Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

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Increase A. Lapham and Wisconsin’s First School Library

Posted by Larry T. Nix
Larry T. Nix
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on Friday, May 06, 2016
in WLA 125
Increase A LaphamIncrease A. Lapham (1811-1875) is considered to be Wisconsin’s pioneer scientist and scholar. In addition to his scientific endeavors, Lapham was a supporter and contributor to Wisconsin’s library collections. His efforts in this regard included: helping to found the Wisconsin Historical Society; helping to found the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters; and developing a personal library of over 1,100 volumes that became part of the library of the University of Wisconsin in 1876.  One of Lapham’s most interesting contributions to libraries involved his role in establishing a school library in Milwaukee in 1851.  At the time Lapham was one of the Milwaukee school commissioners and he led the effort to establish the library.  After a resolution proposed by Lapham to create the library was approved by the school commissioners, Lapham moved quickly to establish the library. This included selecting and ordering 704 books costing $371.61.  A librarian was recruited by Lapham and paid fifty dollars a year. The library was located in the building of Milwaukee’s Young Men’s Association and was open for business on Saturday afternoons.  The early enthusiasm for the library gradually dissipated, and only thirty more books had been acquired by 1857.  In 1878 the Young Men’s Association Library became part of the new Milwaukee Public Library and over the years the original school library collection disappeared. 
The primary source of the information in this post is an article by Graham P. Hawks titled “A Nineteenth-Century School Library: Early Years in Milwaukee” in the Journal of Library History for Fall, 1977, pages 359-363. 
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