Earlier in the week I was privileged to participate in the culminating event of a year long celebration of the 175th anniversary of the founding of what is now the Wisconsin State Law Library (WSLL). As I indicated in my presentation at the event, it doesn't get any better than that for a library history buff. The WSLL's approach to its 175th anniversary could be used as a model by other libraries approaching a significant anniversary. The WSLL's 175th anniversary activities are recorder on its website. The library, originally designated as the State Library, was established as part of the Congressional act which established the Territory of Wisconsin. A $5,000 appropriation was made to purchase books for use by the Territorial Legislature. This set a precedent for later territorial legislation that followed. The library narrowly escaped a disastrous fire in the Capitol where it was located in 1904. The WSLL's long serving librarian Gilson Glasier will be inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in November. The WSLL staff has put together a very nice timeline of the library's history. At the reception this week the staff had assimilated a number on neat artifacts from their history that were displayed for the guests. I'm the proud owner of five sections of iron shelving that were in the library when it was located in the Capitol (it moved out in 1999). Before most of the iron shelving was discarded, the library managed to salvage some very nice label holders that were reused on the attractive shelving the library has now. Their 175th anniversary logo is based on these label holders.
The Wisconsin State Law Library is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. Although this is a significant milestone in the history of one Wisconsin library in particular, it is also a significant milestone for library service in general in Wisconsin. In a slight modification of the Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries slogan, Wisconsin libraries have been keeping "Us All in a Better State" for 175 years. When the Congress of the United States, in the act establishing the Wisconsin Territory, set aside $5,000 for the purchase of books for the Territorial Legislature in 1836, it represented a commitment of public funds for public knowledge and and public betterment. So as the Wisconsin State Law Library actively celebrates this milestone anniversary, it also represents an opportunity for the entire Wisconsin library community to celebrate 175 years of public support for library service for the common good. Previous posts about the Wisconsin State Law Library are located Here, Here and Here. The envelope above was used to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the State Law Library which was called the State Library at that time.
This is a follow-up post to a post on the Milwaukee Soldiers Home Library (Wadsworth Library) that I made on January 4th of this year. As a result of that post, Patricia Lynch informed me that the Wadsworth Library built in 1891 continues to serve patients of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center. She also noted that during an annual event called Reclaiming Our Heritage at the VA Medical Center the Wadsworth Library is open to the general public and is filled with displays on the history of the library and other exhibits. Reclaiming Our Heritage occurs on the weekend after Memorial Day and this year my wife and I took advantage of this opportunity to visit the library. The pictures above are a result of our visit. I was particularly intrigued by a photo of a dog on a display bulletin board with the caption "Smokey Peterson, The Wadsworth Library Mascot and 3rd Overdue Book Collector. Retired 1990." It would be great to find out more about the canine overdue book collectors.
I first reported on the plans for renovating the Wisconsin Historical Society's headquarters building which includes the library in a post on May 10, 2009 in connection with Historic Preservation Month. I'm extremely happy to report the renovation is complete and that public tours will take place tomorrow (Friday) from 1 to 4 and on Saturday from 10 to 4. A story about the "Awe-inspiring Reading Room Restoration" appears in today's Wisconsin State Journal. As I indicated in my previous post I believe the building is second only to the State Capitol in its historic importance to the state. I also noted that 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." On the envelope above mailed in February, 1899, the year before the building opened, Harry Johnson makes known that he is the general contractor for the new building. The postcard shows the reading room before it received a less than perfect restoration in 1955.
Two of Wisconsin's oldest libraries are connected to seminaries that date back to the 1840s. The Nashotah House Library is part of the Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary that was founded in 1842. It is pictured in the first postcard shown above. It is located in Nashotah, Wisconsin which is off of I-94 25 miles west of Milwaukee. The Salzmann Library is affiliated with the St. Francis de Sales Seminary, a Catholic seminary, located in St. Francis, Wisconsin which was founded in 1845. The Salzmann Library, shown in the second postcard, serves a larger community which include anyone who works or volunteers at the parishes, schools, and ministries in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
The postcard above shows the historic Wadsworth Library which was built in 1891 and is part of the National Soldiers Home complex in Milwaukee. It is also now part of the Northwestern Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. The Soldiers Home complex was like a village and included, in addition to the library, residential buildings, a post office (Wood, Wisconsin), a recreational hall, and a chapel. The Milwaukee Soldiers Home Foundation has been established to help preserve and restore the buildings in the complex. The Wadsworth Library is designated as Building #3 in the complex and was named for a member of the Board of Managers of the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. At one point the library which served those living at the home had as many as 23,000 books. On June 30, 1998, a fire heavily damaged the library and its contents. The historic district is part of the Milwaukee Veterans Administration Medical Center complex on Milwaukee's west side.
Patricia Lynch provides this additional information about the Wadsworth Library:
The Wadsworth Library continues to serve patients of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center. It is open year-round on a regular basis and receives special attention during Reclaiming Our Heritage, the annual veteran tribute and living history event at the VA Medical Center the weekend after Memorial Day. During the event it is open to the general public and is filled with displays on the history of the library and other exhibits. The West Side Soldiers Aid Society supports, among other worthy causes, the Milwaukee VA patient libraries. Information on Reclaiming Our Heritage is available at www.forohmilwaukee.org.
A postcard mailed in March of 1911 to announce the American Library Association Conference in Pasadena, California provides a link to one of Wisconsin's longtime special librarians. When Clarence S. Hean received this postcard he had been the Agricultural College Librarian and the University of Wisconsin for three years. He didn't complete his service in that position until June, 1952, a span of 44 years. The library he directed is now the Steenbock Memorial Library. A group of letters exchanged with Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg relating to Hean's retirement is located here. The 1911 ALA Pasadena Conference was the conference at which Theresa West Elmendorf was elected the first woman president of the American Library Association. Elmendorf is a member of the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame.
As I have written in a previous post, the Wisconsin State Law Library was Wisconsin's first library. Up until 1977 the library was named the Wisconsin State Library and the head of the library had the title of State Librarian. In reality, the library had been a state law library since 1866 when the focus of collection was narrowed by law to "law books of reference and works on political science and statistics". In 1875 all books of a general nature were transferred to the State Historical Society's Library. This was not difficult since both libraries were located in the State Capitol. When the library's name changed in 1977, the head librarian became the State Law Librarian. The postal card above is addressed to John Berryman who served as State Librarian from 1876 to 1906. The card was mailed from Toronto in 1886 to acknowledge payment for books. A compete timeline of the history of the Wisconsin State Law Library including a list of the former State Librarians can be found here. Of course, Wisconsin's current "chief officer of the state library agency" also sometimes referred to as the state librarian is the Assistant State Superintendent for Libraries, Technology, and Community Learning in the Department of Public Instruction. Currently that person is Richard Grobschmidt.
The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters (the Academy) was chartered by the State Legislature in 1870. It is a membership organization devoted to the gathering and sharing of knowledge in the sciences, arts and letters. Members of the society were expected to do research on subjects of interest to them and to prepare papers on the results of their research. These papers were published in the Transactions of the Academy. Copies of Transactions were exchanged with other academies and organizations with similar missions all over the world. The Transactions of the Academy have been digitized and are part of the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections. As a result of the exchanges with other organizations, the Academy built up a library of several thousand volumes. The postal card which is shown above was sent by Academy Librarian F. G. Hubbard to the Reale Academia de Scienze, Lettere e Belle Arti di Palermo in Italy in 1895 thanking them for a publication. A review of the annual report of the Academy for 1896 indicates that Hubbard was disbursed $10 for foreign postal cards on September 3, 1895. At two cents a card he had mailed 500 of the cards. The Academy no longer maintains a library. The library collection was transferred to University of Wisconsin - Madison Memorial Library.
In developing the blog entry on the 1905 meeting of the Wisconsin Library Association in Beloit I came across a reference to the Gleaner's Library operated by Phebe Swan. A brief article in the Wisconsin Library Bulletin for January, 1905 had this to say about Swan's library: "The Gleaner's library at Beloit has proved so invaluable for many a perplexed librarian that a visit to it will be one of the features of the coming meeting of the Wisconsin Library Association. The unique venture has been so successful that Miss Phebe Swan, the proprietor, now has patrons in all parts of the country. She rents magazine articles, newspaper clippings and copies of articles from standard works of reference, on a required subject, to clubwomen, debaters, authors and students for a very small fee." Mame B. Griffin in an April 8, 1911 article for La Follett's Weekly Magazine provides more background on this unusual library. According to Griffin, Swan started out small but her enterprise was so successful that she bought a fourteen room home in Beloit in 1908 to house her growing business. She employed six workers to assist her in organizing and classifying a hundred different magazines. Swan actively marketed her library with ads in magazines and wide distribution of a flyer about the library's services. The image above is a partial scan of a copy of one of the flyer's that is in the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society. The flyer indicates that articles will cost the requester five cents each along with both outgoing and return postage. This is a remarkable story of success by a woman who had an idea for a business model and made it work. I'm not clear about who the "Gleaners" were or how long the library lasted. It's certainly a subject that is worthy of further study.
More about Phebe Swan.
Further digging around in Google has resulted in more information about Phebe Swan. The Semi-Centennial History of the Illinois State Normal University, 1857-1907 which was published in 1907 has the best information. She was a member of the class of 1881 at ISNU, now Illinois State University. She is listed as Lizzie Phebe Swan and her occupation is given as Librarian and Proprietor of a Reference Library in Beloit, Wisconsin. According to the ISNU history, she was an assistant (library ?) at ISNU from 1886 to 1892. She was a student of the Library Department of Armour Institute (predecessor of the University of Illinois Library School), 1893-94 and worked as a librarian at the University of Wisconsin from 1894 to 1902. She became Librarian of the Gleaners' Library in Beloit in 1902, a library which she evidently founded. Handbooks of the American Library Association list her as member number 1,507. She evidently became a life member of the National Education Association in 1897.
As reported previously the Wisconsin Historical Society is rennovating parts of its main building on State Street including it magnificent reading room. The Society recently updated information about the rennovation in the "Highlights Archives" section of its website. A previous post told about the visit to the Wisconsin Historical Society Library by attendees of the 1901 American Library Association Coference in Waukesha.