They are known locally as the Library Ladies.
The Platteville Public Library employs 10 women with a collective 147 years of experience working at the library.
The director of the library, Carolyn Schuler, ironically has less experience than the other nine in Platteville. Schuler, however, has worked in libraries for 50 years. She has been the Platteville library director for five years in two stints, from 2006 to 2008 and then, after the retirement of library director Rose Frost, since 2011.
“We came to look for an apartment because David had just gotten his job” as associate professor of theatre at UW–Platteville, said Schuler. “I called my girlfriend in Madison and said guess what, we’re moving to Platteville. Forty-five seconds later, she called and said you’ll never believe this, but there’s a library position open in Platteville.”
Schuler inherited an experienced staff. Deb Burkholder, head of Outreach Services, has worked at the library for 31 years. Circulation Clerk Molly Carns and Erin Isabell, head of Children’s Services, have been there for 25 years each.
Leanne Holdridge, head of Circulation, has been there for 18 years. Library Assistant Nancy Sagehorn has worked at the library for 16 years.
“We have the best library staff, bar none,” said Schuler. “It’s well-oiled, they can run it on their own, and they can handle every aspect of it. What they have learned over the years has been phenomenal.”
Schuler doesn’t have an explanation for why most of the library’s 15 employees are female, except that libraries are historically a traditional employer of women.
“I think that’s true of all libraries, though not necessarily in management,” she said, adding that women’s groups often started libraries in communities. The Young Men’s Library Association started Platteville’s first reading room in 1858, but the Women’s Alliance Club became the library’s sponsor in 1893.
Schuler and Karina Zidon, head of Adult Services, are the only library employees to have library science degrees.
“When I was little I loved being in the library and going to the library, and then I realized I liked helping people and finding things,” said Zidon, who teaches the library’s computer classes. “There’s a whole mix of people who have never used a mouse before and need to know which letter to use, and a lot of people who can use it but are still excited to learn.”
Isbell graduated from UW–Platteville with an education degree.
“This fits with education, because it’s children and books, but it’s a lot more flexible,” she said. “You’re never bored.”
“I’ve always worked in customer service jobs,” said Holdridge. “It’s a great place to work; I’ve met really nice people here.”
Although a walk into the library sounds like sounds as one would expect — quiet — Schuler thinks that’s not the case.
“I always sit at my desk thinking that they are the loudest people in the library,” she said of her staff. “They have unique personalities, but there is a bond. We’ll have theme days — we’ll do Tacky Sweater Day or Talk Like a Pirate Day. We do a lot of things in the community.
“I love the relationship between the patrons and the staff. There’s real caring — we know our patrons really well. That communal element is what I really appreciate about working here.”
Platteville is unusual in Southwest Wisconsin in that it has two separate libraries outside public schools, the other being the UW–Platteville Karrmann Library, which includes the Southwest Wisconsin Room for historical reference.
“Our missions are so far apart,” said Schuler. “Theirs is research and reference. They’re different enough for the need for two separate libraries.”
Schuler runs a cramped library. The building was renovated in 2000, but no space was added to it. Since then, the library added 34 computers and the teen area. The library is the resource library for its five-county region.
“We should have the last copy of all the books in the system, but we don’t have room for them,” she said.
Schuler obviously is a believer in the future of the library and libraries. The City of Platteville is proposing a development project on the block that includes the library, which would include a new building that would double the library’s current size.
“Even if we went all-electronic, someone has to manage it, and there has to be a place for it,” she said. “Why can’t we service someone who doesn’t want to use electronic gadgets? Our population in Platteville is getting older, and we have to provide for them too.
“This is not just a place of information; it’s a gathering place. Libraries aren’t just about books; they’re about access to information. It’s not just books; it’s access to information in a variety of formats. People love libraries — they may not support financially support them, but they love libraries.”