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.

WLA Timeline


1836. The Act establishing the Territory of Wisconsin provides for a library that becomes the State Law Library. It is Wisconsin’s first organized library.
 
1849. State Historical Society of Wisconsin founded.
 
1872. Wisconsin enacts legislation enabling the establishment of public libraries.
 
1876. American Library Association (ALA) founded.
 
1886. American Library Association holds annual conference in Milwaukee.
 
1890. New York State Library Association founded.
 
1891.  February 11, 1891: meeting in office of state superintendent of education for purpose of establishing a Wisconsin state library association. K.A. Linderfelt chosen as president. March 11, 1891: first conference of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) takes place in Madison.
 
1892. K.A. Linderfelt departs state unexpectedly leaving WLA leaderless
 
1893. WLA members meet in Chicago at the annual conference of ALA. Reuben Thwaites assumes presidency of WLA.
 
1894. WLA conference held in Beaver Dam. Except for 1903, an annual conference has been held since that year.
 
1895. Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC) established by state statute. It becomes the driving force for public library development in the state.
 
1905. The WFLC begins publishing the Wisconsin Library Bulletin. The Bulletin becomes the defacto organ of WLA by publishing proceedings and papers of the annual conferences.
 
1916. Membership in WLA exceeds 200 for the first year and never goes below that number thereafter. A major revision of the by-laws and constitution of WLA takes place.
 
1917. WLA establishes a committee to study the question of county library service and preparation of legislation that would make this possible.
 
WLA establishes a committee to prepare a plan for the certification of librarians.
 
The United States enters World War I. The American Library Association takes on an active role in providing library service to the armed forces. Wisconsin libraries support this effort.
 
1921. Legislation enabling county library service was enacted with support from both WLA and WLFC.
 
1922. WLA works successfully to enact legislation establishing certification for librarians to be effective January 1, 1923. It was the first certification law enacted by any state.
WLA becomes a chapter of the American Library Association.
 
1925. WLA establishes a standing committee on librarian certification to observe and report on the effectiveness of the certification law.
 
1932. With the support and encouragement of WLA district library associations began to be created starting with the Devils Lake District in 1932.
 
1934. WLA establishes a Planning Committee as a result of recommendations by the National Library Planning Committee of ALA to promote rural library service. The Committee produces a report titled Tentative Planning Program. It is a blueprint for action in developing the library movement in Wisconsin.
 
1937. The Children’s Librarians Section is created. Although other sections had been previously created they did not last. The Children’s Librarians Section establishes spring meetings.
 
WLA publishes One Hundred Years of Wisconsin Authorship, 1836-1937.
A State Aid [for public libraries] Committee, later the Statewide Library Service Committee,  is established.
 
1945. The WLA Certification Committee successfully supports legislation that moved the responsibility for librarian certification from a Certification Board to the WLHC.
The WLA Newsletter is created by the WLA Publicity Committee.
 
1947.  WLA successfully supports legislation changing the makeup of the WLHC. The legislation added two governor appointed members to the board and specified that the appointees be person with an interest in and knowledge of libraries.
The WLFC invites WLA to form a Joint Extension Committee to formulate plans and promote a program of library development.
 
1948. The WLFC/WLA Joint Extension Committee produces a publication titled The Wisconsin-Wide Library Idea for Voluntary Education through Reading.
 
1949. WLA employs Marge Sornson Malmberg, on leave from the Appleton Public Library, to lobby for passage of state funding for a public library demonstration project. As a result, the Demonstration Bill which provided for a three year demonstration in Door and Kewaunee Counties successfully passed the legislature.
 
1952. WLA establishes an awards and honors program with an Award and Honors Committee. The awards included a Trustee of the Year Award and the Clarence B. Lester Memorial Award (now the Library of the Year Award), given to a library in the state for outstanding service. A new section was added to the by-laws providing that all retiring members who had been members for 20 or more years would become life members.
 
1954. WLA produces an Organization Manual documenting organizational policies and procedures. 
The Wisconsin Library Trustees Association (WLTA), a separate organization from WLA, is founded.
 
1955. The College and University Section of WLA is created.
A Librarian of the Year Award is created.
 
1956. The Federal Library Services Act which provided funding for rural library service is passed. S. Janice Kee becomes Secretary of WFLC and forges an active relationship with WLA in promoting library development.
 
1957. WFLC and WLA publish the State Plan for Further Extension of Public Library Services to Rural Areas, the basic plan required for receiving funds under the Library Services Act. Also published is Public Library Development in Wisconsin, a Statement of Principles and Polices.
 
1958. National Library Week is created and states were expected to establish a statewide committee to promote this event. WLA established a State Committee for this purpose. The NLW Committee initiates a major public relations project under the leadership of Beryl Hoyt in 1961-62 involving the development of television public service spots.
 
1961. The School Librarians Section is created.
The Committee on Intellectual Freedom becomes a standing committee. The roots of this committee date back to 1948.
 
1962. The Adult Services Section is created.
The former County Library Service Section becomes the Public Library Section.
The Cataloging Section becomes the Technical Services Section.
 
1963. 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.
 
1964. The WFLC, WLA, WLTA, and the Friends of Wisconsin Libraries united in a joint project to survey and study the adequacy of laws relating to libraries and to draw up A Legislative Program for Library Improvement in Wisconsin.
 
WLA receives the first Grolier Award for the most effective state National Library Week program in the nation.
 
1965. The independent Wisconsin Free Library Commission becomes a Division in the Department of Public Instruction. 
 
1966. Membership in WLA reaches 1,265 (up from 487 in 1956).
 
The Wisconsin Library Association 1891-1966 by Benton H. Wilcox is published by WLA.
 
WLA adopts a resolution approving a legislative study program, “leading to such specific recommendations for legislative revision as will best implement the library system concept and interlibrary cooperation in Wisconsin.”
 
1968. After “dozens of days and hundreds of hours were spent by committee members in hammering out details”, the Public Library Subcommittee of WLA’s Library Development and Legislative (LD&L) Committee completes a report titled Public Library System Development for Wisconsin: An Action Program.  At its October, 1968 business meeting, WLA endorses the report from LD&L, authorizes drafting of legislation based on the report, and endorses a program of legislative support for the legislation.
 
1971. Based on the WLA LD&L report of 1968 and the work of a Legislative Council study committee, 1971 Senate Bill 47 is introduced by the Legislative Council on January 17, 1971. After an extensive legislative effort on the part of WLA, both houses of the legislature pass SB 47 by large margins in the summer of 1971. In December, 1971, the Governor signs SB 47 and it becomes Chapter 152 of the 1971 Laws of Wisconsin.  It substantially revises Chapter 43 of the Wisconsin Statutes and provides for the creation of public library systems in Wisconsin.
 
1973. The first four public library systems under the new law begin operation.
 
1978. A Legislative Special Committee on Library Law, chaired by State Representative Cal Potter, recommends a major change in the basis for determining state funding for public library systems. The committee also recommends the creation of a state board with policy-making authority for library services. The recommendation for a board causes a major rift within the library community and WLA. Those against a board recommend an advisory council.
In September, 1978 148 delegates from communities and institutions from around the state attended the Wisconsin Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services in preparation for the 1979 White House Conference on Library and Information Services. 
 
1980. 1979 Assembly Bill 20 introduced by the Legislative Council is enacted. The bill establishes state funding for public library systems at 11.25 percent of local funding, and an advisory Council on Library and Network Development (COLAND). The Administrator of the Division for Library Services within the Department of Public Instruction becomes an appointive position.
 
1986. Major revisions are made to statutes relating to public library systems based on recommendations of the 1984 State Superintendent’s Task Force on Library Legislation and Funding.  The bill establishes an authorization for state funding for public library systems at 13 percent of local funding for public libraries in the previous calendar year.
 
1989. WLA publishes the Wisconsin Literary Travel Guide which connected Wisconsin writers with the places they lived, wrote about, or were influenced by. See blog post.

1990. Appointment of Larry Martin as WLA Executive Director replacing Faith Miracle. 
 
1991. WLA celebrates its centennial concluding with the annual conference in Milwaukee.  See blog post.

1996. WLA creates the WLA Foundation as a 501(c)(3) charitable public foundation to serve as the fundraising component of WLA. The WLA Foundations supports library education scholarships and the awards and honors program of WLA. This allows WLA to engage in an expanded political action program.
 
1997. WLA enters into a joint agreement with the South Central Library System to share office space in the American Family office park.
Larry Martin resigns as WLA Executive Director.
 
1998. Lisa Strand is appointed as WLA Executive Director replacing Larry Martin.
 
1997. Senate Bill 269 is enacted as 1997 Act 150. The bill was introduced by the Legislative Council as the result of recommendations of a Special Committee on Public Libraries chaired by then Senator Cal Potter. The bill included a wide range of statutory provisions relating to public libraries and public library systems.
 
2004.  The Library Advocacy Round Table of WLA develops “I Love Libraries and I Vote”, a library public relations program .  The Governor designates February as Library Lovers Month in Wisconsin.  
 
2006. The WLA Foundation launches the Campaign for Wisconsin’s Libraries, an ongoing state level campaign to promote a wider understanding of the value of Wisconsin’s libraries.  Blog post.
 
2008.  The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center (WLHC) is created as a program of the WLA Foundation.  A Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame is established to honor individuals who have made major contributions to library service in Wisconsin. 
 
2012. Lisa Strand resigns as WLA Director in December.
 
2013. Plumer Lovelace appointed as WLA Executive Director in September.
 
2016. WLA Celebrates its 125th Anniversary. Membership exceeds 1,500.

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