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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WLA Members Meet in Chicago in 1893

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Due to the unfortunate resignation of Klas A. Linderfelt as president of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) in 1892 it did not meet formally in 1892 or 1893. However, twelve members of WLA attended the meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) in Chicago in 1893, and they gathered for an informal meeting which is considered to be the second conference of WLA.  As a result of that meeting Reuben G. Thwaites assumed the presidency of WLA. The 1893 ALA Chicago meeting was in conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition or World’s Fair. Members of the WLA delegation undoubtedly visited ALA’s library exhibit in the Government Building of the exposition (see postcard above).  They also probably visited the Woman’s Building Library which housed a collection of books written by women from around the world. WLA held its next conference in 1894 in Beaver Dam. Except for 1903 WLA has held a conference every  since 1894. 
 
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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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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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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.

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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Support for WLA 1898

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wflc-1898-handbook-1-72The Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC) was created in 1895. A primary mission of the WFLC was providing support for the development and improvement of local public libraries. One of the tools that it used was an annual handbook full of ideas and useful information. The third edition of the handbook was published in 1898 and included a passage (see below) in support of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA). WLA was created in 1891 and will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2016. This passage in the 1898 handbooks shows that even in its early history WLA was a valuable asset to the Wisconsin library community. 

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Frank Avery Hutchins (1851-1914)

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hutchins-72.jpgFrank Avery Hutchins was inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame on November 6, 2008. Hutchins was one of the founders of the Wisconsin Library Association in 1891.  He served as President of WLA from 1894 to 1897.  As President of WLA he was instrumental in starting the Summer School for Library Economy in 1895 which became the Wisconsin Library School in 1906.  He helped establish the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC) in 1895 and was its initial Chair until 1897.  In 1897 with the reorganization and increased funding of the WFLC he became its first paid Secretary, a post he held until 1904.  He originated the idea of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library which became a unit of the WFLC and served as a national model.  He was a national leader in public library development and extension.  Helen Lyman in the Dictionary of American Library Biography entry for Hutchins said, “He belongs to that small group of men and women who formed and developed the modern library movement and made the library profession what it has become.” Hutchins became interested in libraries while serving as editor of the weekly newspaper, the Beaver Dam Argus.  He helped organize the Beaver Dam Free Library Association which was established in 1884. He was featured in the "As it Was in The Beginning" series of the Public Libraries magazine (1925, volume 30, pages186-190).   He is listed in the Dictionary of American Library Biography and the Dictionary of Wisconsin History . The image of Hutchins is from the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Historical Image Collection  Image ID: 29375.



 



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