Library Stories

Winnebago County Literacy Council - Partners in Literacy story

A shared passion for literacy has made living under the same roof a logical and beneficial partnership for the Oshkosh Public Library and the Winnebago County Literacy Council (WCLC).

20,000 adults in Winnebago County can’t read past a third grade level. WCLC empowers people to reach their literacy goals so they can thrive in our community. They create opportunities for people to read, write, speak, and perform everyday skills with confidence. WCLC has offered free tutoring and support services to adults reading at low to intermediate literacy levels since 1989. They also offer English classes for non-English speakers, family literacy classes, health literacy instruction and other related support services. In 2012 the agency served more than 250 people.

The library donates office, classroom and tutoring space to the WCLC and provides technology support. “Teaching a person to read opens doors – to better jobs, greater self-sufficiency and fuller, more rewarding lives, explains Terri Hansen, WCLC executive director. “The support from the library allows us to maintain a clear focus on the business of teaching people.”

Because students come to the library to meet with their tutors and attend classes, they have the opportunity to learn how to use the library as well.

“Our learners come to us to improve their English skills. They get more accustomed to being in the library, get a library card, and eventually start coming in when they don’t have class to check out books and use the computers,” Hansen explains. “It’s great to see our students come in with their kids to use the library.” 

Besides easy access to books and other resources, the library’s extensive hours and downtown location (on the city bus line and near the offices of World Relief refugee services) make it a convenient meeting place for WCLC students and the more than 80 tutors who work with them. 

“This is a safe place for our learners and tutors to meet,” Hansen says. “It’s dignified, neutral, non-threatening and non-judgmental.”

Most literacy councils are standalone offices that must build their own library of materials to use for tutoring and classes, according to Jan Edelstein, Ph.D., Education Coordinator for WCLC. “We have rich resources here and we try to tap into those as much as possible,” Edelstein says. WCLC staff consult with reference librarians to select materials for tutors to use; literacy students learn how to check out and return library materials; students who can read and write English, but need help speaking the language, can check out and listen to books on CD.

Collaborating with WCLC introduces future readers to the public library, where they can grow and achieve their personal goals, says Library Director Jeff Gilderson-Duwe.  “People come to the Winnebago County Literacy Council to improve their lives by learning how to read,” Gilderson-Duwe says. “Where better to start this journey of literacy and lifelong learning than the public library.” --October 2013

UAW logoUAW 578's library story:

Joe Preisler and the Oshkosh Public Library share a similar view when it comes to history: Both believe the stories of the past should be preserved and shared.

Preisler is the President and Bargaining Chair of UAW Local 578, which represents the hourly workers at Oshkosh Corporation. When he and fellow union members approached library staff for assistance in tracing the history of their local chapter, they couldn’t have asked for better research partners. Several members of the Reference staff worked with Preisler’s group to look back through the years to compile a history to share with Local 578’s current membership.

“It’s the history of what happened here and we don’t ever want to lose that,” Preisler explains. “We want to educate our members; to give them a fair and accurate snapshot of what’s happened in the past – the good and the bad.”

Some of the information the group found documented events that are well-known local lore for union members, such as the strike of 1974. But their research unearthed a few surprises too, including a one-day strike in June 1968. With few “old-timers” available to tell these stories, they might be lost if the library didn’t offer access to newspaper archives and assistance in navigating them, Preisler says.

Wading through years of newspaper articles on microfilm would have been far more cumbersome and time-consuming without the help of library staff, according to Preisler.

“The library definitely helped us out,” he says. “The whole process was clean and orderly and friendly – a really enjoyable experience.”

Local 578 plans to use the information they found at the library to put together a permanent timeline collage for the union hall that will help to educate current members about the group’s history. “It tells the story of who we are and what we do and there’s such a connection to what is happening today,” Preisler explains. “There needs to be an equal balance so that we never lose sight of the past as we look to the future.”

Rina PatelRina's Library Experience:

Rina Patel, M.D., never really had much time to spend at the Oshkosh Public Library. But when she needed a quiet place to study, the library became the perfect  place for her to pursue an important personal goal.

A small, quiet study room at the Oshkosh Public Library became an oasis for Rina Patel, M.D. And she is convinced that without this space she would not have been able to properly prepare for her latest board certification exam.

Patel, a family physician who lives in Oshkosh, took a leave from her medical practice in Beaver Dam to focus on preparing for the important exam. Board-certified physicians must recertify every 10 years and as daunting as the grueling eight-hour exam can be, she realizes that being board certified is important to her career.

Dr. Patel arrived at the library every day with her rolling backpack full of books, her laptop and a lunch, hunkering down for nine to 12 hours of intense studying.

“Since Day One I sat in the middle room (Study Room B) and I’ve been there ever since,” she says with a smile. “I told the (staff) they should rename it Study Room R for Rina.”

Finding a truly quiet place to study was more challenging than Dr. Patel would have imagined. Other libraries and even OPL’s relatively quiet second floor offered too many distractions for her. And studying at home with her husband and two children around was not an option.

“Once you start having a life and a family and a home, there’s no place you can go to be by yourself,” she explains. “To sit and study at home – I just can’t.”

Because of her busy schedule, Dr. Patel had visited OPL infrequently over the years – usually to drop off her children or run in to pick up a few books. She didn’t know about the three quiet study rooms on second floor until Reference staff pointed them out. She says the quiet, comfortable atmosphere, with wireless access and plenty of space to spread out her study materials, was just what the doctor ordered.

“This can make a difference in people’s lives,” Dr. Patel says. “If I pass this exam it will be solely because I could use this room.”

Surely this bright, engaging woman deserves the credit for all her hard work. But Oshkosh Public Library is pleased to be able to play a supporting role in helping people like Dr. Rina Patel enhance their lives and pursue their individual goals on the path of lifelong learning.