GAYS MILLS - There’s an old Zen Buddhist saying “you can never step into the same river twice.” The moral of the story is that everything changes, and that is true of the Gays Mills Public Library as well.
At the end of May, Maura Otis, the Gays Mills Librarian since 1986, retired and the new librarian, David Gibbs took over for her. The Gays Mills Public Library has been in operation since 1941. It has been housed in eight different locations. So, David Gibbs is the latest in a long line of committed individuals to take up the reins of leadership.
The Gays Mills Public Library is now located in a beautiful facility, overlooking the Cutoff Slough. The Community Commerce Center was built on Highway 131 as part of the relocation project following the floods of 2007 and 2008. The building houses the public library, the village hall, a shared-use kitchen and a large events room.
“While I don’t have any previous experience working in a library, I do have a lifelong love of books and reading,” David Gibbs noted. “When Maura Otis suggested I apply for the job, I leaped at the opportunity for public service and to do outreach to the citizens of Gays Mills.”
David Gibbs is the son of longtime village residents Sarah and John Gibbs. John is a retired North Crawford ag teacher, who is a weekly columnist in the Independent-Scout.
David Gibbs is a graduate of North Crawford High School, who went on to study music at UW-Madison. He has enjoyed a lifelong love of playing musical instruments. Among the instruments Gibbs plays are the saxophone and the clarinet.
The newly minted librarian reported that he continues to play in a couple of bands in the Gays Mills area. He also accompanies the North Crawford Chorus and will be working with the North Crawford Playhouse on their musical production of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in the fall.
While in school in Madison, Gibbs played in the Army National Guard Band. He remembers playing for the troops, coming and going, who were involved in the Gulf War. His activities with the band took him to places like Biloxi, Mississippi and Melbourne, Australia.
After graduation from college, Gibbs moved to San Francisco. He went on to teach elementary general music, gave private lessons and managed a music studio in nearby San Mateo County.
Gibbs returned home to Gays Mills in 2016.
“What I really miss from all the places I’ve lived is the people I knew,” Gibbs said. “It was great to come back home to such a great group of folks.”
Other activities Gibbs enjoys include Tai Chi and ice-skating on the slough.
Gibbs teaches Tai Chi classes, which he studied while living in San Francisco. He prefers to hold his classes outside. He also works with his father in the garden.
Strengths and challenges
When asked what he saw as the strengths and challenges of the Gays Mills Library, Gibbs shared a few thoughts.
“The space looking out onto the slough is fabulous, and Maura Otis has brought a good vibe to the library,” Gibbs observed. “And while we haven’t gotten our first electric bill since installation of our new solar array, we anticipate significant cost savings.”
In the future, Gibbs said, programming at the library will be a focus. He reported they are putting a lot of thought into how best to focus on children in the community. He plans to continue with the story hours for children, and also to expand their lineup of drop-in activities. One new program provides art supplies to children to make a card, and then the library will pay the postage to send the card to the recipient of the child’s choice.
Outgoing librarian Maura Otis shared her thoughts about the strengths and challenges the library will face under Gibbs’ leadership as well.
“Any small rural library – from community to community – is one of the only places where everything is free to the citizens,” Otis observed. “This non-discriminatory environment makes the public library a very democratic institution.”
Otis pointed out that in addition to the library’s selection of books and periodicals, another important service it provides is access to the internet for those who wouldn’t otherwise have it. Many residents in the Gays Mills area live in places, which are underserved with internet access and others may not be able to afford to pay for it at home.
“People keep coming back to the library because of a love of reading,” Otis said. “The library’s high level of engagement with youth gives them many opportunities to explore learning, and helps to give them the skills they need to become readers.”
In the future, with information increasingly being delivered online, Otis noted that this would continue to be both a challenge and an opportunity for rural libraries. The recently retired librarian believes that the rural libraries will continue to provide an important point of access to the internet for the community.
“Libraries will also have to consider what other kinds of collections we could have, and what other kinds of needs we could meet in the community,” Otis said. “One idea that has been bounced around has been for the library to house a tool library, for example.”
The Gays Mills Public Library has had many homes in the village over the years.
The effort to create a library in the village got started in 1941, when the Wednesday Literary Club succeeded in securing a shelf in the corner of the Jameson Store. The shelf housed a small collection of books that were on loan from a travelling library.
In January of 1943, having outgrown their space in the store, the library was moved into the Gays Mills Bank. Continuing to grow, it was eventually moved to the Gays Mills Village Hall and the village began to pay the salary for a part-time librarian.
A dedicated group of Gays Mills citizens are reported to have attended numerous meetings of the village board and the Crawford County Board of Supervisors to lobby for funding to create a permanent, expanded space for the library.
In 1962, the Crawford County Board voted to provide funding for the Gays Mills Library to join the Southwest Library System. In 1965, after many fundraising activities conducted by community members, the village board voted to purchase a permanent library building on the Main Street of Gays Mills.
The original building purchased by the village was increasingly in need of repairs. In 1977, the Gays Mills Masonic Lodge decided to give their building on Main Street, located next to the Hillman Tavern, to the library. They moved into their new building in March of 1978.
The library survived the flood of July 1978, only four months after moving into the new building. Sandbagging prevented the nearly four feet of water outside the building from getting as deep inside. If not for one shelf of books tipping over into the 10 inches of water in the building, damage would have been very minimal. The community cleaned up the building and the library was back in business.
In April of 1980, tragedy struck when a fire that started in the Hillman Tavern spread to the library. Fire fighting was hampered by low water pressure due to necessary maintenance on the water supply system. Both wood frame structures were a total loss.
Nevertheless, dauntless, the community picked itself up and established a new library location in the Community Building at 212 Main Street. The library rebuilt its book collection, and continued to provide programming for the community and the youth. Many years of fundraising ensued to once again allow the library to have its own dedicated location.
The new location was on the south side of Main Street, immediately to the east of the current location of the Kickapoo Exchange Food Cooperative. The library remained in this location until it was relocated out of the floodplain after the 2007 and 2008 floods.