Seeking increased funding and legislation in support of libraries has been a long standing priority for the Wisconsin Library Association. One of the most ambitious such efforts occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The effort was titled “Inform Wisconsin” and was the result of the Final Report of the Task Force on Public Library Legislation and Funding to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction which was submitted in October, 1988. Although the report addressed a large number of issues faced by Wisconsin public libraries and public library systems, the lack of adequate funding for public libraries was the most significant issue. To deal with this issue the Task Force recommended a “Public Library Foundation Program” which would ensure that every resident of the state had access to a basic level of public library service. The level of funding needed to accomplish this was deemed to be $12 per capita for a total of $73,000,000 with the funding coming from state aid. However, up to $62,000,000 of that amount could have been used for property tax relief by local communities already funding libraries at $12 per capita. The Inform Wisconsin report was widely discussed in the library community and endorsed by the Wisconsin Library Association. Although a number of its legislative recommendations were accepted by the State Superintendent and ultimately enacted, the Foundation Program was never advanced as a budget proposal by the Department of Public Instruction.
Under the leadership of Melvil Dewey, the State of New York initiated a state funded traveling library system in 1892. Traveling libraries were small rotating collections that provided a method for extending library service to rural areas. These small libraries usually from 30 to a hundred books were located in a post office or store with a volunteer acting as the caretaker of the collection. In New York the collections stayed in one location for six months before they were rotated. Michigan initiated a similar system in 1895 and Iowa in 1896.
Traveling libraries began in Wisconsin in 1896, when Senator James Huff Stout of Menomonie, Wisconsin privately funded a system of these libraries for Dunn County. He provided 500 books divided into collections of 30 volumes each. He was assisted in the selection of titles to be included by the Wisconsin Free Library Commission which began in 1895. Senator Stout along with Lutie Stearns and Frank Hutchins had been instrumental in starting the Commission. More about Wisconsin’s traveling libraries can be found HERE. The image below shows a Stout Traveling Library bookcase at the Dunn County Historical Society.