College library gets visit from DPI rep

Williams impressed with facility, listens to staff’s needs while touring state libraries
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

The last week of April was National Library Week, and Darrell Williams, assistant superintendent for the division for libraries and technology with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, spent the week visiting libraries around the state — including an April 27 stop at the S. Verna Fowler Academic Library at the College of Menominee Nation.

Williams said during his visit that, when he was hired, he was told his position could be run virtually. However, he didn’t feel he could adequately respond to the needs of hundreds of community libraries in the state without coming to some of them in person and speaking with the staff members who provide information and so much more to the people who utilize their resources.

“I just left Oshkosh, and we’ve been traveling all across the state,” Williams said. “We’re just trying to see what we can see and try to provide as much support to libraries as we possibly can. There are a lot of libraries that are doing well, and there are some on life support.”

The library at CMN clearly went into the former category, according to Williams, who was impressed with the architecture and the programs that were in Keshena. Williams got the full tour, seeing some of the public areas like the lecture hall upstairs and the youth section down in the basement, but he also went into some of the storage areas and archival facilities.

Bethany Huse, interim director for the Fowler Library, was particularly excited to show Williams the room where the library conducts its maker programs, where children and others can craft and create a variety of things. Huse noted the local library also works to make sure items are themed with various values of the Menominee.

“I’ve been here a little over six years,” Huse said. “Before the pandemic, we had Maker Mondays pretty much every week. They would come in and do things all the time. Once we shut down, getting those numbers back has been a slow-moving process, but we’re getting a little more foot traffic now.”

Huse noted that the numbers are not back up to pre-pandemic levels, but it’s not all health concerns. She told Williams that the tribe opened the Family and Community Engagement Center near the end of its pandemic restrictions, and so many of the youth opt to go there instead of the library.

“Children like new, shiny things,” Huse said with a laugh. “We’re working with them to see what we can do in addition to that.”

Huse told Williams about how the college library merged with the public library in 2013, and many in the community didn’t realize things had moved to the CMN campus until they just happened to be at the college one day and discovered the library.

“It was a number of years ago, but people are still saying, ‘I didn’t know it came over here,’” Huse said. “It’s still a learning process for the community.”

One other issue the library is contending with is adequate staffing. Huse said the inability to fill vacant positions has required the library to be closed on Fridays.

Avari Fernandez, the library’s receptionist, told Williams that before she got the job, she was a frequent patron of the Fowler Library. She would walk daily from Menominee Indian High School down the road to the library.

“I’ve been in love with this library ever since I first set my foot in it,” Fernandez said. “It felt like a second home to me, so it’s pretty awesome that I work here now.”