Newsmakers, April 13, 2017

Air Date:
Heard On Newsmakers
Liz Humrickhouse, Erin Foster and Trina Erickson
Liz Humrickhouse, Erin Foster and Trina Erickson Hope Kirwan/WPR

Three southwestern Wisconsin librarians are celebrating National Library Week by spreading the message that libraries are always reinventing themselves to stay relevant, and the services they provide may be more important than ever.

At the McIntosh Memorial Library in Viroqua, a recent community survey found people wanted the library to stay open longer because it’s considered the city’s “entertainment center.”

But while there are some very traditional library services going on like children’s programming, library director Trina Erickson said McIntosh has become a vital economic development tool, helping adults learn basic computer skills and find jobs.

“What we’re really seeing is employers in our area only accepting online job applications, so people are coming into our building to apply for jobs who have never used a computer before,” Erickson said.

The library at Holmen High School serves more than 1,100 students and 100 teachers. Library media director Erin Foster considers a library to be the heart of any school. Among her jobs is to make sure students are prepared for life beyond high school.

“When I hear literacy, I think of not just reading, but I think of media literacy and information literacy which are huge right now,” Foster said. “All the fake news, I mean that is huge right now. I mean we are trying to teach these kids, ‘you can’t just believe everything that comes over your news feed.’”

The McIntosh Memorial Library moved into a new space last year and while it could always use more money, Erikson said they manage to make do with what they have. Funding for K-12 public school libraries is helped by an annual payout from the Common School Fund through the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, and is protected by the state constitution.

But literacy programs at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse have suffered through recent state budget cuts.

Murphy Library provides services to about 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It also supports hundreds of other faculty, staff and community members.

Instructional librarian Liz Humrickhouse said Murphy has been forced to cancel newspaper and magazine subscriptions and dozens of research databases students relied on to help them with projects. An open librarian position also isn’t being filled due to budget constraints, something she said will have a direct impact on students.

“It’s hard to be in a position to say, ‘well, OK we have to lose 75 instruction sessions, who gets cut?’” said Humrickhouse. “I don’t like to be in a position of saying some students are more worthy of instruction than others. I think everyone should get everything they need.”

Literacy is something area libraries have been stressing more recently. UW-La Crosse and many other libraries sponsored a conference on the subject earlier this year, with plans to hold a similar event next year.

– John Davis

Episode Credits

  • Hope Kirwan Host
  • John Davis Producer
  • Trina Erickson Guest
  • Liz Humrickhouse Guest
  • Erin Foster Guest