Wisconsin has 72 Counties, 190 Cities, 1,246 Towns, and 414 Villages. It takes A LOT of people—more than 70,000 Wisconsinites—to do the nitty-gritty work that keeps our communities ticking. Jon Mark Bolthouse is one of them.
Jon Mark Bolthouse | Fond du Lac, WI
I had a conversation with a public librarian in Chicago and realized that’s where I wanted to be. I was someone about to graduate with a degree in history who also was into computer programming. At the time, the internet was just starting out, and through our conversation, it became clear that libraries were going to be the hub of all that information.
Originally, I’m from Lansing, Michigan, but I’ve been in Wisconsin for nearly 17 years. What brought me here was a job with the UW System. I used to be the automation librarian for the UW colleges back when they had colleges, and the office was here in Fond du Lac.
Today, my day-to-day life as the public library director in Fond du Lac can be everything from writing really large grants to help connect us with the school district, to unclogging toilets, to everything in between. My main goal, though, and the most important part of my job, is connecting the library to the community. It’s important for me to be out there telling people the good news of the library. We definitely want to reach out to the community and bring the library experience to them.
The city of Fond du Lac is about 44,000 people. It tends to be mostly blue-collar. Although there are three colleges and universities within the area, we’re a large manufacturing city. There are six libraries within the county, but we are the biggest one within Fond du Lac County. It’s an active place, even during Covid.
We serve as the hub and connector for the community. We’re as close to a community center as you can envision, at least here in Fond du Lac. We’re the only place in town that has meeting rooms for free, where people can come in and meet. We’ve offered up a lot of other services like that. We offer opportunities for everything from bilingual storytimes to a very popular program called ‘History at Home.’ It’s a program where speakers present stories about Fond du Lac and the surrounding area.
We also have the Idea Studio, which is a 3,000-square-foot space devoted to creativity, invention, and learning—one of the largest maker spaces in Wisconsin right now. We have a test kitchen, a digital recording studio, a laser cutter, two CNC mills, six 3D printers. We’ve got a brand-new embroidery machine, several sewing machines, and all kinds of other technology. What’s most important is we have staff who can show people how to use the equipment. We do classes, and anybody in the community is welcome to use it, and it’s all free.
What’s really cool is when you have machinists who used to work at Giddings & Lewis or Mercury or one of the other large manufacturing places in town meeting with a high school or even a middle school student who’s in the STEM program. The middle school student knows how to connect the computer to the 3D printer, but the machinist knows how to build the infrastructure for the item to be printed.
I worked as a professional musician for many years, so I do the training in the recording studio. One of the high school students I was working with was very interested in becoming a rap star, so he’s been doing a lot of recording of his own music and beats. One day we were talking, and he asked me, ‘So if I was to learn more about this, I could go to college and learn about recording, couldn’t I?’
I said, ‘Well, yeah, absolutely,’ and he said, ‘I think that’s what I want to do.’ And not to say that his aspirations of being a rap artist were off in any way, but this wasn’t an opportunity that he’d even thought possible, and then suddenly it was. It gets me choked up, because I felt that this is what we’re trying to do—make people’s lives better.
Everybody I’ve met who works for the city of Fond du Lac, without question, is somebody who takes service seriously. It’s as close to being part of their DNA as you could imagine. Everybody—the public works department, the police, the fire department, the administration, the comptrollers, the accountants, Human Resources—has made a commitment to making people’s lives better.
This story was produced by Maria Parrott-Ryan and is part of our Wisconsin municipal workers series. You can find more information about library maker space here. Want to learn more about local government? Check out the League of Wisconsin Municipalities Citizen’s Guide to Wisconsin’s Cities and Villages.
This series was funded by the “Why it Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation” initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.