Academic Libraries & WLA

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

 
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.
 
 

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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Disaster Strikes the Newly Created Wisconsin Library Association

Just 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.

 

WLA’s First Library Conference, March 11, 1891

On this date 119 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.”  Due to the resignation of WLA’s President Klas Linderfelt there was not another conference until July 1894.

Wisconsin’s Membership Libraries

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

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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