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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Oldest Wisconsin Academic Libraries

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Determining the date that an academic library was established is somewhat of a challenge. Technically, a library is established when the responsible institutional governing board takes a specific action to do so.  However, such a specific action in regard to academic libraries is often lacking, and academic libraries sometimes use the date of establishment of the overall academic institution for the date of their establishment. Added to the confusion is the definition of what constitutes a library.  Is it merely a collection of books or something more substantial. In 1850 the Smithsonian Institution undertook a major survey of libraries in the United States. For Wisconsin only two academic libraries responded to that survey.  One of these was the Beloit College Library which reported that “the libraries connected with the college now amount to over 1,000 volumes, and arrangements are made which will insure their progressive increase.”  The other was the Library of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The American Library Directory which is published annually asks each library to indicate the year it was was founded. The Colonel Robert H. Morse Library of Beloit College indicates that it was founded in 1849.  The Todd Wehr Memorial Library of Carroll College in Waukesha indicates that it was founded in 1846 which is the date that the College was founded. The General Library System & Memorial Library of the University of Wisconsin at Madison indicates that it was founded in 1850.  The Seeley G. Mudd Library of Lawrence University in Appleton indicates that it was also founded in 1850.  Access to early academic libraries was often extremely limited and sometimes actually denied to undergraduates.  The librarian was usually a junior faculty member who was assigned the responsibility but had limited training as a librarian.
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Academic Libraries & WLA

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The Wisconsin Association of Academic Libraries (WAAL), one of the divisions of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA), is holding its spring conference this week at the Heidel House in Green Lake.  After its founding in 1891 the focus of WLA was primarily public library service. However, academic librarians participated in the Association from its beginning. Walter M. Smith, Librarian of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, was the first academic librarian elected president of WLA (1908). In 1954 the College and University Section, the predecessor of WAAL, was established in WLA. H. Vail Deale was one of the founders of the College and University Section and served as its first chair in 1955-56.  A complete history of WAAL can be found HERE.

Bookmobiles in Wisconsin Library History

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Today is National Bookmobile Day and the focus of this blog post is bookmobiles in Wisconsin library history. Although there were some earlier uses of motor vehicles to deliver library service, bookmobile service as we know it today was first demonstrated in Wisconsin in 1940 using federal funding from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Three bookmobiles were purchased by the Wisconsin Free Library Commission using WPA funds. One of the three bookmobiles was used for a demonstration in Shawano County. In March, 1942, following a successful demonstration, the first autonomous bookmobile service in the state was established in Shawano County. Bookmobile service in Shawano County continues today through the Shawno City-County Library. One of the three bookmobiles served Grant, Iowa, Crawford, and Rock counties. Operational funding for this demonstration which only served children was provided through contributions from 26 American Legion posts. The image above shows children using this bookmobile.  The first state funding for public library service in Wisconsin funded a bookmobile demonstration in Door and Kewaunee Counties in 1950-52. Although the demonstration was a success in terms of use by the residents of those counties, a referendum to continue the service failed in Kewaunee County. Although a similar referendum passed in Door County, both referendums were required to pass in order to continue the service.  In 1956 federal funding was made available to extend public library service to rural areas through the Library Services Act. The Wisconsin Free Library Commission developed a state plan for using this funding. It included the development of regional library systems, and bookmobiles were one component of that plan.  By 1993 there were 21 bookmobiles operating in Wisconsin.  Since then the number of bookmobiles has been reduced to eight. More about Wisconsin bookmobile history can be found HERE.
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National Library Week in WI

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Today is the first day of National Library Week with a national theme of “Libraries Transform”. Wisconsin has a long history of participating in National Library Week which began in 1958 as a joint project of the American Book Publishers Council and the American Library Association. Each state was expected to establish a statewide committee to promote the week, and WLA did so. WLA’s NLW Committee initiated a major public relations project under the leadership of Beryl Hoyt in 1961-62 involving the development of television public service spots. As an outgrowth of Wisconsin’s 1962 National Library Week program and under the leadership of Mrs. Bruno V. Bitker, the Friends of Wisconsin Libraries (FOWL) was founded on April 21, 1963. In 1964 WLA received the first Grolier Award for the most effective state National Library Week program in the nation.  National Library Week was promoted on mail with slogans produced by the meter postage machines of libraries and other organizations. Some examples of early National Library Week slogans on meter mail are shown above.
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ALA Comes to Madison, July 8, 1901

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When the American Library Association met in Waukesha in 1901 from July 3-10, Monday, July 8th, was designated as "Madison day" and more than 300 attendees boarded a train for the Wisconsin Capital where they were met by carriages that took them on a tour of the city. A highlight of Madison day was a visit to the recently completed building of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin which housed both the Society's library and the library of the University of Wisconsin. Each visitor received a handsome booklet about the new building courtesy of the Art Metal Construction Company. An image of the front of the booklet is shown above. A Library Journal report on the Madison visit noted that "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."  The image below of the ALA conference attendees in front of the building is from the Wisconsin Historical Society Digital Collection (Image ID 45544).
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ALA Meets in Waukesha in 1901

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ala-waukesha-medal-72The American Library Association held its second conference in Wisconsin in Waukesha, WI in July of 1901 (the first was held in Milwaukee in 1886). As reported in the magazine Public Libraries: "The twenty-third annual meeting of the A. L. A. was held at Waukesha, Wis., with an enthusiasm and interest that has not been equaled more than two or three times in the history of the association."  The conference was held at the Fountain Spring House, Waukesha's premier resort (see postcard above). The Public Libraries article concluded: "A large majority of the people present attended their first conference of American librarians at Waukesha, and the interest, enthusiasm, and evident progress made at this meeting is due largely to that fact.  For months the local associations in the middle west were at work to interest the librarians of their different states in the importance of being present at Waukesha.  Their efforts were successful, and there was but one note sounded in regard to the meeting, and that was satisfaction."  One day of the conference was designated as “Madison Day” and conference attendees made the trip to Madison to see the new combined building of the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Wisconsin Library. More about that in a later post.
 
At early ALA Conferences, mementos were routinely given to participants. At the Waukesha conference, the attendees were given an elaborate medal and a book about Shakespeare. The image of the medal (at left above) is courtesy of the American Library Association Archives which has several examples in its collection. The book (see below) Shakespeare the Man by Walter Bagehot was published by McClure Phillips and Company of New York and 450 of the 1,000 copies published were designated specifically for distribution at the ALA conference.
 
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    What a treat it was to read about this ALA conference in Wisconsin. The event described strikes me as quaint, but it also seems so...

Disaster Strikes the Newly Created Wisconsin Library Association

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linderfelt-72Just a little more than a year after the Wisconsin Library Association was founded and held its first conference one of the most bizarre events in American library occurred. In The Wisconsin Library Association (WLA 1966) Benton Wilcox writes:

“Disaster struck the infant Association in the spring of 1892 through the loss of its president, K. A. Linderfelt, who had also received in October, 1891, the even greater honor of election to the presidency of the American Library Association. Mr. Linderfelt had been born in Sweden and achieved an excellent classical education there before coming to America and Milwaukee in 1870. Here he had secured employment in the Milwaukee Female College as an instructor in Latin and Greek at a pittance of $400 per year, later increased to $600. In 1880 he was appointed librarian of the Milwaukee Public Library at $1,200. As recorded in the Library Journal, “In his twelve years of library administration he won a permanent place among eminent American librarians. A man of brilliant capacities and devoted to his calling, he was practically the creator of the Milwaukee Public Library, which he developed to a high efficiency.”

Unfortunately, in trying to maintain a standard of living comparable with that of the culturally elite of the city with whom he was associated, he became heavily involved in debt. In early 1892, the city having been spurred to a careful audit of its accounts by a defalcation discovered in one of its offices, a shortage of some $10,000 was found in the funds of the public library. Mr. Linderfelt readily acknowledged his guilt and aided the auditors in tracing the shortages. His staff and library board members showed their support by replacing the missing funds, and he was given a suspended sentence. Though Mr. Dewey offered him a position in his organization he returned to Europe, studied medicine, and died a practicing physician in Paris in 1900. The American Library Association expunged him from its records by accepting his resignation as of the day he had been elected its president. The Wisconsin Library Association, without machinery or heart for such decisive action, was left leaderless and apparently no one knew just what to do. As a consequence there was no annual conference in either 1892 or 1893.”

The Wisconsin Library Association forgave Linderfelt and welcomed him back into their fold at WLA’s Centennial reception in Milwaukee in 1991. It went even further and inducted him into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 2009.  

Read more about Linderfelt.

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WLA's First Library Conference, March 11, 1891

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On this date 125 years ago the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) held its first conference in Madison. According to Benton H. Wilcox's history of WLA, only 26 people were in attendance. Of these 15 were librarians. The call for the conference was worded as follows: "All citizens who are interested in library work are cordially invited. ...teachers and school officers are especially requested to attend. The Association aims to help establish new libraries as well as to aid those now in existence. Practical questions in all lines of library work will be discussed and the future course of the Association will be outlined."  Benton writes that "The program appeared rather hastily prepared. F. A. Hutchins spoke first on the conditions and prospects of town libraries, and later on the manner of establishing free city libraries under the state law. Dr. Birge talked informally on the proper conduct of free city libraries, while Mr. Thwaites gave a short address on the work of city libraries and local history. The only business transacted was to elect to their respective offices for another year the temporary officers chosen by the founding meeting on February 11. If there was any discussion concerning “the future course of the association,” as proposed in the call for the meeting, it is not mentioned in the minutes. No future program was outlined, discussed or even proposed. Nevertheless the minutes assure us that it had been an enjoyable get-together of library interested people. There was not another until July, 1894."
 
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Wisconsin's Membership Libraries

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Milwaukee Young Men's AssociationMembership libraries, sometimes referred to as social libraries, were the predecessors of free public libraries. There were dozens of these libraries in Wisconsin before and after the passage of the 1872 public library law. Membership libraries originated in New England, and it was New Englanders who brought this concept to Wisconsin. Membership libraries were formed when a group of individuals pooled their resources to purchase books which could then be commonly shared. An annual fee was usually required to participate in the membership library. These libraries often struggled from lack of financial resources or strong leadership. Only about a dozen survived for more than ten years. Some of the membership libraries transitioned into public libraries. The oldest of the membership libraries was the Milwaukee Young Men's Association Library (see illustration at left) which turned its assets over to the newly created Milwaukee Public Library in 1878. The Madison Institute Library was formed in 1853 and was replaced by the Madison Public Library in 1875. The longest surviving membership library was the Waupun Library Association which existed from 1858 to 1904. This was largely the result of the efforts of one man - Edwin Hillyer, a Waupun attorney. The library was located in Hillyer's office and he served as Clerk and Librarian at least from 1859 to 1880. A comprehensive history of membership libraries in Wisconsin can be found in the 1973 University of Chicago dissertation of John C. Colson - The Public Library Movement in Wisconsin, 1836-1900.

 

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I Love Libraries and I Vote

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button-i-love-libraries-72On February 3, 2004 on Library Legislative Day the Wisconsin Library Association kicked off an election year campaign, “I Love Libraries and I Vote”. The campaign was designed to encourage library users to vote and to remind those running for public office that many voters cared deeply about libraries of all kinds.  The proposal for the campaign came from WLA’s Library Advocacy Round Table (LART). The idea for the campaign was based on a study sponsored by the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium and partially funded by WLA that determined that 80% of library users voted in the 2002 gubernatorial election compared with 65% on nonusers.  WLA developed a website for the campaign along with tips for libraries to promote the campaign. Buttons (see left) and other promotional materials were distributed to libraries throughout the state. Part of the campaign involved having library patrons mail postcards, similar to the one below from the Beloit Public Library, to elected officials. On the back of the card, the sender provided a personal message about why the library was important to him or her. After this initiative the Library Advocacy Round Table was disbanded because of overlap with other WLA units, and the WLA Foundation embarked on an even more ambitious library marketing campaign, the Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries, in 2005. 
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The Wisconsin Historical Society

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The Wisconsin Historical Society was founded in 1847 and it quickly began to establish one of Wisconsin’s earliest library collections. Led by the vision of Lyman Copeland Draper and succeeding secretaries of the Society, that collection developed into one of the country’s largest and most important North American historical collections. The leaders and staff of the Society played an important role in the creation and development of the Wisconsin Library Association.  In addition to Draper, these individuals included: Daniel Steele Durrie; Reuben Gold Thwaites; Minnie M. Oakley; and Benton H. Wilcox among others. A symbol of the early library history of the Wisconsin Historical Society is a bookcase that housed the original library.  The collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society was housed in several buildings over time including the State Capitol. In 1900 the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Wisconsin Library jointly occupied a newly completed building. That building with expansions continues to house the Society. The UW Library moved into its own building in 1953.  The Society completed a major renovation of its impressive reading room in 2010.  In 2015 the Wisconsin Historical Press published The Wisconsin Historical Society: Collecting, Preserving, and Sharing Stories Since 1846 by John Zimm.
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Founders of WLA

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The following individuals were either instrumental in supporting the idea of a state library association for Wisconsin and/or attended the organizational meeting for the Wisconsin Library Association on February 11, 1891 in the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
 
From the State Superintendent’s Office:
Oliver E. Wells, State Superintendent
Charles A. Hutchins, Assistant State Superintendent
Frank A. Hutchins, Township Library Clerk
 
From the University of Wisconsin:
Walter M. Smith, University Librarian
E. A. Birge, Professor of Zoology 
(also member of the Madison Public Library Board of Trustees)
John C. Freeman, Professor of Literature
 
From the State Historical Society:
Isaac S. Bradley, Librarian
 
From the Milwaukee Public Library:
Theresa West Elmendorf, Assistant Librarian
 
Others:
Minnie M. Oakley, Librarian, Madison Public Library
Lorenzo D. Harvey, President of the Wisconsin Teacher’s Association
Albert O. Wright, Secretary of the State Board of Charities and Reform
 
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Bunge Remembers Kee

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S. Jan KeeWisconsin Library Hall of Fame member Charles Bunge made an excellent presentation about the creation of Wisconsin's public library systems law on February 8. In the open discussion period following his presentation Bunge recounted meeting S. Jan Kee, another Library Hall of Fame member in the late 1960s. Kee had served as Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission from 1956 to 1965, an important period leading up to the public library systems law. Bunge was heavily involved in the actual development of the legislation which was signed into law in 1971. In talking at their chance meeting, Bunge and Kee discovered that they had a remarkable connection. While working on the bookmobile in a State Library of Missouri library demonstration project in the 1940s Kee had provided a young boy in Gasconade County, MO a copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. That boy was Charles Bunge. The audience expressed a desire for Bunge to share this amazing story more widely. He has graciously written up a fuller account of their meeting and it is now located on the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center website. 
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Happy 125th Birthday WLA!

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On this date 125 years ago a group of individuals gathered in the office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (located in Wisconsin's second Capitol, shown above) for the purpose of establishing a state library association.  At that meeting, a constitution was adopted and officers were elected.  The officers included K. A. Linderfelt, president; R. G. Thwaites, vice-president; and F. A. Hutchins, secretary-treasurer. By this action the Wisconsin Library Association became the sixth state library association created in the nation.  The 125 years of library leadership and support by the association has had a positive impact on all types of Wisconsin libraries and on the library service delivered by those libraries to the people of Wisconsin. As Wisconsin libraries look to the future, it is also a time to acknowledge the tremendous library growth and development that has occurred in the last 125 years. Through good times and hard times Wisconsin libraries have persevered in meeting the information and knowledge needs of the state's residents, and they will continue to do so long into the future.  That's something to celebrate, and WLA along with Wisconsin libraries will be doing this throughout 2016.

WLA's 125th Capitol Ceremony

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A public kick-off of the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Wisconsin Library Association took place on February 9th at the State Capitol. The celebration event took place in conjunction with Wisconsin Library Legislative Day. The ceremony at the Capitol included presentations by Plumer Lovelace, WLA Executive Director; Pamela Westby, WLA President; Tony Evers, State Superintendent of Public Insturction; and Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. Lt. Governor Kleefisch read a proclamation from Governor Scott Walker designating February 11, 2016 as Wisconsin Library Association Day.
Photo credit: Paul Nelson 
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Wisconsin's Oldest Library

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pc-wi-belmont-72In 1836 when the United States Congress created the Territory of Wisconsin it appropriated $5,000 for a library. This was the origin of the Wisconsin State Library (now the Wisconsin State Law Library) making it Wisconsin's first and oldest library. At the first meeting of the territorial legislature in Belmont, Wisconsin, a resolution was passed creating a committee to select and purchase books for the library. The first librarian was James Clark, publisher of the Belmont Gazette and the territorial printer. It was not until 1851 that additional money ($2,500) was appropriated to expand the library. Initially, the collection was designed to support the territorial legislature and the state legislature and contained " law books, books of reference, and works on political science and statistics". Emphasis on legal materials increased and in 1876 the library became part of the judicial branch of state government. The need for more general library materials by the legislature was met first by the Library of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and later by the Legislative Reference Library of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (now the Legislative Reference Bureau). 
 
The law library survived the Capitol fire of 1904 due to quick action by University of Wisconsin students and Supreme Court Justice R. D. Marshall. In 1999 the Wisconsin State Law Library moved out of its home in the Capitol due to a major renovation of the building. In 2011 the library celebrated its 175th anniversary. A history of the State Law Library is located on its website. The postcard above shows Wisconsin's first capitol in Belmont, Wisconsin. 
 
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Library Legislative Day 1895

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WLA's Library Legislative Day for 2016 will occur next week on February 9th. Library legislation like everything else connected to Wisconsin libraries also has a heritage. In his 1966 history of the Wisconsin Library Association Benton H. Wilcox wrote about WLA's first legislative victory. Lutie Stearns attended the American Library Association meeting in Lake Placid New York in 1894 where she was introduced to the idea of a state library commission. Stearns brought back copies of legislation establishing such commissions in New Hampshire and Massachuttes and was enthusiastic about establishing such a commission in Wisconsin. Wisconsin's first library legislative champion Senator James Huff Stout introduced the necessary legislation early in the 1895 legislative session. According to Wilcox this legislation was the principal subject of discussion at WLA's conference in Madison on February 13 and 14, 1895. At that conference, WLA enorsed the legislation and appointed a committee to work for its enactment.  Wilcox writes: "The legislature was less than enthusiastic but by holding the requested appropriation to only $500 per annum for expenses, Senator Stout was able to bring it through, and it became law late in April, 1895. The Association had achieved its first notable victory." So WLA has been involved in library legislation for 121 years. The result of that early success was the creation of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission which is now the Division for Libraries and Technology. Both Stearns and Stout were inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in 2008.

Information about this year's legislative day can be found HERE. An important feature of this year's legislative day will be the kickoff of WLA's 125th Anniversary Celebration in the rotunda of the State Capitol at 12:00 noon.

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    This is a test.

WLA’s Greatest Legislative Victory

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charles bungeIn December of 1971, the Governor signed into law SB 47.  This bill substantially revised the laws related to public libraries in Wisconsin and enabled the creation of single-county and multi-county public library systems in Wisconsin. It was largely responsible for ensuring that every citizen in Wisconsin not only has access to public library service but has access to the shared resources of all public libraries in Wisconsin.  The bill was passed after years of effort on the part of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA), the Wisconsin Division for Libraries in DPI, and the Wisconsin library community.  It was undoubtedly WLA’s greatest legislative victory.  Next week, one of the key players in making that happen, Charles Bunge, Professor Emeritus, School of Library and Information Studies, UW-Madison, will present a program titled “Portrait of a Legislative Success Story: The Development and Passage of Public Library System Legislation in Wisconsin”. The program will take place on Monday, February 8, at 7:00 p.m. at the Madison Public Library.  It precedes Library Legislative Day which takes place on February 9. The program is sponsored by the Task Force on WLA’s 125th Anniversary and the Legislative Day Planning Committee of WLA. Bunge is a member of the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame.
 
 
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WLA and the American Library Association 1886

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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.

Wisconsin’s First Public Library (WLA 125)

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The first public library established under Wisconsin’s 1872 public library law was the Black River Falls Public Library which was established in the fall of 1872.  This library met the three criteria for being defined as a public library under Wisconsin law: 1) it was established by a governmental unit (the Village of Black River Falls); 2) it was free to the users of the library; and it was supported by public taxation. The newly established public library was preceded by an association or membership library established in 1868 that was supported by fees that were paid by members. The Black River Falls Public Library was housed in a number of locations in its early years. In 1882 the library was moved to Mrs. P. H. Howell’s dress making and millinery shop when she became librarian. The photograph above shows the library at this location. Black River Falls was one of sixty Wisconsin communities that received a grant from Andrew Carnegie. It received its grant on March 11, 1914 for $10,000.  The Carnegie building which is now houses a historical museum is shown in the photograph below.  The library moved into a new building where it is now housed in 1995.
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