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Library Celebrates 10 Years in New Building, 75 Years of Community Service

Since its humble beginnings in 1937, the Whitefish Bay Library has taken three different forms and continued to meet the changing demands of the community. To celebrate, they are hosting a fun-walk and family entertainment Sunday afternoon.

Seventy-five years after setting up shop in a converted shooting gallery in the basement of Village Hall, the has steadily expanded as a center of community activity with over 80 percent of residents owning library cards today. 

The library will celebrate this anniversary - as well as 10 years in their new building - Sunday afternoon with a fun-walk, entertainment and activities. The walk, which doesn't require registration, starts at 1 p.m. outside the library, and activities will continue in School House Park until 4 p.m. Find details .

"It’s going to be a free, fun, family-friendly event and we really want a lot of people to come," Library Director Linda Pierschalla said. 

From a Basement Room to a Community Hub

The first sign of a library in Whitefish Bay was in 1916, when Klann's drug store and Henry Clay School distributed books on loan from the City of Milwaukee.

But the community was unsatisfied, and in 1937 the Whitefish Bay Woman's Club opened a small library in the basement of Village Hall, in a former police shooting gallery where they planned to store up to 3,000 books and seat 18 with one librarian, according to an article in the Whitefish Bay Herald. 

From the day of their opening, the library took off, increasing their supply of books from 1,600 to about 3,500 in their first year. When they outgrew that space, they moved to their current location on Marlborough Drive in 1955.

High school students left school to help carry books from the Village Hall to the new library, setting the tone for the library's continued community engagement, according to an article in the Milwaukee Journal.

“This volunteer spirit shown by the pupils is typical of the community’s reaction to the library’s new home," a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal wrote in November 1956. 

In the new building, the library boasted about 10,000 books and a first-year circulation of about 107,000.

Though the building then was only the size of the current children's section and one additional room, the librarians encouraged community activity by offering story hours and hosting village meetings. 

“A library is more than a building to point to with pride when showing visitors the village,” Janet Eggum, former head librarian, told the Whitefish Bay Herald in article from May 25, 1967. “It is a landmark of civilization in a community—a monument to the people’s desire to learn. The quantity, quality and diversity of the materials borrowed by our patrons indicate a true appreciation of the cultural advantages which good library service gives to a community.”

However, the library quickly started feeling overcrowded for their ambitious goals. Efforts for expansion gained traction in the 1990s, and in 2002, the village replaced the old building with the current one. 

"We were bursting at the seams," said Head of Adult Services Elke Saylor, who has worked at the library for 13 years.

The village allocated $3.5 million to gutting the old building and constructing the new building. Supporters raised an additional $2 million for construction and the collection, according to a memo to the Fox Point Village Board.

The library celebrated its grand opening in its current buliding on June 8, 2002. 

Library Thrives in Digital Age, Posting Record Numbers

The current library director shares the community engagement ethic that has driven the library for so many years. Circulation in 2011 was higher than ever before, with 351,173 check-outs, and 2012 is on pace to set a new record. 

Additionally, the youth programs at the library have doubled in the past ten years. 

"We’re seen more as a community center, and less of just a place to check out items," Pierschalla said. 

They've also made efforts to stay ahead of the changing media landscape, recently investing in e-books and electronic audio and video files.

Out of a total 116,298 items in the library, there are 20,088 e-books, 10,640 audio files and 321 video files, according to Pierschalla. You can check them out in the library's downloadable media collection

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"I don’t think we’re going to become dinosaurs; we’re evolving and reacting to what comes," Pierschalla said. 

It helps that many of the librarians live in the community and are responsive to the changing demands. 

"Most of the people who work here live in the community and are passionate about their own library and providing services to their fellow community members," Saylor said. "The staff is the core and strength of this library."

Elke Saylor June 22, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Just to clarify, I have been working here for 13 years, not 30.
Jeff Rumage June 22, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Sorry about the mistake, Elke. I just made the correction.

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