Flood-prone Rock Springs and La Valle libraries recuperating

January 20, 2019

Mary Jo Doepke, the library assistant at the Rock Springs Public Library, right, helps Jessica Labrec check out books at a makeshift desk in the basement of St. John's Lutheran Church, the temporary home of the library that was flooded out in August, in Rock Springs, Wis., on Jan. 1.

ROCK SPRINGS - The book by Madison children's author Kevin Henkes was apropos.

Snow still clung to the trees here and plows in the village were cleaning up from a New Year's Eve storm and a light dusting two days later, while some sidewalks still waited to be shoveled.

"Winter is Here," illustrated by Laura Dronzek, chronicles the changes that occur when the snow flies and the landscape is altered with a blanket of snow, icicles and frozen ponds, Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Henkes, an award-winning and prolific author, has other books that help children understand fall, spring, birds and gardens, and a series of more than 20 titles starring mice with names like Penny, Wemberly and Lilly.

A book about flooding from Henkes would be appropriate, too, and could help better explain, in the simplest terms, to young readers like Salem Labrec, 4, and Aiden Lemke, 3, why their weekly story time is being held in the basement of St. John's Lutheran Church instead of the Rock Springs Public Library in the lower level of the Rock Springs Memorial Community Center.

"It's less than what we had but we're trying to see what we can do. It hasn't been easy," said Katie Schofield, the library's director, as she waited for children to arrive. "In my mind, I'm kind of looking at this time to reevaluate and look at our strategic plan and see what the community needs from us and what we can do to serve the community. I want to use this time as best we can, even though we're not able to offer full services, and rethink what a library is."

When the Baraboo River swelled in late August, the business district of this Sauk County village of 363 residents was again flooded. It was a near repeat of the historic floods of June 2008, only now village officials are in discussions to move the library and village offices to higher ground.

Village offices, which had been in space next door to the library, are now operating out of the fire station.

Meanwhile, nearly every other building in the downtown is shuttered. The Coach House bar and restaurant is closed for good, and the Flood Zone bar is still closed along with the neighboring Clement Auto Repair. The Post Office remains closed but is being renovated and could open soon.

C.J.'s Rock N Stop, a convenience store with a large grocery selection that includes fresh produce in a dorm-sized refrigerator, closed for 10 days but only because the store's gas pumps short-circuited. The building, however, is elevated and escaped water damage, said Lois Brimmer a clerk at the store for the past six years. The store also sells hot food such as hot dogs, cheeseburgers and cups of stew.

"We're it," said Brimmer, as she assessed the state of the downtown. "It just seems like it's a dead ghost town. We still get our car traffic but it's rather quiet in town."

It could be months before the library here has a permanent home. Most of the library's collection is in storage at the Reedsburg State Bank, while furniture and some toys, like Legos, are being stored on the second floor of the Community Center. The library has been using the church basement just up the hill since mid-October for story time and a once-a-week after-school program.

But expanded hours and more books and movies are on the way for the library, much to the appreciation of patrons like Aiden's mom, Sarah Lemke. She has met other mothers at the library and makes it part of her weekly routine to bring her son to explore the library's offerings.

"It's just nice to get out of the house and talk to other parents and the librarians and let him burn off some energy," Lemke, 38, said. "It's good for the kids to come at an early age to get the concept of a library and, as they get older of course, to read. I don't know what's going to happen. The church is fine but we still miss the other library. The feel is different but we're just grateful that they've opened back up."

Schofield, along with assistant Mary Jo Doepke, are trying to assess the most popular books in the collection and pull them from storage to create more of a library experience in the church basement, which is normally used for socializing after church, funeral luncheons and other church activities. The space has Wi-Fi, which will allow patrons to use laptops and printers, while a kitchen will help continue programming where food projects are part of children's activities, such as baking cookies and personal pizzas.

"Because we're small we have a closer relationship with our patrons," said Doepke, who has worked at the library for the past eight years. "You get to know their habits and what days they come in and what they like to check out. So when we're not acting as a library, I'm missing them."

Doepke grew up on a farm outside of Reedsburg and now lives near North Freedom. Schofield, 35, is a Michigan native who went to college at North Park University in Chicago. She came to Sauk County in 2008 as an artist in residence for the Wormfarm Institute and for five years coordinated the Farm/Art Dtour held during Fermentation Fest. This is her first gig at a library, and she now knows how to clear out a library in less than eight hours with a team of community volunteers to prevent books and other items from being destroyed by floodwater.

At the church, a single cart holds books for adults and another is stocked with DVDs. Most of the shelving was stocked with seasonal children's books. On a table near the kitchen, there were bowls of tangerines and animal crackers and a basket with packets of instant coffee, tea and hot chocolate.

"Right now our shelves are kind of empty," Schofield said of the church space. "We just put shelving in three weeks ago and we'll be moving more movies and books over from each collection and be open more regular hours."

Starting Jan. 14, the library will be open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays.

That also will be a big week for the La Valle Public Library, which reopened Jan. 14 after being inundated with about 4 feet of floodwater in late August. Like Rock Springs, the water came from the overwhelmed Baraboo River but library staff was caught off guard when the dam in Hillsboro up stream failed and sent an unexpected wave of water. The library, located next to the fire station, lost all of its books on the bottom three shelves of each shelving unit.

Over 10,000 books were destroyed, and carpeting and furniture had to be replaced. There's also a new reception desk that had been for sale by the Madison law firm of Kramer, Elkins & Watt but when the firm learned of the library's demise, it chose to donate the desk. Scores of other people and the South Central Library System have also donated books to help the library get back on its feet. Because the entire children's collection is on lower shelves, all of it was lost.

"People have been unbelievably generous," said Cindy Morgan, who has been library director for all of seven weeks but has served as a volunteer and library assistant in the past. "We've gotten books from Minnesota and from all over the state. Really, more than we can keep up with in terms of sorting. We have thousands of unsorted books that our little staff just hasn't had time for. So we're going to have quite a good-looking children's library when all is said and done."

The library smelled of bleach recently as Vera Mihlbauer, a member of the library board, used a rag to clean bookends and other shelving components while wearing rubber gloves. The floors, which had been full of sludge, have been cleaned or replaced, while computer workstations have rebuilt. Part of the library space also doubles as the chamber for Village Board meetings and is where voting takes place.

The $200,000 building was constructed beginning in 2009 after floodwaters in June 2008 heavily damaged the previous library space located in a former one-room schoolhouse. The library, which lost 1,000 books in 2008, didn't reopen until February 2010. Morgan is thankful that the wait to reopen won't be as long this time around.

"I love this little library," Morgan said. "Even though we're small, our offerings are really special."

Associated Press