Our Views: It's good to see Milton, Orfordville, Whitewater plan for libraries

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

“We will have an educated and free citizenry so long as we have a flourishing library where all of us, children and adults, men and women, rich and poor, can get and read any book that we like.”

—Stephen E. Ambrose

The late Stephen E. Ambrose, a best-selling author of books on popular U.S. history, spoke the above words during the 1990 groundbreaking for the Irvin L. Young Memorial Library in Whitewater, his boyhood home. Fortunately, those who thought the Internet might doom public libraries were mistaken.

Just the opposite is happening around Janesville:

-- Milton's public library at 430 E. High St. hopes to invest between $2 million and $3 million in renovations and expansion now that City Hall has moved out of the second floor of the former Shaw building. First up is demolition that will remove partition walls, clear space and bring the floor up to building codes. The second floor hasn't been wide open since the late 1980s, when it served as Milton College's library. The library board has hired a consultant and will tap three funding sources: tax dollars, grants and donations from residents and businesses. Milton's library has a remarkable 80,000 users annually. Expansion would double its size to about 16,000 square feet.

-- The Orfordville Village Board agreed July 28 to spend $15,000 to help buy Harvest Community Church and turn it into a library. For years the library board planned to build on land it bought at 115 N. Center St., but it has been negotiating to instead buy the church at 519 E. Beloit St. Librarian Sarah Strunz said earlier that $118,000 had been raised and more money pledged toward the construction plan. The current library is cramped at just 1,200 square feet, and the church offers about 3,200 square feet.

-- Whitewater's plans to renovate and expand the aforementioned Young library are gaining traction after years of delay. The library acquired extra property in 1996 and 2007, but when the recession hit in 2008, before fundraising could occur, it postponed plans for a two-story expansion. Preliminary plans now call for a one-story addition with a basement to the east that would almost double space to nearly 30,000 square feet.

It's reasonable to argue that instead of detracting from libraries, computers enhance their value. Advocates say Whitewater's expansion plans, for example, would ease a space squeeze, add programs and better handle evolving technology.

People who can't afford home computers head to libraries to access the Internet for school research, to hunt for jobs and write resumes. Many people attend classes to learn about technology and ever-changing social media.

Libraries knit us together. They serve as resource and community centers. They're places where young and old can exercise their minds and expand their intellectual horizons. They should serve as showcases, places all residents can take pride in. They're amenities that can help attract businesses and residents to a community. In small-town America, said Ambrose, “the library is the heart of the society.”

Donations to these and expansion plans in other area communities in coming years will help keep libraries vibrant, their hearts beating strongly. Please give generously.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper's editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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