Marathon County Library looks at leaving WVLS to join SCLS
Move could bring benefit to Wood and Portage County libraries
By Taylor Hale
PORTAGE COUNTY – Marathon County Library board members voted 4-3 on Jan. 25 to recommend to the county board that the library leave the Wisconsin Valley Library Service (WVLS) to join the South Central Library System (SCLS) and Portage, Wood, Adams, and other counties, within the system.
Marathon County Library Director Ralph Illick said the transition would allow Marathon to utilize the superior services, comprehensive cataloging, and access to over 3.5 million items available for checkout – more than three times the current amount.
“One of the many major benefits is here in WVLS, we do something that’s accepted in our current system; it’s called copy-cataloging,” Illick said. “That’s the same as if you told me, we are having a party for the kids, and you have to bring the cake, then you’d buy a cake and buy the icing, and then bring them separately and go, ‘here’s the cake.’ In the SCLS system, degreed librarians use complete comprehensive cataloging.”
Comprehensive cataloging offers more in-depth search and query options for visitors, something Illick feels is lacking in the WVLS.
If Marathon County were to join the SCLS, neighboring libraries in surrounding counties within the system would have access to the materials and services at Marathon libraries. That means that Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, and other cities found within the system would expand their library rental materials.
“The biggest pro would be another large library in the system, which would increase the number of items guests can borrow,” said Portage County Library Director Larry Oathout. “It’s a bit polarizing for many, but it would give us a much larger pool of resources.”
What this means for WVLS
Marathon County is the current resource library for the WVLS. If they were to withdraw from the service and join the SCLS, WVLS would have to select a new resource library. Resource libraries serve as a main-base and holding center for a region’s library system. Madison acts as the resource library for the SCLS.
If the service finds that an existing library within the system is not suitable, the Department of
Public Instruction (DPI) could work with WVLS leaders to contract a library outside of the WVLS to serve as the resource library.
Other counties within the WVLS will also have a chance to consider if they want to separate and merge with other neighboring systems. While many options are on the table, other library directors within the WVLS have concerns that fragmenting out could have long-lasting repercussions on WVLS and its services.
Others within the service note that requesting materials from inside a system takes roughly two days, but if library-goers request materials outside of the service, it could take up to six weeks.
Of the 25 libraries in the WVLS, Illick said that Marathon County’s evaluated service population is 40 percent. This means that Marathon has to cover 40 percent of expenses, such as purchasing new software, within the service, leaving the remaining 24 libraries to cover roughly 2.5 percent.
Illick felt that providing the lion’s share is unfair to Marathon and noted that libraries in Madison,
Stevens Point, and Wisconsin Rapids are more comparable in size; allowing Marathon more breathing room each year, but putting pressure on other WVLS libraries.
Marathon County first started looking into joining the SCLS in January of 2020. A special library task force recommended the move in December of 2020.
A public hearing on the transition is slated for sometime in March. The public hearing will be followed by an official decision by the county board, expected to take place before June 30.
Illick said that if Marathon were to join the SCLS, he hopes to work with system and DPI staff to utilize open space within the Marathon library as a shipping and logistics center.
“The third floor of our building, due to some rather long circumstances, has around 20,000 square feet of space we could utilize,” Illick explained. “It’s not very often you find someone in library land that’s saying ‘we have extra space.’”
The SCLS includes Wood, Portage, Adams, Sauk, Columbia, Dane, and Green counties. The
WVLS includes Oneida, Forest, Lincoln, Langlade, Taylor, Clark, and Marathon counties.