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New library will inspire, engage future generations

21st century libraries not just for books

By Ron Steinhorst

My first experience in New London Public Library was descending narrow dark steps to the children’s department. I was appalled to find this dark dungeon with no place to sit, poor lighting and towering stacks of books inaccessible to little children.

Unfortunately, that dungeon serves as today’s only meeting room for the entire library.

Fortunately, our library board saw the need to expand and joined the museum and library into one complex in the mid-’80s.

Now, some 20-plus years later, we are again in the crunch situation. As the song lyric states, “These times they are a-changing.”

New London Public Library and Museum exterior
New London Public Library and Museum.
Scott Bellile file photo

When you enter our small library, you see it isn’t just a home for books anymore. People are using computers, a copy machine and office equipment; applying for employment online; researching school projects; or hosting community gatherings and educational programs.

At the front of the library, trained staff members are fielding requests from patrons, helping individuals navigate online resources, and reserving books from our network of over 50 libraries in northeastern Wisconsin.

Although the services our library provides have changed significantly, our building remains the same. We have cared for our building, but the facility no longer meets the needs of our community and presents significant challenges, including inadequate meeting space, limited parking and accessibility, long wait times for computers and the internet, and overcrowded spaces for our growing youth and adult programs.

Despite the cramped quarters, every single time I go to our library I leave with a smile. Seeing citizens of every generation coming together reminds me that our library is at the heart of our community.

It connects our community to information, lifelong learning opportunities, games, book clubs, entertainment and technology.

It is the one place in our community where you don’t need to purchase something to use Wi-Fi or computers and you can exist just as you are. We are even open weekends during the school year for our customers’ convenience.

As we look to the future of our community, a new public library building is needed — one that provides the adequate space that will inspire, educate and engage our vital community for generations.

Rendering for proposed mixed-use library building in New London
A rendering for a proposed mixed-use public library and senior affordable housing unit. 
Image courtesy of Stadtmueller & Associates

We now have a rare opportunity to build a new public library building as part of a mixed-use development—which means the city will not need to raise taxes, increase its operating budget or borrow money for this project. If we don’t move forward with the project now, these financial benefits will disappear.

A new library facing the Wolf River along with a variety of housing opportunities will fill the blighted 6-acre plot along West Wolf River Avenue and will ensure our community’s ability to drive new economic activity in the heart of our city, strengthen our civic health and community pride, increase engagement and safety of our youth, and enhance our community’s connection to economic and civic life beyond our region.

I hope that you will take time to learn more how the new library building can renew our investment in New London and preserve our long-standing tradition of connecting the community for generations.


Ron Steinhorst is president of the New London Public Library and Museum Board and Fourth District alderman on the New London City Council.

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