The Larsen Family Public Library clearly began as a true community effort. In July 1989, Gary Solfield, retired Minneapolis firefighter now living in the area, recognized the need for a local library in the Siren/Webster area. At the same time, Glenna Hauger and Jean Schmidt, Siren residents, were discussing the need for an area library. Solfield placed an article in the Inter-County Leader asking for others interested in such a project to contact him. Soon Solfield and J.J. Hauger met, others joined them, and the Friends of the Burnett Community Library was established. In February of 1990, Charlie Tollander, member of the Burnett County Board, announced that funding was available for county library planning. Working with Northern Waters Library Service, funds were obtained, and in June of 1990 the County Board appointed a committee to use the $2400 in state funds to determine the feasibility of a library. Appointed to the committee were Gary Solfield, Jean Schmidt, George Benson, Mary Poretti, Wayne Hansen, Marjorie Olson, Beatrice Olson, Mary Ann Erickson, and Maude Dahlberg. They conducted a county-wide survey that determined a high level of interest and support for a library in this area.
By November of 1990, the Friends of the Library announced that Ron and Carol Good had generously donated the use of a former discount food store just south of the north intersection of Highways 35 and 70. The Friends elected a seven-member board to oversee library operations: Mary Poretti, Webster; Geri Burford, Webster; George Benson, Siren; J.J. Hauger, Siren; Bill Otte, Voyager Village; and Judy Brickle, Danbury.
Volunteers remodeled the former building. Led by Judy Brickle, librarian at Grantsburg Elementary School, along with Pat Johnson and Wanda Kichner of the Frederic Library, 3,000 donated books and materials were catalogued. The library was staffed by volunteers, and with $720.81 in cash reserves, funds were sought through grants and from local municipalities to pay for utilities, additional books and other needs. By the time the library had its Grand Opening on April 19, 1991, it had over 7,000 books as well as magazines and other periodicals. Circulation quickly reached 200 books per week.
It was always clear however, that to support a library on donations and private funds alone would be next to impossible. As Mary Poretti put it to a reporter for the Superior Evening Telegram, “We can’t go on with chewing gum and bailing wire forever.” Throughout the year, volunteers continued their work, holding fundraisers, writing grants, talking to people, and gaining commitments from the county and townships. A request was made by the county-appointed Library Planning Committee to the county for additional funding for both the Grantsburg and the Burnett Community Library. A $10,000 grant from Bremer Foundation, along with many smaller donations, was making a difference.
The first Library Board was appointed, consisting of Mary Poretti, Arlene Elliott, Emily Stille, Marjorie Olson, Lela Aubert, and Edna Wimer. The First Wisconsin Bank of Grantsburg, having built a new building for their Webster branch, offered their old brick building on Webster’s Main Street to the Village for use as a library in May, 1991. With this move, it was proposed by Friends of the Library that the library become a municipal library in order to be eligible for funds that it would not qualify for as a volunteer entity. The Webster Village Board supported this position, and Romaine Weiss, Village President, accepted the old bank building deed from David Huff, Bank President. In November, 1991, an agreement was signed with Northern Waters Library Service for the coming year.
Once again the hard-working Friends got to work moving and setting up everything in the new building. It was necessary to shore up the building floor so that it would be able to support the weight of shelves and books; this special expense was paid by the village. The doors of the Burnett Community Library opened in January of 1992. Maxine Peterson was the first salaried librarian. The Grand Opening was held later, on October 14, 1992. People flocked to the new library and the number of card holders quickly grew from about 200 to more than 800.
Activities at the new library continued to grow and expand. These included a children’s story hour, a monthly book club, library tours, computer access. grant writing, and expanded circulation. The Friends of the Library held garden tours, authors’ luncheons, spaghetti dinners, and used book sales to support library activities not covered by the library budget. A five-year celebration was held on January 11, 1997; a ten-year celebration on September 7, 2002, which also dedicated the Merlin Computer System; and a fifteen-year celebration January 6, 2007. By this date the library had 2,423 card holders. By 2011 that number had grown to nearly 3500.
But with this growth and expansion, the Library Board and Friends of the Library recognized that the existing building could no longer meet patrons’ needs: computer stations almost eliminated seating for regular research or reading on the main floor; the library, while “grandfathered in,” was not accessible for individuals with disabilities; storage areas in the basement were inadequate; the meeting area disrupted patrons’ use of the non-fiction collection; state standards for book shelving space could not be met; and state and federal building code compliance was out of date.
An effort was begun to expand the existing library or find another site for library development. A review of the minutes indicates that the Friends of the Library first began discussion of a new library in August of 2004. The Library Board developed “A Long Range Plan 2005–2008.” In the summer of 2005, at the Authors’ Luncheon, Librarian Maxine Peterson announced the start of a fund-raising campaign to develop expanded library facilities.
In the summer of 2006, a brochure was sent to all area residents and businesses asking for their support for a new library facility. In addition, the Friends continued local fund-raising efforts while Lucy Basler, Laura Rachford and others pursued grant opportunities. A poster on the outside library charted funding progress as donations were received.
An initial plan was drawn up to expand the existing library, but when the Larsen Chevrolet building became available there was great interest on the part of the Library Board Fundraising Committee: the space was large, on one level, provided excellent parking, and had a strong presence on Hwy 35 and Main Street. With Terry Larsen’s generous donation of the building, not only did the library have new space, but had matching funds for a Community Development Block Grant. On August 11, 2009, a new library was in sight when Gov. Jim Doyle, Rep. Dave Obey, and State Rep. Hraychuck, presented a check for $360, 000 to the Village of Webster for library development.
In January 2009, long-time librarian Maxine Petersen retired. A search for a new librarian resulted in the hiring of Patti Meyer who has worked closely with the Library Board on the development of the new library.
On December 21, 2010, bids for construction were opened and after required review, Jeff Howe Construction of Siren was awarded the contract. Rather than a ground breaking ceremony, a “wall-breaking” ceremony was held in February of 2011, to mark the beginning of building construction.
The “Big Move” occurred beginning August 18, 2011. Headed by Library Board President Laura Rachford, Library Director Patti Meyer, and with volunteer help organized by Judy Rubertus, books and materials were carefully packed by shelf, transported to the new library and shelved. The Larsen Family Public Library opened on August 22.
With the dedication on September 9, 2011, of the Larsen Family Public Library, we look forward to many successful years of service to our Burnett County communities.