Looking at the current Gays Mills Public Library, in the recently built Community Commerce Center, with its high ceilings and large windows facing the Kickapoo River bottoms, it’s hard to imagine its humble beginning as a handful of books on a shelf in the back of the Jameson Store on Main Street, behind the canned goods, fabric, and housewares of a small town general store.
Seventy years after its small beginnings, the library remains focused on expanding its services in a community that has been changed as much by technology and culture as by the flooding that precipitated its move to higher grounds.
“When the library board was informed of the option of replacing public entities, it answered our need,” Gays Mills’ librarian Maura Otis said, “Everyone was on board. We wouldn’t probably have gotten a library any other way.”
“For a couple of years before the floods, we had been talking about getting into a larger space,” Otis explained. “Space was our primary concern. We couldn’t do the programming we wanted to do. If a book discussion was well attended, we couldn’t fit everyone in.”
The library had outgrown its space well before the floods that wreaked havoc on the village’s low-lying downtown and neighborhood, sending Otis and her volunteers scurrying to move the collection higher up the already packed shelves.
“We had reached the point where it was one book out for every book we added to the collection,” Otis said. “The tops of the shelves were in use and there was nowhere to put anything else.”
Now, Otis has been able to move the library collections to shorter shelves, bringing the collection down to patron eye level. And, she still has room to expand.
The children’s collection now has more room for story hour and activities. It’s well lit with playfully shaped lights (two bees and an airplane) and a bank of windows wrapping around the corner to bring in natural light. With the lower shelves, it’s easier for parents to browse for books of their own while watching over their children at play. Plans for the space include building in window seats with storage underneath.
Computer users have a larger space with a table for laptop users connecting to the library’s Internet service. That additional space has Otis working on plans to create small classes for beginning computer users.
Patrons lacking comfort or experience with computers would still be able to receive assistance from the librarian if needed. However, they would also have the opportunity to learn in a more focused atmosphere without the interruptions that occur when the librarian needs to assist several patrons with different needs at once.
The new library also offers a small study and meeting room that can afford patrons privacy within the library.
The increased space, its proximity to additional public spaces, and the outdoor areas around the Community Commerce Center have Otis and the library board thinking of other ways the library can expand it’s programming. Discussions have included plant exchanges, film discussions and more.
“I would like to see us use some of the outdoor areas,” Otis added. A small garden area sits just outside the library windows facing the river.
“I would like to see the library find ways to encourage people to spend time outside as well,” Otis said. “Encouraging them to walk to the library…or creating programs that tie into the outdoor activities we have available. It is a matter of finding out what we can do, what will work.”