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.

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Origin of Wisconsin's Public Library Law

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Friday, June 19, 2009
in Public libraries

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Wisconsin's original public library law was introduced as Assembly Bill no. 87, 1872 on January 26, 1872 by Assemblyman Alexander Graham of Janesville, Wisconsin. It was approved by the Governor on March 22, 1872. The  Graham Bill was remarkably similar to a bill introduced in the Illinois Legislature on March 23, 1871 and signed into law on March 7, 1872.  So similar, in fact, that there is little doubt that Wisconsin's public library law was based on the one in Illinois.  A key provision is almost identical: "Every library and reading-room established under this act, shall be forever free to the use of the inhabitants of the city or village where located, always subject to such reasonable rules and regulations as the library board may find necessary to adopt and publish ...".


Erastus Swift Willcox (pictured above), while librarian of the Peoria Mercantile Library, a forerunner of the Peoria Public Library, conceived the public library law that was substantially enacted by both Illinois and Wisconsin in 1872 and which was a model for a number of other states. Although New Hampshire adopted a state public library law in 1849, a solid case has been made that Willcox's public library law was the first comprehensive state public library law. Willcox realized that the fees charged by mercantile libraries and other membership libraries were not only inadequate for funding library service but that they were significant barriers to library use by the general public. Little is known of Alexander Graham's motivation for introducing the Wisconsin law or the specifics of how he became aware of the Illinois bill. He was, however, a member of the Janesville Young Men's Association, a membership library which experienced some of the same challenges as those of the Peoria Mercantile Library. A major motivating factor in the passage of the Illinois law was the movement to create a public library for the City of Chicago. The City of Chicago passed an ordinance under the new act creating the Chicago Public Library on April 1, 1872. The Black River Falls Public Library was the first public library created under Wisconsin's public library law of 1872.


Library System Anniversaries 2009

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Wednesday, June 17, 2009
in Public libraries

Significant anniversaries are opportunities for libraries and library organizations to acknowledge their heritage and at the same time put the spotlight on their library or organization. I generally encourage the idea of celebrating anniversaries as often as every five years and definitely every ten years. This year a number of Wisconsin public library systems have significant anniversaries.  The Southwest Wisconsin Library System is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Library Services Act multi-county library cooperation project that evolved into the Southwest Wisconsin Library System. The April 7, 2009 SWLS blog entry reviews some of the history leading up to the formal formation of the system in 1974. Thus the system is also celebrating the 35th anniversary of the creation of the system. SWLS will have a celebration and awards dinner on June 19 to celebrate. The Eastern Shores Library System was formally created in 1979 and will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year. This will also be the 30th anniversary for the ESLS bookmobile and the 25th anniversary of the ESLS delivery service.  A variety of events to celebrate these anniversaries are described in the May issue of "The Connection", the ESLS newsletter. Other library systems are having significant anniversaries but I am as yet unaware of any events acknowledging these anniversaries. A Library Services Act multi-county cooperative project was also initiated in 1959 in Northwest Wisconsin which eventually led to the creation of what is now the Northern Waters Library System in 1973. Library systems created in 1974 and celebrating their 35th anniversaries also include the Arrowhead Library System, the Manitowoc-Calumet Library System, and the Mid-Wisconsin Library System. The Lakeshores Library System was  created in 1979 and is celebrating its 30th anniversary.  The November-December 2001 issue of Channel contained extensive coverage of the history of Wisconsin's public library systems to highlight the 30th anniversary of the passage of the public library system law in December 1971. Congratulations to all of these library systems on these significant anniversaries.


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  • Jean Célibataire Endurci says #
    You did not mention in your post if celebrating anniversaries every 5 or 10 years will bring in more readers, how many and for how...

Historic Library Buildings That House Museums

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Wednesday, June 03, 2009
in Carnegie libraries

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Any library building that is older than fifty years is considered to be historic. Some historic library buildings continue to serve as libraries usually with additions.  Others are razed so the lot they stand on can be used for a new library or for another use. Still others survive as buildings but are used for other purposes.  One of the more positive alternative purposes for these buildings is to serve as a local history museum. Historical societies realize the importance of preserving historic buildings and they make them accessible to the public. There are several of these in Wisconsin. The Carnegie library building in Darlington which is pictured on the envelope above now serves as the home of the Lafayette County Historical Society Museum. The Antigo Carnegie library building shown on the postcard below serves as the home to the Langlade Historical Society. Other historic library buildings  occupied by museums that I am aware of include those in Beaver DamRacine, WaupacaWaupun, and Wisconsin Rapids. A down side to these buildings is that they are often not fully accessible to those with disabilities.



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  • Andy Barnett says #
    South Wood County Historical Museum is the former TB Scott Library. http://www.swch-museum.com/ (with museum photo) http://www.mcm...

Oshkosh Public Library May 29, 1895

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Saturday, May 30, 2009
in Library buildings

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The "On This Day" feature of the Wisconsin Historical Society's website alerted me to the information that on this day in 1895 the voters of Oshkosh, WI approved the establishment of a free public library. The Oshkosh Public Library was the beneficiary of private and public funding totaling $150,000 that resulted in the construction of a grand new library building which opened in 1900..  The architect for the building was William Waters who had designed the Wisconsin building at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  The 1900 building is incorporated into the current library building which was completed in 1994. An excellent history of the library and its building is located on the library's website.



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Historic Preservation Month

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on Sunday, May 10, 2009
in Library buildings


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May is National Preservation Month and this year's them is "This Place Matters!".  The website for the National Trust for Historic Preservation provides background information on National Preservation Month for 2009.  The Wisconsin Historical Society provides the leadership for historic preservation in Wisconsin. Ironically the Wisconsin Historical Society's headquarters building has been in need of restoration for years. In my opinion this building is second only to the State Capitol in Wisconsin in its historic importance. This place definitely matters.  Fortunately, good things are about to happen to this wonderful building. The magnificent reading room on the second floor is about to undergo a full restoration, and the front entrance to the building will also be restored. The building was completed in 1900 and was designed to house both the Wisconsin Historical Society Library and the University of Wisconsin Library.  Jackson E. Town has written about the inception of the building in the Wisconsin Magazine of History in the Winter 1955-56 issue. When the American Library Association met in Waukesha in 1901, conference attendees came to Madison to visit the newly completed building and, "There was but one opinion of the entire party in regard to the beauty and arrangement of the building, and that was satisfactory to the highest degree." More on the history of the building can be found here. Wisconsin is celebrating Historic Preservation and Archaeology Month with a number of activities.


National Postcard Week

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Wednesday, May 06, 2009
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This is National Postcard Week. Diana Dretske, collections coordinator for the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Illinois, provides some background information on National Postcard Week on her blog "Illuminating Lake County, Illinois History".  I have previously posted on the WLHC blog about Wisconsin library postcards. Also by clicking on the "Postcards" category you can see all the previous posts to the WLHC blog that have included a Wisconsin library postcard image.


The Real Photograph Postcard (RPPC) of the Oakfield Public Library features the building in which the library was located in various configurations from 1913 to 2001. When this postcard was mailed the library shared the building with the Fire Department and the Village Hall. The message on the reverse of the postcard talks about the new fire whistle on the bell tower of the building which was run by an electric motor and cost $300. The person sending the card has also added comments to the front of the card relating to the new whistle. For a history of library facilities in Oakfield click here.


 


Library Buttons

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Friday, April 24, 2009
in Library artifacts

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Library buttons are fun and they are an interesting collectible, but they can also be artifacts that link us to our past.  In the image above are four buttons that each have a Wisconsin library story to tell. The crossed out AB 720 button was created to oppose a piece of library legislation that was supported by the majority of the Wisconsin library community and was passed into law.  The "Bark In The Dark" and the "It won't fit in the box" buttons were created for the particpants of two different groups that were charged with revising Wisconsin's public library standards.  The phrases reflect frustrations at critical points in the process of developing the standards.  The Jim Danky button recognizes the retirement of one of Wisconsin's stellar librarians. To see more library buttons including others from Wisconsin click here.

Wisconsin Library Heritage Day

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Saturday, April 18, 2009
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This is the last day of National Library Week 2009 and it could be Wisconsin Library Heritage Day. At the meeting of the Steering Committee of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center on February 19th, I floated the idea of establishing a Wisconsin Library Heritage Day to be celebrated on the Saturday of National Library Week each year. My rationale was that in addition to promoting a better understanding and appreciation for Wisconsin’s library heritage, Wisconsin Library Heritage Day would provide an additional avenue for marketing Wisconsin’s libraries at the local and state levels. It would tie in well with the Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries and the National Library Week campaign. It could initiate a buildup to the 120th anniversary of WLA in 2011.


Some ideas for celebrating National Library Day at the local level include:



  • Hold a birthday party for the library.

  • Host a display of historical artifacts related to library history at the local, state, or national level.

  • Work with the local post office to create a pictorial postmark related to the library's anniversary. Create a souvenir envelope to go with the postmark and include an insert with the history of the library.

  • Create or expand a section of the library's website devoted to the history of the library.

  • Cooperate with local library historical societies to promote activities and events.

  • Invite an impersonator of a national, state, or local library figure in the past to perform a skit. Possibilities: Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, Melvil Dewey, or Lutie Stearns.

  • Get local actors to reenact a pivotal meeting in the formation or early history of the library.

    The WLHC Steering Committee didn't receive the idea of a Wisconsin Library Heritage Day with open arms but they didn't turn it down outright. We will continue to explore the idea for 2010. What are your thoughts on such a day and let us know if you have other ideas for celebrating Library Heritage Day.

Tags: background

Academy Libraries

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Thursday, April 16, 2009
in Library buildings
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Among the earliest libraries in Wisconsin were the libraries of academies. Academies were basically private high schools and often preceded colleges or universities. Carroll College in Waukesha County was originally incorporated in 1841 as Prairieville Academy in the Town of Prairieville in Milwaukee County. Plattevillw Academy established in 1843 preceded the State Normal School at Platteville, later the University of Wisconsin - Platteville. Milton Academy established in 1844 preceded Milton College. Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin was established in 1855 and went through a number of ups and downs before finally becoming a co-educational private academy which it continues as today. Wayland Hall, the first building of Wayland Academy, housed the library. A major rennovation of Wayland Hall began in March of this year. The real photograph postcard (RPPC) above shows an early view of the interior of the well appointed Wayland Academy library.


National Library Week 2009

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Sunday, April 12, 2009
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National Library Week started today with the theme "World's Connect @ your library". In 1958 the National Book Committee and the American Library Association conducted the first annual National Library Week campaign with the theme “Wake Up and Read”.  Each state that participated in the effort was required to establish a statewide planning committee.  The Wisconsin Library Association took the responsibility for designating a volunteer state executive director for Wisconsin.  The executive director worked with the statewide committee under a lay chairperson and with significant lay membership.  As a spin off of the 1962 National Library Week campaign in Wisconsin, Mrs. Bruno Bitker of Milwaukee provided the leadership for founding the Friends of Wisconsin Libraries(FOWL) in 1963.  That organization was the model for the national Friends of Libraries USA (FOLUSA) which was also founded in Wisconsin. In 1964 under the leadership of Gerry Somers, Director of the Brown County Public Library, WLA was given the first $1,000 Grolier Award for most effective state National Library Week program in the nation. FOWL has been integrated into the new Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends (WLTF) Division of WLA. On February 1, 2009 FOLUSA joined with the Asociation of Library Trustees and Advocates to form the  Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF).


For more on the history of National Library Week and previous themes click here.


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  • Sandra Kincaid says #
    I just learned of ALTAFF and their meeting in Chicago next month and I wanted to know if there is a Wisconsin Friends of Libraries...
  • Larry Nix says #
    Sandra, The Library Friends group in Wisconsin is the Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends unit of the Wisconsin Library Associa...

Muriel Laura Fuller (1912-1978)

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Wednesday, April 08, 2009
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fuller-72-b.jpgMuriel Laura Fuller was inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 2008.  Fuller served as Assistant Librarian at the La Crosse Public Library from 1943 to 1947 after receiving her B.L.S from the University of Wisconsin Library School. She became Librarian in 1947 and continued in that position until 1953. She was active in statewide library planning and legislative matters within the Wisconsin Library Association serving as Chair of the WLA’s Statewide Committee for a number of years.  In 1952 she took a leave of absence from the La Crosse Public Library to direct WLA’s legislative campaign.  Fuller was a leader in continuing education for librarianship.  After working for the State Library of Michigan from 1953 to 1962, she joined the faculty of the UW-Madison Library School in 1962 moving from lecturer to the rank of full professor in the next 15 years. In 1963 and continuing until her retirement in 1977 she held a joint appointment as Chairperson of the Department of Library Science in University of Wisconsin Extension. She served as President of WLA in 1968-1969. She received WLA's Citation of Merit award in 1972.  Fuller drowned on June 17, 1978 in a freak boating accident on Lake Pomona in Kansas while teaching at summer school at Emporia State University’s Library School.  The Muriel Fuller award was established by WLA in her honor in 1991. She was selected for inclusion on the National Advocacy Honor Roll  by the American Library Association in 2000 for her contribution as an advocate for library services in the 20th century. The image is used with permission of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies.

Library Charging Systems

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Tuesday, April 07, 2009
in Library artifacts


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In 1881 under the direction of Librarian Klas Linderfelt, the Milwaukee Public Library implemented a new charging system. Linderfelt made a presentation on library charging systems at the 1882 American Library Association conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.  In that presentation he identified twenty questions that should be answered in evaluating a library charging system. The first four were: 1) Is a given book out?; 2) If out, who has it?; 3) When did he [she] take it?; and 4) When is it to be sen for, as overdue?  Another Milwaukee Public Library innovation was the pencil dater. Library charging or circulation systems have been evolving for many decades.  I was recently interviewed by John Kelly of the Washington Post about the stamping of library books with the date due.  Kelly wrote an article in his blog today about the move to printed receipts in public libraries. As a result of the Kelly interview I scanned my library card collection to the Library History Buff website which included this well used Milwaukee Public Library card from the 1920s.


Elizabeth Burr, 1908-1996

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photo-wi-burr-72.jpgElizabeth Burr was inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 2008. Burr retired in 1973 after 27 years as Public Library Consultant for Children's Services for the Wisconsin Division for Library Services and its predecessor the Wisconsin Free Library Commission.  She was a founder of the Cooperative Children's Book Center in 1963 and its director until her retirement.  She was the first recipient of the Wisconsin's Library Association's "Librarian of the Year" award.  In 1992, WLA established the annual Elizabeth Burr Award to be given to the Wisconsin author or illustrator of a distinguished book for children. She was selected for the National Advocacy Honor Roll by the American Library Association in 2000 for her contribution as an advocate for library services in the 20th century.


 

Lawrence Bookplates

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Thursday, April 02, 2009
in Library artifacts


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Two bookplates from libraries of Lawrence University are shown above.  The first is for the Samuel Appleton Library which was a 1963 addition to the Carnegie Library which was razed to make way for the Seely G. Mudd Library which opened in 1976. Samuel Appleton was the person for who the City of Appleton is named for. The second bookplate is for the John Herbert Farley Memorial Library of Lawrence College.  This is probably a book collection within the library not an actual library building.  According to Pete Gilbert, Lawrence University became Lawrence College in 1908 and then changed back to Lawrence University in 1964 when it merged with Milwaukee-Downer College. So the bookplates dates to before 1964. Bookplates are collected by a number of collectors. I have a collection of library bookplates, but not many from Wisconsin libraries. I would love to add more to the Wisconsin Library Memorabilia collection. Hint hint. 


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  • Al Lederer says #
    Larry Nix, I have some questions about the obtainment of land for the Milwaukee Public Library in 1886. Can you email me so I can ...

Books for Soldiers and Sailors in World War I

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Wednesday, April 01, 2009
in Archives


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On exhibit at the Middleton Public Library for the month of April is an exhibit entitled "Books for Soldiers and Sailors in World War I".  It's about the Library War Service of the American Library Association (ALA) in World War I. Given our current economic crisis and the impact on libraries, it is interesting to see how libraries coped in another time of great national crisis. The United States stayed neutral for much of World War I. During that period of neutrality, one of the largest impacts on public libraries in Wisconsin was the difficulty of obtaining books in German because of the British blockade of Germany. In his book "An Active Instrument For Propaganda" - The American Public Library During World War I (Greenwood Press, 1989), Wayne Wiegand quotes a letter from Matthew Dudgeon of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission to the President of ALA: "We are starved for German books in Wisconsin.  Do you know anywhere that we could buy,borrow, beg, or steal any new, secondhand,bound or unbound?" When the United States did enter the war in 1917, ALA took on a leadership role in providing books to the soldiers and sailors in our armed forces. Dudgeon took a leave of absence to serve as librarian of the ALA camp library at Camp Perry in Great Lakes, Illinois and later as Manager of Camp Libraries for the ALA Library War Service. Libraries in Wisconsin actively participated in supporting the ALA Library War Service and the war effort in general. In an abrupt turn around, instead of seeking books in German, the Free Library Commission removed all German language books from its traveling libraries.


Memorabilia Exhibit Milwaukee

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Monday, March 30, 2009
in Exhibits

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Today, with the assistance of my wife Kathy and Dawn Lauber of the Milwaukee Public Library (MPL) staff, I installed the Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit at the Central Library of MPL for the month of April.  MPL generously made available eight display cases for the exhibit which is on the second floor of the library. It includes one of the largest collections of Wisconsin library memorabilia ever assembled. This exhibit is supplemented by MPL's permanent vintage library office exhibit (see photo below, pardon the glare from the glass). The permanent exhibit includes an example of the pencil dater that was invented by the Milwaukee Public Library.  In addition to the pemanent exhibit MPL will be displaying other items including some vintage wooden cases used to transport books to the branch libraries.  Of course, a visit to MPL's magnificent Central Library which was originally built in 1898 is a treat in itself. 



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One Year Anniversary

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Sunday, March 29, 2009
in Events

This month marks the one year anniversary of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center.  A lot has been accomplished in the first year, and the WLHC Steering Committee has an active agenda for the second year of the WLHC.  We are appreciative of the support of the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Board and staff.  The WLHC website has a good start. We are grateful to the Outagamie Waupaca Library System for hosting the website, and for the assistance of Beth Carpenter in designing the site. Ten individuals were inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 2008 and plans are underway for more inductees in 2009.  The Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit is now being sponsored by the WLHC.  It was on display at four libraries in the last year, and it will be on display at the Milwaukee Public Library in April. The WLHC Steering Committee hopes to explore the possibility of establishing a Wisconsin library oral history project in 2009. The Steering Committee is appreciatiave of the financial support of the Founding Contributors of the WLHC.  By the way, you still have a once in a lifetime opportunity to become a Founding Contributor.  WLHC Steering Committee members are listed here.


Tags: background

Railroad car library

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Saturday, March 28, 2009
in Library buildings

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The Wisconsin Historical Society has many physical and digital resources of interest and value to the library history buff.  A fellow library history buff made me aware of an image (Image ID 4293) in the Historical Society's digital collection that pictured a railroad car library.  The location of the railroad car library was given as "probably in the Madison area".  However, in searching another digital collection of the Historical Society (Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles), I came across an article in the October 30, 1938 issue of the Milwaukee Journal that told the story behind the railroad car library.  According to the article, the library was located in Adams, Wisconsin, and the car was donated by the North Western Railroad at the request of the Adams Library Association (a membership library) in 1929. By 1937, the library had 2,088 books that were supplemented with 2,000 more from the state library commission.  The city of Adams was only providing $314 a year to support the library. Today, Adams is home to the Adams County Public Library, a much more substantial library. Dan Calef, Director of the Adams County Public Library, is a Founding Contributor of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center. Thanks Dan. 


Door-Kewaunee Bookmobile Demonstration

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Wednesday, March 25, 2009
in Public libraries
bkm-wi-door-kewaunee-whs2.jpgThere is an article in today's Wisconsin State Journal  about the 1949 Door-Kewaunee Regional Library bookmobile demonstration.  Christine Pawley who has written extensively on the Door-Kewaunee Regional Library published an article in the Summer 2008 issue of the  Wisconsin Magazine of History entitled "The Wisconsin Idea in Action: Reading, Resistance & the Door-Kewaunee Regional Library, 1950-1952".  Pawley, a Professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Library and Information Studies, serves on the Steering Committee of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center.  We have recently completed a page on this site about Wisconsin's bookmobiles. The image above is from the Wisconsin Historical Society's digital collection.
Tags: Bookmobiles

Mary Emogene Hazeltine (1868-1949)

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Mary Emogene Hazeltine was inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 2008. Hazeltine was the first head of the Wisconsin Library School established under the auspices of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission in 1906.  She served in this capacity until 1938. The school was the ninth library school established in the United States and one of six charter members of the Association of American Library Schools.  During her tenure as head of the library school she helped train over a thousand librarians. Prior to coming to Wisconsin in 1906, Hazeltine had directed the public library in Jamestown, New York and the summer library school in Chautauqua, New York.  She served as President of the New York Library Association in 1902.  After her retirement she returned to Jamestown, NY and volunteered as a reference librarian at the public library. She is the author of One Hundred Years of Wisconsin Authorship which was published in 1937. She was elected to the American Library Institute, a select organization of library leaders. In 1951 she was one of 40 of America’s most significant library leaders selected by the Library Journal for inclusion in a “ Library Hall of Fame". She is listed in the Dictionary of American Library Biography and the Dictionary of Wisconsin History.  The image is used with permission of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies.


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  • Aurélia says #
    I have a postcard that was sent from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) to Mrs. M. E. Hazeltine in 1923. The postcard was sent to the Wiscons...

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