Library undersized and underfunded, report saysA recent assessment of the Hudson Area Joint Library comes to a conclusion long maintained by supporters of a bigger library.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
A recent assessment of the Hudson Area Joint Library comes to a conclusion long maintained by supporters of a bigger library.
“While library use has increased dramatically over the years, the amount of materials owned by the library has remained relatively stagnant due to the lack of space and fiscal resources,” John Thompson, director of the Indianhead Federated Library System, says in the executive summary of his report.
“In general, funding for the library has also been relatively flat and currently is far less per capita than its Wisconsin library peers and other libraries in St. Croix County,” Thompson adds.
The 42-page “Hudson Area Joint Library Assessment Report” is dated July 1, 2009, and was received by local library officials on July 13.
Library Board President Jim O’Connor talked about the report in a Monday morning interview at the library, located at 911 Fourth St. in the city of Hudson.
“We want to build public awareness of the need for improved library facilities and what they will provide to the public,” said O’Connor, speaking for members of a special planning committee that is exploring new options for expanding the library.
A plan to purchase the former Nuclear Management Co. building at 700 First St. and convert it into a library was defeated in a referendum last November.
O’Connor said the planning committee, comprised of Library Board and community members, asked the Indianhead Federated Library System for a comparison of the Hudson library facilities to other libraries late last winter.
The Indianhead system is a state-funded organization that provides consulting and support for 53 public libraries in a 10-county region of northwestern Wisconsin. The Hudson library wasn’t charged for the study.
O’Connor said the eight-member Hudson Area Joint Library Board also approved having the study done. He said he couldn’t recall if it was a unanimous vote to go ahead with the study.
“The purpose was to quantify where we stand with other similar-size libraries in the state and to help us plan for a better facility in Hudson,” O’Connor said of the study.
The study finds the Hudson library significantly below the norm for other public libraries in a wide range of comparisons – from the number of computers providing Internet access to the number of hours the library is open each week.
O’Connor called attention to the size of the Hudson library’s print volume collection in comparison to nine other libraries serving roughly the same number of people that the Hudson library serves.
The Hudson library’s collection of 51,712 volumes was the smallest of the 10 libraries compared. The West Bend Community Memorial Library had the most volumes with 171,926 and the Neenah Public Library was second with 148,391 volumes.
The Oak Creek Public Library, with 65,112 volumes, was the closest to Hudson in the size of its collection. The next lowest was the Sun Prairie Public Library with 90,441 volumes.
The Wisconsin Public Library Standards say the Hudson library should have 101,306 volumes to provide a basic level of service and 153,328 volumes to provide excellent service.
The Hudson library’s collection deficiency stems from another deficiency – that of floor space, according to O’Connor.
With 8,139 square feet of floor space, the Hudson library also is at the bottom of the list in that comparison.
The West Bend library tops with the list with 62,000 square feet of floor area. The Neenah library has 50,000 square feet and the Franklin library, 40,000 square feet.
The Community Library in Salem and the Oak Creek Public Library are the closest to the Hudson library in size at 13,500 square feet and 14,800 square feet, respectively.
The Hudson library simply doesn’t have the room to house the collections that other libraries have, O’Connor said. And the limited space also means there’s little room for reading areas or study tables.
“This is our reading space,” O’Connor said of the sofa and two stuffed chairs along the south wall of the library. “How many people can browse and read here?”
The study area is a table with four wooden chairs next to one of the stuffed chairs. There’s another stuffed chair near the shelves holding the books for young adults.
“We are by far the smallest of any library with our population base,” O’Connor said.
The total population of the four municipalities that the Hudson library serves (the city of Hudson, the village of North Hudson, and the towns of Hudson and St. Joseph) was estimated at 27,380 by the Wisconsin Demographic Services Center at the beginning of 2008.
Thompson compared the Hudson library to nine other Wisconsin libraries serving similar-size populations.
The Hudson library measures up better when compared to some other libraries in the Indianhead system that serve smaller populations. The Altoona library has 8,040 square feet of floor space, the New Richmond library, 8,500 square feet, and the Rice Lake and Ladysmith libraries, 9,000 square feet.
The neighboring River Falls Public Library has 24,000 square feet of floor area, not including the basement meeting rooms.
The ultimate reason for the Hudson library’s deficiencies in comparison to other libraries is its low level of tax funding, according to O’Connor.
When comparing 2007 funding levels, Thompson found that the $20.91 per capita spent on the Hudson library was more than twice as much less than other St. Croix County libraries receive. The average amount of tax money spent on county libraries was $49.93 per capita.
The Baldwin library, with $32.62 per capita in support, came the closest to the Hudson library’s level of funding.
The 10 libraries in Hudson’s peer group (serving roughly the same size populations) received an average of $33 per capita in tax support in 2007.
The Hudson library’s level of funding increased to $22.26 per capita in 2008.
“It’s interesting that all of the libraries in St. Croix County are provided much more funding than we have to work with here,” O’Connor said.
He said Hudson has always been a “leading area” of St. Croix County and the state with “many fine public facilities,” including The Phipps Center for the Arts, St. Croix Valley YMCA, athletic facilities and its public schools.
“The library is the one thing that is not what it should be. We think the public should have the benefit of a library that is contemporary with the times,” he said.
The Indianhead study also found that the Hudson library:
• Ranks low in the size of its audio and video collections. In 2008, it had 2,963 audio CDs in comparison the 6,571 that would be needed to provide a “moderate” level of service, according to the state. The library had 3,938 video DVDs. The number needed for a moderate level of service was 6,845.
• Has many fewer computers with Internet access than most other public libraries serving similar-size populations. The Hudson library has eight computers with Internet access compared to 45 at the Franklin Public Library, 35 at the Salem library and 31 at the Neenah library. The average number of public Internet computers in libraries in Hudson’s peer group was 22.3.
• Ranks toward the bottom of its peer libraries in comparisons of the number of full-time-equivalent employees it has (9.91) and the number of hours per week that it is open (56).
Meanwhile, the Hudson library’s circulation is on pace to double in a six-year period.
O’Connor said the library circulates an average of 1,100 items each of the six days of the week it is open. That would equate to a shelf of books 90 feet long if each item was a book one inch thick, he said.
“That’s a huge amount of information and services provided to the public. And it’s a lot of work for the staff,” he said.
He said the library has just three full-time employees – Director Linda Donaldson, Assistant Director Matthew Winkler and Children’s Librarian Mary Davis – and 24 part-time employees.
O’Connor said he has distributed copies of the Indianhead study report to Library Board members as well as members of the governing bodies of each of the municipalities the library serves.
He said the Library Board would be discussing the findings at its next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 10.