Monday, August 31, 2015

Making History about Library History

Full-Text of Wisconsin Library Bulletins, 1905-1984, Now Available Online

Through the combined efforts of the Google Book Project and their Library Partners (including the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Historical Society), we now have full-text access to the entire run of the Wisconsin Library Bulletin, from 1905 through 1984. Previously, only those editions in the public domain were available in the full-text view.

Early Logo of the Wisconsin Free 
Library Commission, circa 1902
This February, former Public Library Development director (and Library History Buff) Larry Nix contacted the Division for Libraries and Technology to ask whether volume years of the Bulletin still under copyright (basically, after 1923) could be cleared by the DPI for full text access. Mr. Nix was referring to the public and academic-facing side of the Google Book Project, the Hathi Trust Digital Library, and he hoped that full-text access might help scholars as well as members of the library community learn more about the history of their local libraries-- particularly since 2016 will mark the 125th anniversary of the Wisconsin Library Association. I contacted our sister team, Resource for Libraries and Lifelong Learning, since they handle DPI Records Management, to find out whether this liberation effort could be completed this calendar year.

Credit my colleague Abby Swanton, coordinator for the Wisconsin Digital Archives, for working with her contacts at the Legislative Reference Bureau (who already had worked with Google for legislative document access), the Wisconsin State Historical Society, and the DPI administration in gaining authorization for relinquishing DPI's copyright on those materials, as well as many other publications of the Free Library Commission and the DPI. I am also grateful to the Google staff working on the Hathi Trust project for facilitating the initial search list and access, and their continued efforts to clear specific publications for access.

Accessing the Collection

While the resources are available through Google Books, better search options and more access can be obtained through the Hathi Trust Digital Library. Abby has created a saved search to the Wisconsin Library Bulletin volumes here. Note that there are duplicates, because the Bulletin was scanned as part of a number of Google Library Partner projects. If you find that a particular page is less-than-clear or skewed, you might try an alternate copy. All are searchable through Google's OCR, though that process has its limitations (and occasional unintended consequences), and the full-text searching is apparently available only within each specific publication, not from the search options of the Hathi Trust interface. So a library looking for articles or coverage of its opening, director changes, new construction, or other milestones should search within the individual volumes around the time of the event to see if there was coverage.
Logo, late '60s, after the
and commission
was transferred to the DPI

Also, while anyone can now search and read the full text, you can only download the PDF of the volumes or specific pages, or save searches to a personal "collection," if you have a login to Hathi Trust through one of the partner institutions. For instance, those who attended the University of Wisconsin as undergraduates, or the library school for graduate programs, may be able to log on with their alumni university credentials. I was able to gain full access by applying online through the University of Chicago, where I attended library school. If you did not attend one of the partner schools, you can still build personal collections of resources for retrieval (but not download), by requesting a "guest" account" though the University of Michigan.

A sample of library history articles from the past

Fifty years ago, in the 51st volume of the Wisconsin Library Bulletin (January-February 1955), Emmett C. Blackshear (presumably spouse of Bulletin editor Mrs. Orrilla Blackshear), wrote about the beginning of the Bulletin in 1905, its format, cost, and content. In that same issue there is a related article, "ALA Booklist Reaches Fifty-Year Mark" showing how that time honored publication (still frequently cited on dust-jacket and ad blurbs today), has its foundation in the Wisconsin Free Library Commission's "Suggestive List of Popular Books for a Small Library," first issued in 1897.  
Picture of Larry Nix, announcing his
joining the Division as a consultant,
in the May-June 1980 issue

The entire Summer 1984 issue is dedicated to the Long Range Plan for Library Services in Wisconsin, 1984-1989, and offers an interesting comparison to issues and challenges faced in statewide support of public libraries today.

The final issue of the Bulletin, Winter, 1984 (issued quarterly instead of bi-monthly by that time), included articles from retired members of the Wisconsin library community.  One of particular interest is entitled  "Wisconsin Public Library Service to Children: Its History and Development from 1872 to 1984," by Elizabeth Burr.

After the Wisconsin Library Bulletin ceased publication, the Division had only its newsletter, "Channel DLS" (later just Channel) as a regular source for news. But since that was not bound and shelved by academic libraries, it does not appear in the Hathi Trust or Google Books collections. However, issues from 1997 through 2010 are still available through the Wisconsin Digital Archive here, and the Division can consider how and when to digitize the intervening issues of Channel for preservation and access

Written by John DeBacher
Public Library Development Team