Friday, February 27, 2015

News On the Fives: Wisconsin Library History

Larry Nix, who served Wisconsin Public Libraries in my position up until 2003, is now known as the Library History Buff, but also for volunteering his time and knowledge to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center, "promoting understanding and appreciation of the history of libraries and librarianship in Wisconsin."

image from postcard of Elroy Public Library following an ice storm in 1922
Postcard from Larry Nix's collection depicting the Elroy
Public Library following an ice storm in 1922
Miss Titcomb's Library Wagon, a plate in the September 1905 issue
Miss Titcomb's Library Wagon, a
plate in the September 1905 issue

The latest blog post serves as a reminder that we have an opportunity to celebrate some history: 120th years since Wisconsin established the Free Library Commission (the predecessor of the Division for Libraries and Technology), and 110 years since the first issue of its publication, The Wisconsin Library Bulletin, was issued. And Larry's post also directs us to the digital copy of the first issue that is available on the Haithi Trust site.

Browsing just that first issue points out some drastic changes...but also some remarkable similarities. For instance, the state agency felt the need to point out how new technology could be used in libraries. The article "Lantern Slide Exhibits for Public Libraries" discussed how "lantern slides" (slide projectors) could be used for programs exhibiting travel pictures to "stimulate interest in new subjects [that] are proper adjuncts to the public library and part of its regular work." In the May issue, it is evident that libraries took up the suggestion and borrowed from the collection of slides offered by the State Library, since it created an Interest in Forgotten Books in Manitowoc: "The exhibit of lantern slides picturing Swiss scenery at the library hall last week has caused an unprecedented demand at the public library for books upon Switzerland. This has brought to the front some hitherto unused books, some that belonged to the old Jones library....Readers of these old time books have had a happy surprise. They have also found accounts of travel which are also literature."

That first issue also offered some historic help for public access catalogs of the time: "The Library Bureau will hereafter supply catalog cards with the special typewriter ruling used in Wisconsin libraries. These cards have one vertical line only and we consider them very much better than anything else for typewriter work….The Hanson & VanWinkle Co...supply[sic] celluloid lacquers which are said to be superior to any other preparation for book labels. Often it is difficult to get just the right shellac.”

The January 1905 issue also reported that Carnegie funds for new libraries had further expanded the number of libraries in our state. Carnegie grants, usually of $15,000, were awarded to Cumberland, Hayward, Kaukauna, and Rice Lake. Antigo had just accepted a grant, Sturgeon Bay’s City Council was considering accepting funding from Carnegie, and Wauwatosa had been awarded $6,000 for an addition. Beloit College had just dedicated a Carnegie building, and Lawrence University had received $50,000 for a library there. In total, 33 communities serving over 14% of Wisconsin’s population had been granted library buildings by Andrew Carnegie by 1905.

But some communities got along with what they could. The issue reported that Campbell’s library association had announced that it was maintaining a small library at the home of Mrs. T. H. Hawkins in the La Crosse County town. In Manitowoc, about $300 was obtained for the book fund by means of a “library ball,” to overcome drastic budget cuts by the city, and in Portage, the library was closed on account of smallpox. So, from small pox in 1905 to Bird Flu in 2005 and Ebola scares in 2015, libraries marshal on!


Written by: John DeBacher, Public Library Development