WISCONSIN RAPIDS — Reminding the public of a transformed McMillan Memorial Library will be a key task for its next director.
Later this month, the McMillan board will appoint a new manager to replace outgoing manager Andy Barnett. This week, the council began its final round of interviews with its two finalists for the job.
Board chair Andrea Galvan said Barnett’s replacement, which is expected to begin before he retires at the end of June, will need to remind the community of the gem it has in the public library. This is especially true after the building underwent $2 million renovations during the COVID-19 pandemic that added creative space, a theater, and additional meeting and study rooms.
“There might be people who haven’t been to the library since COVID who have no idea about all the changes we’ve made,” she said.
Internally, the manager and board will also need to prepare for possible spending cuts should Wisconsin Rapids City Council’s budget discussions last November indicate the funding trend.
Council members Patrick Delaney and Matt Zacher requested an $800,000 cut in city support for the library, which represents a 66% reduction. The request was unsuccessful, but prompted the library board to hold an emergency meeting and ask the city to refrain from changing McMillan’s budget allocation until next year.
The proposal came as city council members sought to limit borrowing for Wisconsin Rapids government funding and balance the budget. The idea of cutting the City’s $1.2 million annual contribution to the library will likely come up again this summer as planning for the 2023 budget begins.
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Barnett has been a manager since 2015 and was an assistant manager for over 20 years. The library received 26 applications for its position, which were narrowed down to eight people and then to two.
The board will make an offer to Tina Norris or Natalie Houston in two weeks, Galvan said. Both candidates are from outside of Wisconsin Rapids.
“They’ll have to own it,” Galvan said. “They will need to educate themselves about this area and learn about the needs of this community and how the library can best meet the needs of this community.”
Here’s what we know about Norris and Houston:
- Norris has eight years of experience as a library manager in Wisconsin, Tennessee and North Carolina. She has worked as Director of the Person County Library in Roxboro, North Carolina since June 2020. She spent five years as Director of the Hudson Area Joint Library in Hudson, Wisconsin.
- In Hudson, Norris set up a small creative space and guided the library through two strategic plans to renew community support for the library system.
- She holds a degree in English literature from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of South Carolina. She began her career as a librarian working in the circulation office in Delano, Minnesota.
Norris told the Daily Tribune that she spent most of her career at libraries in Minnesota and Wisconsin. For her, there is a difference in the level of community support for libraries. Even while working at Hudson, she looked to McMillan for inspiration, such as the recent addition of creative space in the library.
“I really like how they look at the community and what the needs of the community are and how they should connect with the community,” Norris said. “I would really like to be part of it.”
As for persuading city leaders to maintain their support for the library, she said she has experience rallying community members around a library.
“I think you have to tell the story. It actually shows them what the community needs and why it’s important,” she said. “If it doesn’t affect their life, they don’t recognize everything that happens in the library.”
- Houston works in her hometown of Orlando, Florida as the Youth Services Manager for the Orange County Library System. She has worked for the library system since 2009, previously as assistant director and branch manager.
- She began her career in Lake County, Florida at the Leesburg Public Library, working with teenagers.
- Houston holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Miami and a master’s degree in library science from the University of South Florida.
- She serves on the Florida Library Association Board of Directors as Regional Director and has been recognized by trade groups for her youth programs and mentorship.
Houston told the Daily Tribune that she always seeks to challenge herself and that she and the McMillan Library board share an interest in community engagement and collaboration.
“I’m still the person who likes to be challenged and grow. Sometimes there’s a perfect job,” she said. “I felt a strong alignment in our approach to libraries.”
She said in her current job in Orlando, Florida, she has experience raising awareness and attracting people to library-building spaces, like the one McMillan added during the pandemic. She said she was aware of the challenges a post-pandemic world presents to libraries in getting people back to their spaces.
As for potential budget cuts, she said it’s about showing city leaders how the library affects their constituents.
“What I learned from COVID was that it was a lesson in expansion and contraction,” Houston said. “I think part of it tells the story of the work the library does.”