Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

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Wisconsin's Package Libraries

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Monday, August 17, 2009 in WLA 125
Package libraries were an innovation conceived by Frank A. Hutchins while serving as Secretary of the Department of Debating and Public Discussion in the newly created Extension Division of the University of Wisconsin. Hutchins resigned as Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC) in 1904 because of ill health. After his health recovered he joined the University's Extension Division in 1906. Interestingly, Henry Legler, Hutchins successor at the WFLC, was serving in an unpaid capacity as the first Secretary of the Extension Division in addition to his duties at the WFLC.

Package libraries were collections of pamphlets, pictures, magazine articles, and newspaper clippings on topics of current interest. These were mailed out upon request to individuals, women's clubs, debating groups, business people, rural schools, and libraries.  Borrowers paid the return express charge for the package libraries. In 1913-1914, the Department of Debating and Public Discussion mailed 3,741 package libraries, consisting of almost 150,000 articles on 1,460 subjects to over 450 communities in Wisconsin. Package libraries, like Wisconsin's traveling libraries, were intended to supplement public libraries and to serve rural areas which were not convenient to public libraries. Package libraries were also one component of "The Wisconsin Idea" which was to make the boundaries of the state the boundaries of the University of Wisconsin.

Hutchins health continued to decline and he died in 1914. His work at the Extension Division was taken up by his able assistant Almere Scott who served as Secretary of the Department of Debating and Public Discussion from 1914 to 1946. The concept of package libraries was implemented in other states including Indiana
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