LENA — If there’s an ideal book for the Lena Public Library, it’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”
The Dr. Seuss classic spotlights the role of fish at the rural Oconto County library.
Instead of using traditional pet therapy dogs, library director Amy Peterson conceived the idea of bringing in an aquarium with two “pet therapy fish” — albeit orange, not red or blue.
An old-fashioned telephone cord is secured to the back of the aquarium and winds around to the front, where it’s attached to a curved PVC pipe used as a whisper reader. The library also has two cordless whisper readers.
Children, primarily in 4K and kindergarten, read books to the fish by whispering into a reader. The device enables children to hear what they’re saying without disturbing other library patrons, and at the same time the fish in the nearby aquarium “hear” the story as well.
“If kids think somebody is listening to them they tend to read more, so that’s what this is designed to do,” Peterson said. “We know from research that if you read with your kids they’re more likely to read and engage. If you can hear yourself read, there’s research that shows you’ll be a better reader. So they’re listening to themselves.”
The pet therapy fish fit well within the library’s limited budget. PVC pipes used for the whisper readers each cost about $1. And the fish and aquarium were free.
“My kids had the fish and didn’t want them anymore, so I thought I could just take them here to the library,” Peterson said. “And about that same time we were talking with the staff about having a therapy dog come in. But we were running into a lot of roadblocks with that. So the fish were our solution.
“You come up with a lot of interesting ideas at small libraries. We’re definitely not the only library with an aquarium, but unless Google is wrong I’m pretty sure we’re the only one where you can read to the fish like this.”
The pet therapy fish have been a hit since they were introduced to the library in 2017. When Peterson announced to the children that animals were coming to the library, “we had a lot of interesting guesses. A lot of the kids thought giraffes or ladybugs.”
Upon unveiling, the aquarium originally held two koi fish. One of them is still getting along swimmingly, while the other one died and was discreetly replaced with a goldfish.
A contest was held to name the fish, and the winning entry was Christopher for Christopher Robin in the book series “Winnie-the-Pooh” and Dory for the movie character in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.”
Peterson accepted the position as Lena Public Library director in 2014. Previously, she served on the board of the Farnsworth Public Library in Oconto as well as a member of its Friends group. In addition to Peterson’s full-time hours, the Lena library has three part-timers and occasional volunteers.
The library, which primarily serves residents of the village of Lena and town of Lena, is owned by both entities with additional funding from Oconto County.
Lena Public Library’s roots date back to 1929, when it was housed in a local drug store. Over the years, books and related materials were shuffled around among the village hall, a local restaurant and other community buildings. In 2006, the library officially found a permanent home when it opened at 200 Main St.
Peterson said the library is an important resource for community members. The building holds nearly 13,000 items, including books, magazines, DVDs, audiobooks and other materials.
On average, she said, a good month may see 1,700 items checked out. Not all may be from Lena, since the library is part of the Nicolet Federated Library System and the Outagamie Waupaca Library System, which allow patrons to access collections from other counties.
In addition to seven public computers — “which is phenomenal for a library our size,” she said — the library offers fiber optic Wi-Fi service 24 hours a day.
“Wi-Fi is getting huge here,” Peterson said. “We’ll have people sitting in our parking lot after hours just to use the Wi-Fi signal since it’s so strong and always on. And we’re sort of the local Kinko’s too for printing and copying. We’re a library, but we’re more than just a library to the community.”
For more information about the Lena Public Library, visit www.lenalibrary.org or call 920-829-5335.