Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center is a program of the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation promoting understanding and appreciation of the history of libraries and librarianship in Wisconsin.

WLA and the American Library Association 1886

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Sunday, January 31, 2016 in WLA 125
The American Library Association was founded in 1876, fifteen years before the Wisconsin Library Association was established. In 1882 Theresa West (later Theresa West Elmendorf), assistant librarian of the Milwaukee Public Library, became the first member of ALA from Wisconsin. In July, 1886 the American Library Association held its annual meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  There were 131 men and women in attendance making it the largest meeting of the association up to that date.  The site of the conference was Milwaukee’s Plankinton House hotel (see postcard above). Over twenty presentations were made on a wide variety of topics at the meeting by the most prominent librarians in America at that time. A major topic under discussion at the meeting was cooperative cataloging.  Although the meeting was substantive from a professional point of view, it was the post-conference excursion that was the most interesting aspect of the meeting.  Melvil Dewey described the excursion at length in the October, 1886 issue of his publication Library Notes (pages 95-99.  The eight day train excursion was arranged by Klas Linderfelt, Librarian of the Milwaukee Public Librarian. The excursion traveled almost 1,500 miles from Milwaukee to Madison to Kilbourn City (now Wisconsin Dells) to La Crosse to Minneapolis to Bayfield and the Apostle Islands to Oshkosh and back to Milwaukee and Chicago.  The stop at Kilbourn City included a trip through the Upper Dells (before it was dammed) by steamboat and a float trip back down by row boats.  
In appreciation of the efforts of Klas Linderfelt in arranging the excursion, those who participated gave him a small gold plated book inscribed “From the A.L.A. to K.A. Linderfelt In grateful recognition. Milwaukee, 1886”.  Linderfelt became the first president of WLA in 1891 and was also elected president of ALA. However, six years later ALA accepted Linderfelt’s resignation in disgrace as President of the ALA.  Linderfelt is a member of the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame.


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