Our libraries + People = Unlimited Possibilities


It is National Library Week! And we love our libraries! 

Each public library is unique. There are some givens, like books and computers, but each reflects in some ways the community that it serves and where it is situated. 

Public libraries are also unique as civic spaces. It is widely accepted that libraries exemplify a democratic and accessible place where all different sorts of people have the opportunity to encounter all sorts of ideas, opinions and resources.

In other words, the country’s more than 16,000 public libraries are non-partisan and home-grown, made to serve all of us from cradle to grave.

At the WHC, we see libraries as natural partners.  We work with libraries to host film screeningsbook discussion programs, speaker events, and more. Many of our grant applicants, and recipients, are libraries. And in 2013, we transferred management of the Wisconsin Book Festival to the Madison Public Library and Madison Public Library Foundation.  After eleven years of running the Festival, we are thrilled to watch it evolve in the hands of professional bibliophiles who understand the unlimited possibilities inherent in books, and in libraries.

So Many Stories 

Just a few blocks from our office is the Madison Central Library, which re-opened after a modern make-over in 2013. Mary Knapp, a member of the WHC board, recently retired after working for more than 25 years at the downtown library. Over tea at a sidewalk cafe, I asked for her thoughts on the past, present and future of libraries. “There will always be books,” she said confidently, though she also reminded me that libraries have always changed to adapt to the changing needs of society. For example, even though additional meeting rooms were added in the renovation, “the meeting spaces in the new building are always booked,” she said, because people really look to the library as a welcoming place to gather.

Knapp said Madison librarians today are focusing on teen programming, early literacy, and stocking the shelves with books for people who are making, doing, and creating.  

Conor Moran, the Director of the now year-round Wisconsin Book Festival, confirms that children and teen programming is also a priority for the Festival. He aims for programs that are relevant, that push boundaries, and that have impact. Entertaining is good, he says, but the priority at all levels of library staff and leadership is for meaningful programs that use the library’s strength as a community institution. Things are in the works for this fall, he says, with an emphasis on “building on the student-age programming,” referencing four successful years of ‘High School Friday.’ At this all day Festival event, area school groups get to engage with authors and take part in library workshops.

Are teens reading books? “Yes, teens are absolutely reading books!,” says Jesse Vieau, the Teen Services Librarian for Madison Public Library. However,  the role of the library goes beyond books. “Public libraries are proving to be a hot-bed of creativity when it comes to providing meaningful out of school time opportunities for youth in their communities.”

Vieau connects with people, and organizations, around Madison who are willing to share knowledge or equipment, then designs workshops specifically for youth. “We may be telling a story through animation one day, designing and printing personal brands on a silk screen the the next, and creating board games from scratch the next day. Sometimes that is happening in the library, but we spend just as much time on the road, looking to provide quality supplemental educational opportunities for existing youth programs. “


Learn-Share-Create is the Madison Public Library motto. The theme of the American Library Association’s National Library Week 2015 is ‘Unlimited Possibilities @ your library’ and the Madison Public Library Foundation is taking it a step further with the Pop! Challenge. This grant programto turn your best ideas into action‘ is open to anyone in the community, of any age. From online submissions, several will be chosen and then put forward for the public to vote on.  Pop! Challenge kicks off April 13.

One great idea, that is really a million great ideas, is already rippling around the city. The Bubbler, Madison Public Library’s  ‘hands-on pop-up workshops,’ includes artist-in-residencies, Night Light after-hours events, and Meet Your Maker opportunities to learn from experts. The program, run by Trent Miller, is a finalist for a National Medal for Museum and Library Service.

Craig Grabhorn was The Bubbler artist-in-residence from December 2014 through February 2015. During that time, Grabhorn says he looked for opportunities to create art experiences that would educate and inspire people. “One of things I most enjoy about libraries is their potential for exposure. Not only of the information in the stacks, but the stories being carried in with every visitor to the library. I saw in the central library a pulse of a community.”

Grabhorn said he had to adapt to what he describes as a “diversity in confidence, experience and willingness to try something new.” Learning to be open to the fact that everyone was approaching his art from a different point was a “key point of growth for me.”

Unlimited Possibilities

This is just a snapshot of some of the interesting things happening in one library, in one city, in one state. Imagine all the people who use, work in, and are devoted fans of their public libraries and you get a sense of the unlimited possibilities represented in libraries. 

What is special about ‘your’ library? We would love to hear your stories!

The National Library Week hashtag pulls the conversation together, so if you share on social media, please be sure to tag with #librarymade.

Find the WHC on Twitter and Facebook!


Keep Reading!


Big sky full of cloud and a man looking upMan reading on the beach of the Wisconsin River

West High School students at High School Friday 2013

Coming of Age, Library Style, the story of a Milwaukee Public Librarian’s first crush.What are you reading? Here you will find WHC staff and board summer reading picks.Why do you go to the Library? A look at how libraries are changing the lives of those who use them.


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