Have you been to your Rhinelander Library Lately? No? You have been missing a lot. And if you have been there recently after a prolonged absence, you may have been surprised at what a lively and engaging place it is. If you are a regular library user, you are one of the millions of people who are proving every day that libraries are not and never will be irrelevant or obsolete. People of all ages love and use their libraries, here in Rhinelander, too!
I believe strongly that the library is one of our most important institutions, a foundation of our democracy and one of the few repositories of truth that we have left. As a library trustee for over 45 years, I have done what I could to support libraries because I frequently see very little recognition of a library’s value to its community. It is my opinion that the Rhinelander District Library is severely underfunded and has been for many years. While service expectations have hugely increased, this library now has fewer employees and is open fewer hours than when I was appointed to the board approximately 24 years ago.
I know it can be extremely difficult to decide how to best use public funds for the common good; the needs of the library are not as obvious as the potholes in our streets. But I think the community’s responsibility for adequate financial support for the library needs to be better understood and acknowledged.
Funding negotiations with our district members in the last few years have been especially tough. Reasonable, well-justified increase requests have been totally denied or deeply cut. Annual operating budgets have been barely enough to manage day-to-day functions, maintain our historic building and properly pay our staff. Planning for a badly-needed expansion has had to be put on hold, while neighboring libraries are adding on or building new.
Additional support is provided by the Rhinelander District Library Foundation and the recently formed Friends of the Library, as well as the Rhinelander Women’s Club, Northern Arts Council, Lions, and numerous other groups and individuals. But their generosity is not a substitute for municipal responsibility. Donations cannot be used for operational needs, only for special purposes and projects.
Please, if you understand how important the library is to the life of the community, don’t take it for granted; talk to your city council or town and county board members about the use of your tax dollars and urge them to look closely at their list of priorities. The Rhinelander District Library has been too low on that list for much too long.
Janet Baer, Rhinelander