It’s a typical summer day in Black River Falls. The late spring rains and gentle breezes have left lasting impressions in yards throughout the community – beautiful flowers, budding trees and acres of lush, green lawns. And Tammy Peasley, Library Director at the first public library in Wisconsin, is where many people find themselves each year – clearing out the gutters at the Black River Falls Public Library to make sure that the next storm doesn’t cause water problems.
“When I became director in 2013, I knew how important this library was to Black River Falls,” remembers Peasley. “This library has been here since November 1872. It’s been an important part of our community for generations – and I want to make sure it remains a vibrant center of learning for generations to come. Cleaning the gutters is just part of the job.”
This year, the library is celebrating 20 years at its current location at 222 Fillmore Street. While the world has changed dramatically since the library began serving patrons in 1872 with just a few books (though they had 240 books at the end of 1873), the last 20 years have seen some major shifts in what people need and expect from the library and its staff.
“Our community, like others around the country, is becoming heavily dependent on computers,” said Peasley. “While traditional services are still important, our patrons are coming to us more and more for assistance in accessing electronic check-outs. We have seen steady growth in technological requests. In 1995 there was one staff computer in the building. Today we have 14 public access computers and nine staff access computers. Many people bring in their own devices to access Internet resources and I anticipate those numbers will continue to increase.”
More community groups are looking to the library for group meetings. “We have a program room and small conference room that are used for things like book clubs, job counseling, tutoring, and club meetings, but the space needs continued to grow,” said Peasley. So she turned to a “third place philosophy,” that helped the staff carve out a special space for teens by reorganizing the entire library to redefine spaces. “We received a Teen Space Grant and created a place within our existing footprint that is now a gathering place for area teens.”
Peasley shared an infographic of the growth in library services in the past 20 years. “You can see how important our library is for our community by looking at the significant growth in the past 20 years – and the kinds of services they need to improve their lives,” said Peasley. “It’s my job to look at the needs and assess how we can deliver the services in the most efficient and sustainable way given funding challenges we face each year. We are completely dependent on municipality and county funding and state limitations are impacting our ability to add more services, so we need to be strategic on how those diminishing resources are allocated to make the most impact.”
But one thing drives Peasley more than anything else: Are we making decisions today that will continue to make this library a community asset for my children and grandchildren? “Forward thinking by all librarians and patrons is what has made this library a jewel in our community for more than 140 years,” said Peasley. “We need to work together to prepare for the future.”
The Library Board is an important resource for Peasley. “I’m so grateful for their enthusiasm and professional expertise that help guide me in making decisions that are best for our library. “I certainly have a vision for what I’d like to see for the library, but it’s always important to remember it can’t be my vision – our future depends on what the community’s vision is for our library. Our board provides great insights into what the community wants, but we need more input and expect to embark on a strategic planning process to ensure we’re aligned with the needs of our area. The knowledge base in our community is extraordinary and we need to tap into it to collectively grow together.”
One thing is certain: Tammy Peasley and her staff will do what they need to get things done. And that’s a very good thing for everyone who lives in the Black River Falls community.