By Lisa Pett
The Portage County Public Library celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2022.
Though there have been lending libraries in some form or another in Stevens Point since 1862, the Portage County Library System, with branches in Plover, Rosholt, and Almond was created by the Portage County Board in 1982. The Charles M. White Memorial Library moved into its current building a decade later.
Serving the entirety of Portage Co., every resident 15 and over can get a free library card. Children under 15 must be registered by a parent or guardian. That allows them access to the library’s entire catalog of materials.
And it’s not just the books on the shelves—Portage County became affiliated with the South Central Library Systems, located in Madison, in 1996, granting access to the catalogs of all 41 libraries in that system. With weekday deliveries between county libraries, that means shorter wait periods for requested materials and greater access across the state for small, rural branches.
The affiliation brings with it a “huge win for the literary public,” according to library director, Larry Oathout.
“All of a sudden the residents everywhere, and especially in towns with smaller populations, have the same access to materials that metro areas have,” Oathout said. “And the speed of receiving those items has gone from weeks to just days. [Which is] a huge win for the literacy of the public.”
Oathout touts the successful pivot to provide services to county residents in light of the recent COVID-19 shutdowns.
“A lot of good things have happened, but I think the way we and other libraries successfully managed to use virtual programming and alternative ways to reach the public—Take and Make [kits], Children’s Portable Learning Lab Kits, and teen virtual programs—the last couple of years when in-person programs didn’t happen,” he said. “Video is not a form everyone is comfortable with but it greatly expanded our reach outside the walls of our buildings. We have a lot of creative people and they made it happen when given the tools.”
In spite of more recent shutdowns, the Portage County Library remains as one of the few, free, open public spaces, even those some pandemic measures are still in place. As downtown businesses come and go, the library has served as a recession-proof anchor for families and residents visiting downtown Stevens Point.
Even in light of the Internet Age, public libraries remain vital pieces of community infrastructure. They ensure equal access to reading materials, both print and digital, provide internet access for things like homework, job searches, and online research. Staff is on hand to assist in selecting materials, as well as provide technical advice, and help with programming that expands literacy for residents of all ages.
Portage County residents can apply for a library card in person or by visiting the library’s website at www.pocolibrary.org. The website also provides links to the Wisconsin Digital Catalog, Homebound Services, online research, genealogy research, consumer information, and more.