Memories of Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame Members
S. Janice Kee, a member of the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame, served as Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission from 1956 to 1965. She had left the state by the time I arrived in Madison as an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Library School in the fall of 1967. Sometime after that, Jan, as she was known to friends and colleagues, came the Madison on a visit. Lyle Eberhart (another Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame member) and his wife, Louise, had a few people over to their home for coffee with her. I was one of those people.
Jan and I sat near each other at the coffee, and she asked me where I was raised. I answered somewhat vaguely, “In rural Missouri.” Jan asked rather insistently just where in rural Missouri. When Jan insisted, one responded, so I told her it was in Gasconade County, near the small town of Bland. She said that her reason for wanting to know was that she had worked on a Missouri State Library demonstration bookmobile project in rural Missouri in the 1940s.
I responded that her saying that brought back memories that I hadn’t thought about in years. When I was in the fifth or sixth grade in a one-room school in the Barbarick school district near Bland around 1947 or 1948, a bookmobile came to the school. A nice lady on the bookmobile, upon learning that I liked to give recitations at the Gasconade County Achievement Day, gave me a nicely illustrated copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, with the injunction that I should be able to recite it from memory when she and the bookmobile returned in a few weeks.
On hearing this story, Jan reached out to shake my hand. “I had to have been that ‘nice lady’ you mentioned,” she said; “That was my job assignment at the time.” After we got over our amazement at such a coincidence, we shared other memories, such as the fact that the bookmobile got stuck in the muddy driveway of Barbarick School and was pushed out by the older students and the Gasconade County Superintendent of Schools. The bookmobile visits were part of a demonstration project to encourage county residents to vote in a tax to support county library service. Jan and I remembered that the referendum failed in Gasconade County, though similar votes passed in other parts of the state. This formed a basis for the later development of public library systems in Missouri, one of which gave me my first professional position in 1960.
After our conversation at Lyle’s and Louise’s, Jan went back to her home in Texas and found snapshots of bookmobile service in rural Gasconade County, Missouri and sent me copies. Among them was a picture of my sister on the bookmobile, as well as one of a boy named Quincy, who became my best friend in high school and my college roommate. Some ten years after those pictures were taken, while working as a page in the University of Missouri library, I decided to pursue a career as a librarian and applied for a LSCA scholarship from the Missouri State Library (which I won). By then, I’m sure I’d forgotten about my encounter with the nice lady on the bookmobile, but who knows, perhaps she planted a seed that contributed to my choosing a career that was so satisfying to me for nearly 40 years.