Local Library Love!

What Our Special Community Spots Offer the Fox Cities

If you research the first library in the United States, you’ll be met with a few answers. The first “lending library” (what we know as the current public library) in the U.S. was formed in 1698, but perhaps more well-known in our history is the story of Benjamin Franklin starting The Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. It was considered a subscription library, and was supported by memberships—plus offers a nod to Franklin for believing in everyone’s right to have access to education and books.

Of course much has changed since the 1700s: lifestyle, technology and general accessibility to almost everything, but libraries have held strong to their original mission: allowing access to resources and being a place for all; however, libraries have had to naturally adapt and evolve too.

Enter 2023. The shift in technology itself is astronomical, and so is what libraries are “known for.” Once primarily seen as quiet places to study and keep to oneself, they’ve evolved into the heart of the community, a place to gather to meet new and old friends.

“Libraries increase access to materials for sure but maybe equally or more important is their role as a community hub,” Tracy Haack, Adult Services Librarian at Kimberly Public Library, explains. “Public libraries are one of the last third spaces, that is, they are a place anyone can go and just exist without any conditions, monetary or otherwise. These spaces are important because we are increasingly divided into ideological tribes, but public libraries are still diverse spaces of intellectual curiosity.”

“Libraries are really the great equalizers,” Melanie Kearn, Adult Services and Engagement Librarian at Appleton Public Library, agrees. “Whether we are providing help accessing and printing important documents, locating research for your next paper, providing a quiet space to work, or being a loud and joyful place to interact with learning, everyone is welcome!”

“Libraries empower our community. At the library you are free to explore your interests without someone putting a value judgment on what you are doing,” Brian Kopetsky, Library Director at Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha, adds. “Part of that empowerment comes in the form of access. You can walk into our library today and not only check out books on any given subject; you can also sit down and explore hands-on using tools and technology we are able to provide.”

“Libraries are service focused; we serve our communities. Life is unpredictable, and libraries can offer something for every season of life,” Katie Castel, Programming Librarian at Little Chute Public Library, agrees. “We provide opportunities and resources to improve, aid or celebrate whatever season you’re currently living. These resources come in the form of information, entertainment, and community! We exist to provide equal access to information to inform, even improve the lives of community members, as well as a place to make memories and come together.”

Everyday Inspiration for All Ages

Our Fox Cities libraries—Appleton Public Library, Kaukauna Public Library, Kimberly Public Library, Little Chute Public Library, Menasha Public Library and Neenah Public Library—are committed to offering access to resources and community events. Here are a few things that make them special:

Kimberly Public Library: Our Roku lending program is coming soon and will be the first of its kind within our library system. Libraries are very adaptable, growing and changing with the times. A lot of people are moving towards streaming their television and movies, creating a need for another way to lend media, and it is important for people to have access to media because it increases cultural competency, giving people something to connect over. You can’t be a part of the conversation at work or school or within your friend groups if you don’t have access to what everyone is talking about.
We also have a small but vibrant community of gardeners at the Kimberly Library. We offer a well-attended Master Gardener program and actually grow things under our grow lights at the library and in our garden beds behind the library. This spring and summer, we will host a monarch raising program, create monarch watering trays for our garden, grow seeds under a light in the library, and plant a pollinator garden in our raised beds.

Elisha D. Smith Public Library (Menasha): Our SMITHworks makerspace is probably the biggest initiative we have undertaken recently. It has been open to the public less than 12 months and already hosted over 3500 users painting, doing reason art, 3d printing, laser cutting, digital drawing, and much more. In 2022 we were recognized by the Wisconsin Library Association with an Innovative Programming award.
We also offer some unique collections including our board game and puzzle collection and our brand new “Library of Things.” Library of Things allows community members the opportunity to check out home improvement tools, recreational items, and crafting tools that they would not normally use on a regular basis or things they might want to try before making a purchase.

Appleton Public Library: We are fortunate to have incredible libraries in the Fox Cities, each meeting their community’s needs in different and evolving ways. The Appleton Public Library is home to the largest Post Crescent (and their predecessors) microfilm collection outside of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Our collection dates back to 1853! We also have a wildly popular, expert-led genealogy series called Find Your Ancestors that will often have hundreds of attendees. More generally, libraries are able to do some of their best work when they are truly engaged with their community and the Appleton Public library really makes that a priority.

Kaukauna Public Library: A unique service at our library is our rather large Little Free Pantry. Completely donation based, we offer nonperishable food items, toiletries and hygiene products for those in need during all our operational hours. We also receive fresh food as part of a pop-up food pantry quite frequently.  We don’t require any registration or proof of need; the pantry is open to anyone with no questions asked. We also have a hydro garden, as well as raised bed planters in the David and Rita Nelson Interactive Learning Garden on site, and add the produce harvested from them to the pantry as well.
A fun fact about our library is that it is currently housed in the old Eagle Mill, which was built in 1872 as a flour mill, and then eventually became a paper mill. Our original library was a Carnegie Library, which was opened in 1905. Outside our library, is the David and Rita Nelson Interactive Learning Garden, which offers whimsical spaces for people to gather in the outdoors, including musical equipment, a slinky tunnel, butterfly garden, play canoe, sandbox complete with dinosaur bones, and an amphitheater. We utilize the garden during all seasons and have been offering a winter light display sponsored by Kaukauna Utilities.

Little Chute Public Library: Think of Little Chute Public Library as your community living room! We offer a laid-back environment, though yes– we do ask that patrons practice respectful, mindful behavior, we encourage you to get comfortable and really take in all our library has to offer! That includes a high volume of non-traditional checkout items such as a sewing machine, an Insta-pot, even e-bikes! So, come for a book, or a program or a pottery wheel and stay for a free cup of coffee, to pet our adorable bunny, or let your kids play in our new Imaginary Play Space! We aim to be a part of the community, and that means we want you to feel at ease hanging out with us!

Neenah Public Library: Some of the unique benefits for kids, teens and adults, are that we now have a monthly book subscription service. This service will include handpicked books based on your preferences, plus a gift for you to keep. The service is called Fresh Pages for kids and teens; the service for adults is Bookscription.
We also have Libby, Hoopla and Kanopy which offer electronic books and streaming services. There is a service for Book Clubs called Book Club to Go. We gather multiple copies of books each month for your monthly book club. There is also free notary service at the adult services desk. No need to go to the bank anymore! We have free meeting room spaces and free WIFI. You can check out free WIFI hotspots if you don’t have access to the internet at home. And of course, all of our events and programming is absolutely free.

Fox Cities Book Festival + Spring Community Read

The Fox Cities Book Festival in partnership with Appleton Public Library, Kaukauna Public Library, Kimberly Public Library, Little Chute Public Library, Menasha Public Library and Neenah Public Library works to promote literacy through an annual community read. Each year, they select an author and title to promote for Fox Cities Reads and encourage the people in our communities to read, think, talk, listen, and grow together.

Started in 2007, the Fox Cities Book Festival included a “Community Read” allowing anyone in the community to read a chosen book and be involved in the rich experience of sharing thoughts and discussing with others.

“One thing they all have in common is that they transport us to an experience that may or may not be our own. When that happens, we learn from a different perspective or feel supported in our own experiences,” Ana Maria Acosta, Adult Services Librarian at Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha, says. “Reading helps to remind us of our shared human experience in the diverse world in which we live.

“To me a community read is as an initiative very valuable to build stronger and happier cities,” Acosta says. “It is precious, because of the collective effort to engage members of the community in a shared, reading experience. Everybody embarks on the journey of reading a book, and taking part in discussions, events and activities that enhance the appreciation of the author’s message. It propels us to go beyond the text to find diverse ideas, enrich connections, promote literacy and above all grow together in understanding.”

This year’s Spring Community Read’s title is “Bird Box” by Josh Malerman.

“Bird Box won a Michigan Notable Book Award and was also nominated for the James Herbert Award as well as the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. In 2018, Bird Box was made into a Netflix film starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich,” Acosta explains. “The Fox Cities Book Festival invites the community to read the book, participate in one of the book discussions hosted at the public libraries and visit with the author.

Book Discussions
Thursday, April 6, 10 a.m. – Menasha Public Library
Thursday, April 13, 5 p.m. – Appleton Public Library
Friday, April 15, Appleton Public Library. Virtual. Register to attend.
Monday, April 17, 6:30 p.m. – Little Chute Public Library
Tuesday, April 18, 4 p.m. At Stone Arch Tied House hosted by Kaukauna Public Library
Monday, April 24 10 a.m. – Neenah Public Library
Monday, May 8, 5 p.m. – Kimberly Public Library

Bird Box Challenge Relay Race at The Grignon Park
Saturday, April 29,  2:00pm to 5:00pm

Bring yourself and two friends to participate in our relay race! Participants will perform three tasks blindfolded in a race to the grand prize. Registration is required. To register, please email your team name and participants to [email protected]. And wear sturdy shoes!

Scary Story Writing Contest – Due by April 11
Submit your own scary story to our writing contest! Stories should be a maximum 250 words long, typed. Please include your name, contact info, and age on your story. Prizes will be awarded to the top story in each age bracket: 10 and under, 11-16, and 16+. Scare us if you can! Send submissions to [email protected]. Stories are due no later than April 10th, winners will be announced May 11th. Stories will not be reprinted anywhere, and authors retain all rights.

Design Your Own Horror Book Cover – Check with participating libraries for this craft activity
Horror author Sarah Read interviews Horror Book Cover Artist Lynne Hansen about her inspiration and experience designing book covers for fantastic horror. Craft along as you view this pre-recorded video and design your own terrifying tome!

Public Presentation by Josh Malerman
“Josh Malerman on the Craft of Writing and Bird Box”
Thursday, May 11 at 6:00pm | Poplar Hall. 141 Riverheath Way, Appleton, WI 54915
Josh Malerman will share his thoughts about writing fiction and his books. An engaging presentation that inspires the audience to explore a topic and characters from different perspectives. Food and drinks available for purchase at 5 p.m.

The future is bright! Stay tuned to “Look for the festival to return as bold and bright as ever in the spring of 2024, when the book festival will once again combine with the community read to connect readers and writers across our diverse communities,” Holly Selwitschka, Fox Cities Book Festival board president, says.

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