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Portage Public Library celebrates 5th anniversary of expansion

August 10, 2018

It is impossible, maybe, for Dawn Foster to thank every single person or list every single reason for celebrating five years of new space in the children’s department at Portage Public Library.

“The community at large supported the expansion,” the children’s librarian said of the 6,000-square-foot addition that opened in July 2013 and was the result of more than one million dollars in community fundraising.

“To this day I’m still overwhelmed by the support,” Foster said.

Library staff and families marked the occasion Wednesday with birthday cake, crafts and live music, the partygoers framed by more than 17,000 children’s items housed in the department. Notable improvements made over the past five years, Foster said, include the expansion of programming for toddlers, the addition of monthly family programming and educational kits – such as storytelling kids that include a stuffed animal paired with the book — for students who might need extra work over the summer or for homeschooled children.

“We didn’t have these things before simply because we didn’t have the space,” Foster said, estimating the department’s new space as being at least one-third bigger than its previous space. Fundraising for the library expansion – spearheaded by Chad Stevenson and Jeff Liegel from Culver’s – included expanded teen space, the fireplace, bigger reading space and shelving, two study rooms and new painting and carpeting throughout the library.

Emily Goad, who started as the library’s new director in July, noted a “huge difference” between the Portage Public Library’s children’s department Wednesday compared to the others she’s seen in her 10 years working in libraries.

The Middleton native and past director of Kewaskum Public Library immediately pointed to the children’s Summer Reading Program — how Foster had designed it in such a way that benefits local organizations. Children who participate in the summer reading program ultimately vote for the organizations they’d most like to help, Goad said, and the children at the conclusion of the program present checks to the three organizations that received the most votes.

“It blew my mind,” Goad said of such programming. “Altruistic is the word I would use for it. That’s where Dawn (Foster) is different – it’s all about doing good. She really thinks outside of the box.”

Other features of the department include monthly visits from various schools, including reading programs held for about 40 students from Head Start Renewal Unlimited. Various science and art programs, meanwhile, involve as many as 50 students participating at once, Foster said. “We’re not in an area where parents can easily send their children to math or science camps, but they get some of that right here at the library.”

Bigger space also meant the department could offer more materials for parents – including materials for dealing with things like potty training, kids afraid of sleeping, the death of a dog or family member or a grandparent who is entering a nursing home, Foster said.

“This isn’t a job for me – it’s too fun,” said Angie Tomlinson, who started working in the library around the time of the expansion. Growing up in a small town in Minnesota, Tomlinson became a frequent library patron and still remembers how important that was to her development.

“Reading books creates images in your mind – you become a more creative person,” she said. “For parents, you’re finding out what your kids like or don’t like. I don’t think you can put a price on that.”

For more information about what’s available at the library, visit portagelibrary.us.

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