First Person: Rhinelander library expansion
The Rhinelander District Library is in need of more space. The library board has announced it is looking to expand the facility to make more room. We caught up with Ed Hughes, library director, to find out more.
Star Journal: What is the square footage of the library now?
Ed Hughes: We are currently at about 15,000 square feet.
SJ: When was the library originally built?
EH: It was built in 1903 and had about 6,000 square feet. In 1985 the library was remodeled and about 9,000 square feet was added. Ideally, we are at half the space we need for the population that we serve.
SJ: Why is there a need for more space at the library?
EH: There are four areas where we really need more space. We need a large meeting room and several small study rooms. We would also like to have a separate space for a genealogy research, and staff work areas are very inefficient and overcrowded.
SJ: So you are not necessarily expanding to add more space for books or library materials?
EH: No, what we are finding more and more is that people are requesting a larger meeting room. The lack of space for programs is becoming increasingly prohibitive because of this. We have tried to find larger meeting rooms in the community, but many times they are booked up. When we do have programs that draw large groups, we find it gets very crowded. Take, for instance, the worm race. That draws about 200 people. It is held outside when the weather permits, but when the weather is bad, we have to look for an alternative place to hold it and many times that is almost impossible.
SJ: What about study rooms?
EH: We also have many requests from people who would like to tutor people here. There are also many requests from people who would like a separate area so they can study together without bothering other people in the library or have a quiet area to study by themselves.
SJ: Do you have a lot of requests from people who are studying their genealogy?
EH: Yes, this is very popular and it’s a big deal around here. Right now we have an area that is dedicated to this, but many times people who are not studying genealogy are using the area because there is nowhere else to go. It would really be nice to have a separate area for this kind of research.
SJ: Why are staff work areas so crowded?
EH: We have given up more and more staff work space to make more room for programs within the library.
SJ: Is the reason for more space because of more people using the library?
EH: That’s a big part of it. We don’t just serve the Rhinelander area but also residents in Newbold, Crescent, Pelican and Pine Lake, which altogether has about 18,000 in population.
SJ: How many people would you estimate use the library in a year?
EH: We really don’t have a way to count that, but I would say between 50,000 and 150,000 come here throughout a year. And we have seen an increase in usage, I believe, because of the recession.
SJ: How much space would you like to add?
EH: I would like to see about 15,000 more square footage.
SJ: Where are you at in the process?
EH: We are at the very beginning stages. We have put out requests for qualifications to eight different architects who have experience in these types of additions. Once we get those back, we can begin to look at what our options are. We are planning on interviewing architects in March.
SJ: Where would the library expand?
EH: The library board has been anticipating expanding for some time and have prepared for that. The library owns property on the north and east side of the building, so we have that option. Someone also suggested adding another floor, but all that will be determined when we look at what the architects bring to us.
SJ: How will this addition be funded?
EH: We are not planning on using any taxpayer dollars. We believe we can raise the money through fundraisers to do this addition. We do have some savings we can use toward an addition and also I believe people will step up when we get to that point.
SJ: Do you have any idea how much it will cost?
EH: That’s up in the air right now, but we have been looking at other library additions. The Minocqua Library added on at a cost of $1.7 million, so it will probably be at least in that ballpark.
SJ: The Rhinelander District Library building is so beautiful. Will the integrity of that be compromised with an addition?
EH: I don’t believe so because we are very adamant that the building retain its original architecture.
SJ: Are you excited about expanding the library?
EH: I am because it is a very important part of the community. It really gets a lot of use and could be even more accommodating for many more with an addition.