that responsibility and those rights of parents and caregivers. So, that’s why we have those policies already in place to ensure those.”

The Wisconsin Library Association picked the Brown County Library system as its 2023 winner for the year’s top library, calling it “a true community asset” to Brown County. In addition to the central library, the system features eight branches and a bookmobile.

While appearing on “The Morning Show,” Sugden also discussed library funding, providing access to rural areas and bookmobiles.

The following was edited for brevity and clarity.

Kate Archer Kent: Do you feel you have adequate funding to run library operations? 

Sarah Sugden: I don’t know whether any public library would say they ever have adequate funding, because the truth is public libraries can benefit communities in so many ways. … When you consider the opportunities for service in the community through public libraries, it is only financial limitations that really prevent us from digging in and making differences in all those areas of human existence. Public libraries are remarkable in the ways in which they use their resources effectively and thriftfully and try to get the most bang for the buck for their community members.

KAK: The Brown County Library Board is seeking to expand services to rural communities. What conversations are board members having about the system’s future and where it could go?

SS: It is exciting work. We love library work, and we love figuring out ways that we can better serve our community members and extend services. While we know that financial resources are always a challenge, we also know that there are so many innovative ways that libraries are … modifying and adapting services for various communities to begin to create solutions that will work in those communities. 

We have a task force working and trying to figure this out. How do we help our communities in every municipality in Brown County, not just the ones that currently have a physical location? 

Books sit on shelves in a library
Books sit on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta in 2023. Hakim Wright Sr./AP Photo

KAK: What are you learning from the programs you offer that other communities should know about? 

SS: Libraries are awesome at sharing ideas. I will confess to all listeners and all librarians listening: I steal their ideas. Great ideas are everywhere. That is what is so wonderful about libraries — that we borrow or steal these wonderful ideas, the impactful programs, the big ways and small ways in which libraries are really doing excellent work in meeting the needs of the community and removing barriers for folks to get what they need.

Every library is really a hybrid blend of those best practices, those great ideas and uniquely adapted for individual communities, even within Brown County with multiple locations and a bookmobile. Every community within our own county is different and has different needs and different opportunities, too.

READ MORE: Wisconsin libraries would have to notify parents about the books their kids check out under GOP proposal

KAK: How do you use the bookmobile? The concept must have been around a long time. 

SS: We’ve had bookmobile service here since the late 1940s. I love hearing stories of people who talk about what it was like as a child to see that bookmobile come down the road and what it represented. We find the bookmobile is an awesome way for us to be able to get out and about. 

Transportation barriers are a big challenge for folks in every community, particularly rural communities. The more that we can get out and about and meet people where they are, the better. For us, the bookmobile has been a great part of the solution for those challenges. We have a new bookmobile coming next spring. Can’t wait to break it out. We’ll have to wait a little bit longer. 

KAK: What will be different about this new bookmobile? 

SS: Certainly, it will provide access to technology. It is a mobile library, a small library on wheels — except the bookmobile will have a bubble machine, and our physical libraries don’t. 

A bookmobile is a mobile library, so it brings computer and printer access. It is a Wi-Fi hotspot. So, anywhere the bookmobile is, people can hop online and get access to the digital resources they need.