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.

Free Library Commission

The Wisconsin Free Library Commission was established in 1895. In 1965 it became the Division for Library Services within the Department of Public Instruction.  It is currently the Division for Libraries, Technology, and Community Learning.



The Wisconsin Library Association is founded.


The Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC) is founded. Lutie Stearns is the Commission's first Secretary.

Summer training sessions for librarians are initiated under the auspices of the WFLC. These training sessions are the precursors of what is to be the the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


The Legislative Reference Library is established as a part of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. Charles McCarthy is its first librarian. McCarthy was a leader in the Progressive Movement and is the author of the “Wisconsin Idea”. The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library served as a prototype of such libraries in other states and also was the model for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. 


The State Capitol in Madison burns. The State Law Library collection is saved with the help of University of Wisconsin students. The collections of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission are heavily damaged, however. 


A library school is established as a part of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. It later becomes the School of Library Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.


The Postmaster General shifts library books to fourth class parcel post mail making the postal rates much more affordable for libraries. Matthew Dudgeon, Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, working in cooperation with the major libraries in Madison, establishes a books-by-mail program which provides the resources of these libraries to the rural residents of the state.


The United States enters the war with Germany. The American Library Association takes a leadership role in providing library service to soldiers and sailors at home and abroad. Matthew Dudgeon, Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, takes a leave of absence to join ALA’s War Service Library. Libraries throughout Wisconsin join in the national effort to raise funds for books and library service for the armed forces.


The federal Library Services Act (LSA) is passed. 

S. Janice Kee, previously Director of the Public Library Association of ALA, becomes Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. 


Wisconsin’s State Plan for LSA funding is approved.


Several county and multi-county public library demonstrations are funded by the Free Library Commission with Library Services Act funds.  These are the predecessors of Wisconsin's public library systems.


The Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA), an expansion of LSA to include urban libraries, is enacted by Congress.


The Wisconsin Free Library Commission is incorporated into the Department of Public Instruction as the Division for Library Services. S. Janice Kee resigns from the Free Library Commission.  Lyle Eberhart becomes the Assistant State Superintendent in charge of the new Division for Library Services.


Wisconsin’s public library system law is enacted.


The first four public library systems are established under the new law.


The Council on Library and Network Development is established with the responsibility to advise the State Superintendent of Public Instruction on library development and cooperation and public librarian certification.

Additional Information

Matthew S. Dudgeon served as Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission from 1909 to 1920.  He took a leave of absence from the WFLC in 1919 to serve with the ALA Library War Service.  In 1914 Dudgeon instituted a a statewide books by mail service for rural areas of the state.  Books could be borrowed from the WFLC, the State Historical Society Library, and the University of Wisconsin Library.




The bookmobile shown in the postcard was used by the Wisconsin Free Library Commission for demonstrations of county and regional library service in the late 1950s after the passage of the Federal Library Services Act in 1956.

Biennial Reports of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission

The following biennial reports are part of the Public Documents Sub-collection of the State of Wisconsin Collection University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.



Popular Tags

library memorabilia Suring Area Public Library library exhibit Peter G. Hamon Historical Register Library e Hall of Fame 2013 Sarah Janice Kee 22 21 Manitowoc Public Library Academic Libraries Milwaukee Public Library WLA 125 Carl Spitzweg 10 14 Capitol Fire 1904 Lutie Stearns Public libraries Hall of Fame 2015 Anniversaries Wisconsin Library Bulletin Special libraries American Library Association Eratus Swift Wilcox Gertrude Thurow Hall of Fame 2010 Irene W. Newman Ruth Ann Montgomery Wilbur Lyle Eberhart Brown County Library Centennial cam John Miller Chancellor Library people Postcards Events & Meetings I Love Libraries Bookmobiles Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends Larry T. Nix WHCLIS Orrilla Blackshear Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Inform Wisconsin Rusk County Community Library Events Middleton Public Library T. B. Scott Free Public Library Library Buidlings campaign books-by-mail Beaver Dam Public Library Hartford Public Library Library celebrations Buttons J. D. Witter background Milwaukee Public Library Events & Meetings Black River Falls Public Library Hall of Fame 2015 Soughton Public Library Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Library Trustees Postcards Jerome P. Daniels Hall of Fame 2012 Hall of Fame 2016 Association of Library Trustees Advocates and Friends bookworm ca Publications Dorothea M. Krause UW-Milwaukee Libraries 23 archives library education caly film Exhibits Digital Collections bed and breakfast William J. Wilson Charles Bunge Increase A. Lapham trav Wisconsin Rapids Public libraries Hall fo Fame 2012 27 Wisconsin Historical Society Frank Avery Hutchins campa state historical society Hall of Fame 2015 WLA 125 Zona Gale Wisconsin Free Library Commission Katharine MacDonald Jones Library People Tower Hill Wisconsin WLA 125 Hall of Fame 2015 Academic Librarians Wisconsin Literary Travel Guide Marjorie Sornson Malmberg World War I Hall of Fame 2012 Uncategorized James Huff Stout Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services campaign Library people Elroy Public Library Campaign Postcards Public library systems presentations Wisconsin State Law Library Wisconsin State Normal School-Milwaukee library legislation caly film Hall of Fame 2014 WLA 125 campaign Anniversaries School libraries White House Conference on Library and Information Services Delia Ovitz Library History Wisconsin Library Association School of Library and Information Studies Campaign Nolan I. Neds Carnegie libraries Gerald A. Somers UW-Madison school of library and information studies McMillan Memorial Library Klaus Linderfelt Superior Carnegie Libraries Bernard Schwab Pewaukee Public Library Woman's Congress DeForest Area Public Library Dianne McAfee Hopkins buil American Library Association Library War Service Hall of Fame 2008 Ice Storm traveling libraries WAAL Library Systems Madison Public Library Portage Public Library Cam Edward Asahel Birge Campaing for Wisconsin Libraries National Bookmobile Day Milwaukee Art Museum James Duane Doty Lutie Eugenia Stearns Parcel post Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Pinback buttons Matthew S. Dudgeon Wisconsin Library Heritage Center Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library Library Artifacts Beloit Public Library Meter mail slogans S. Janice Kee Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians Campaign Postcards Richard E. Krug Oshkosh Public Library Brown Deer Public Library Hall of Fame 2011 COLAND People 20 Library Buildings UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies Wayne A. Wiegand Marketing-Publicity Jane K. Billings Hall of Fame 2012 11 24 Black River Falls caly film Hall Hall of Fame 2015 Amer Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Ripon Public Library anniversaries CCBC Clarence Brown Lester Clinton Public Library National Library Week Cornelia Marving Pierce membership libraries WWI Library War Service hall of Evansville Wisconsin Eager Free Public Library Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Wisconsin Free Library Commission 28 Council on Library and Network Development Cooperative Children's Book Center State Law Library Brown Deer Public Library Gilbert H. Doane Hall of Fame 2009 Appleton Public Library

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo