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End of an era
Otis Maura
MAURA OTIS, retiring Gays Mills Librarian, spends time reading a book to children.

GAYS MILLS - Maura Otis is retiring at the end of this month after serving for nearly 32 years as the Gays Mills Public Library Director. She has implemented many changes and done a fantastic job of developing the library into the fine institution it is today.

The germ, the seed, the idea for a Gays Mills Library all started with a simple box of books people could borrow from or add to. The box was placed in a store on Main Street, probably sometime in the 1930s. A small group of women called the Wednesday Evening Literary Society hatched the idea for this informal lending library and donated the first books to it. Their simple aim was to promote reading and provide a way for people to share books with each other. The Free Little Libraries we see today are a new version of that pre-library attempt to share books.

The first actual Gays Mills Public Library was established in the 1940’s. It was on the second floor of the old firehouse at the now empty northeast corner of Gay and Main Streets. That first library shared space with the town jail, how’s that for a background story? The library occupied several other places over the years before it found its present, permanent home in the Gays Mills Community Commerce Building.

When Maura became the library director, the library was being temporarily housed in the downtown Community Building at 212 Main Street. The main room of the former Kickapoo Theatre, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, was divided and half of the space was used as the library. This was after previous libraries closer to the river had suffered disastrous fires, some serious floods and numerous pesky high water events.

Most of Maura’s tenure as library director was spent in the former Wisconsin Power and Light building, next to the Kickapoo Exchange. This was a convenient location and served the village well for over 20 years. It took plenty of organization and creativity on Maura’s part to work within the small space of the building as the library and its services grew. Computers for patrons to use became an important feature of the library and were somehow squeezed into the limited space. 

The Gays Mills Public Library Director’s job description is surprising. It’s about three pages of detailed job duties, most of which don’t show as you browse for and check out a book, movie, magazine or use a library computer. The job involves keeping track of thousands of books and also ordering (and discarding) books, planning special programs, grant writing, computer and copier troubleshooting, coordinating volunteer help, general administration duties, and providing a vital service to whomever walks through the door. It is not unusual to visit the library and see young children, senior citizens, and every one in between, all enjoying a visit to their library. Maura does a particularly stellar job twice a month with the popular children’s’ story hour.

The library, any library, is a tremendous resource for a community and is a window on the world. Maura Otis has been an excellent local guide to that world and a gatekeeper to the treasure the library represents. Maura has skillfully and competently overseen and caused the growth of the Gays Mills Public Library. She has always been friendly, pleasant and helpful. She assisted people in finding answers to questions they may have through books and using computers. She represented herself and the community so well as an ambassador of the village and a large surrounding area.

I wonder what the Wednesday Evening Literary Society members would think if they were to walk into the beautiful 2018 Gays Mills Public Library that Maura Otis has nurtured and developed. I’m sure they would be duly impressed.

Congratulations on your retirement, Maura, and thank you for a job very well done.