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Clinton library supporters focus on fundraising

By Catherine W. Idzerda
July 31, 2015

CLINTON—It's a tiny library with big dreams.

They'd settle for reasonably sized dream, as well.

For more than a decade, fans of the Clinton Public Library have been trying to raise money for either a new building or a new space. They've made some progress but still are nowhere near meeting their goals.

This year, a new fundraising campaign, A Fairytale Come True, was started by the Clinton Public Library Foundation, and library supporters are making another push to make their dreams a reality.


The library has a numbers problem. The most important figure is 2,400, which is the square footage of the current library. It's been that size since the building opened in 1913.

A study commissioned in 2012 found that the second floor of the building couldn't support the weight of book stacks. The use of the second floor also would mean the additional of an elevator.

The consultants found that to house the current collection, the library would need about 5,400 square feet.

Library usage numbers also are an issue.

Most of the county's seven libraries have seen more use of downloadable items including audio books and items for electronic reading tablets such as Kindles, Clinton Library Director Mary Bieber said.

Electronic materials are expensive, but they don't require space like books do.

At the Beloit Public Library, for example, checkouts from Overdrive, the system that provides downloadable materials, went from 769 in June 2013 to 1,247 in June of this year.

Meanwhile, most libraries have seen the book checkouts remain steady or decline slightly.

That hasn't been the case at the Clinton Public Library.

In June 2013, the number of Overdrive checkouts was 96. That number increased to 146 in June 2014 but then went down to 127 in June 2015.

The number of books checked out at the Clinton Library in June 2013 was 2,613. After a dip to 2,583 in 2014, this year's June book checkouts came to 2,882.

“For whatever reason, people here are still checking out books,” Bieber said.

That means space will continue to be an issue.

Computer use provides another numbers problem.

The library has nine computers for adults and two for children. Computer use has increased by 2,000 sessions every year.

The library's location, which is about a block from the elementary school and about three blocks from the middle school, makes it a popular after-school spot.

For story hour and other kid's programming, staff and volunteers crowd into whatever corner is available. For slightly larger programs, children are divided into groups, with some working on crafts while others watch or participate in the main event. Then the groups rotate. One presenter will give the same program several times.

For special programs, the library uses the school gym.


The Clinton Public Library serves the village and town of Clinton as well as people from northern Illinois.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, about 35 percent of students in the Clinton Community School District qualified in 2014 for free and reduced lunch, an indicator of poverty.

Janet Haag, library board president, said the library helps break down economic barriers for families. The programs are free, and many of the families don't have computers or Internet service at home.

The library has become an important tool for job seekers, especially those who don't have transportation to the Rock County Job Center in Janesville, Haag said.

In 2012, a consultant looked at the library's needs and suggested a new building or space of about 11,000 square feet at a cost of about $2.8 million.

But in the fall of that year, in a meeting packed with library supporters, the village board declined to increase the library's budget by $4,324. At the time, a local resident noted that the village's allocation to the library had increased by 10 percent between 2001 and 2011. At the same time, the cost of living increased by 30 percent. The end result?

In real dollars, the library's budget had been cut about 18 percent.

That didn't seem to bode well for the new building.

In 2013, however, the library board held a series of planning meetings and surveyed the community about what it wanted.

It also launched a 100 for $100 campaign for the library's 100th anniversary, and raised $10,000.

To date, the library foundation has raised about $19,000 of the $2.8 million it estimates is needed for a new building.

Now the plan is to try to get about one-third of the amount through fundraising, one-third through grants and other sources and one-third from the village, said Mary Ann Inman, foundation member.

The new campaign is looking for donations of any amount, and donors who give $100 or more will be honored with a “storyteller” figurine.

The foundation is also looking for ways to reach people who haven't donated before or don't feel like their same donation could make a difference.

Haag and Bieber acknowledged that both the village and many community members were facing financial challenges.

But they also have seen Clinton's businesses, residents, churches, schools and organizations show their support to the library in a variety of ways.

“People here really care about their public library,” Bieber said.