By Janelle Fisher
City Pages Editor
GREEN BAY – The doors officially opened to the newly constructed East Branch of the Brown County Library, located right next to the old East Branch at 2253 Main Street in Green Bay on Saturday, Sept. 16.
Local leaders, government officials and community members were invited to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony and celebrate the opening of a new branch in a time when the public discourse surrounding libraries has not always been so favorable.
John Van Dyck, library board chair in the Brown County Board of Supervisors, addressed those who questioned the need for the county to invest in its libraries.
“Why libraries? That is a question that I’ve been asked on a number of occasions while serving on the county board,” he said. “Why should the county spend almost seven million dollars a year on library operations? And why is the county spending almost 30 million dollars upgrading and renovating our library facilities? To be honest, I asked those same questions when I was first elected to the county board.”
While Van Dyck noted that while each individual may garner their own personal value from Brown County’s libraries, there is a universal benefit to be found in the services they provide.
“There are many different answers to the question unique to each of us — reading, education, relaxation, entertainment, social interaction, business solitude and so on,” he said. “But I would offer that maybe, just maybe, there’s one not-so-obvious answer that is vitally important. In our area of politically charged and increasingly biased news or fake news, libraries offer a safe haven for uncensored, thoroughly researched information that is available to all of us who are willing to make that effort.”
Dr. Darrell L. Williams, Assistant State Superintendent of the Division for Libraries and Technology, commended county staff, library staff and community members for the dedication to their community that is shown through their willingness to invest in libraries and follow through with projects like the East Branch renovation.
“I know all about some of the conversations that you probably had in front of the scenes and behind the scenes — all the struggles and so forth to get to where we are today,” he said. “But I’m going to tell you, this is what it’s about — Coming together as a team to do what’s right on behalf of this community and on behalf of its kids. The fact that we’re here today just provides some evidence of the community’s commitment to our children right here in Brown County and throughout the state of Wisconsin… You’re showing here today that libraries are truly the heartbeat of our communities and our schools. They are the vessels by which students and adults gain access to the real world.”
“I tell people all the time that the library is the most important place in any school and in any community,” he said. “It is the only place where you can go everywhere, without really having to go anywhere… On the academic side, I don’t have to tell you that many of [Wisconsin’s] students are struggling — not only here in Brown County, but across the state of Wisconsin — in the area of literacy. And I will tell you, the library serves as a critical resource to help enclose the academic information and opportunities gap across the state. It also provides an area where people can feel safe, an inclusive environment, and it’s educationally encouraging. It provides a space where literacy and technical skills, cultural awareness and overall knowledge can not only be enhanced, but expanded. Libraries played a key role in my education, and they will for the children here in Brown County.”
Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach echoed those sentiments, thanking members of the Brown County Board of Supervisors for the role they played in ensuring continued investment in Brown County’s library system, even in the face of opposition.
“I think those words resonate with our library board and our Brown County Board of Supervisors and ultimately, it was the reason why we decided back in 2018 to make the decision to make a significant investment into our libraries,” he said. “There were a number of people in our community who said, ‘We don’t want you to make that vote. They even threatened to throw us out of office because we were taking that historic vote. The reality is this: in order to have a vibrant community, you have to make investments. We all know the important investment in our children and our broader community is in libraries.”
Van Dyck noted that the investment made in the East Branch renovation project not only benefits the community now, but will continue to do so for years to come.
“I’d like to thank you, the members of the community,” he said. “This is your library, made possible by your financial support, provided by the taxes you pay. This is a gift to yourself and to future generations that you should be proud of.”
And with the cutting of the ribbon, that gift has officially been bestowed upon the patrons of the East Branch library.