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Chapter 2: The Personalities of Places and Things

"I have always imagined Paradise as a kind of library." Jorge Luis Borges, author

My investigations into the history of MPL have made me recognize how oblivious I have been to many facets of library life. Among my countless revelations, I now "see" the stories behind the buildings and the works of art. When I approach the Central Branch of the library, I marvel at the foresight of the planners of this building who, thirty-five years ago, provided for the possibility of expansion with the addition of two floors, a renovation currently under discussion. I study the cryptic sculpture Hieroglyph and ponder its significance. I appreciate the automatic door opener, particularly since traditional push-open doors tended to deny rather than provide access to patrons with different needs.

When I visit one of the branches, I now value the intimacy of having small neighborhood libraries and the convenience of being able to take advantage of library services throughout the city. I contemplate how it must have felt to visit a library located in a fire station, factory, or a grocery store. I imagine young women taking classes in dressmaking and gymnastics on the second floor of the Sixth Ward Branch. I wonder what immigrants experienced when suddenly they had free access to books in Italian and Yiddish in their new Neighborhood House Library. I smile in reverie as I recall quirky anecdotes about beer can swaps and librarians smelling fresh pies in the branches.

I've learned that buildings, places, and works of art have stories to tell. They can make me think and feel in ways I often don’t consider or understand. While the present chapter is neither about architecture nor about the effects places and artwork have on people’s psyches, it is about the congregation of buildings that constitute the Madison Public Library. These buildings offer a century's worth of often forgotten tales that acquaint us with how our libraries came to be, where their names originated, and who was responsible for their very existence.

In some ways, the physical structure of a building is less important to its legacy than the strength of the memories it evokes. The Carnegie Library building no longer exists, and yet the warm feelings it generates make it "alive" for many of its former patrons. Conversely, the two buildings that at various times housed the original Williamson Street branch still are standing, and few people are aware that these structures once were the home for a library.

The stories related to the Carnegie Library include descriptions of Andrew Carnegie and his donation that led to the building’s construction, the library schools’ occupancy of the second floor, an experimental "Men's Smoking Room" in the basement, and the acquisition of the popular statue, Wildflower, which resided in the garden outside of the library. A parking ramp across from the Madison Area Technical College presently inhabits the site of this once hallowed library building. Those of us who never saw the Carnegie Library are left with these remembrances of a place long gone. Mention of the building to some of its former patrons conjure up memories of musty smells, imposing steps, and nostalgia for a garden spot "just right" for that cherubic statue.

At the beginning of the twentieth century while the Carnegie Library was being planned, the MFL simultaneously began its intrepid mission to provide the city with easily accessible libraries at the farthest reaches of Madison. "Branch," a limb growing from the main trunk of a tree, eventually became the label for the library stations that extended the services provided by the Central Library throughout the city. In this chapter, the histories of the naming of several of the branches and the renaming of the Madison Free Library itself shed light on some of the considerations involved in expanding a library system. The anecdotal tales from several branches are representative of the myriad avenues MPL has explored to attract patrons and extend its service.The story of the school library branches describes a symbiotic relationship between the public schools and the public library that has never been duplicated. The chapter ends with a description of the controversy sparked by the sculpture designed for the current Mifflin Street library site and a patron’s expression of appreciation for the accessibility provided by the Mifflin Street library. As the twenty-first century begins with discussions about the need for additional space for the Mifflin Street library and with the opening of the Alicia Ashman Branch, I hope that whatever expansion occurs fosters the same kind of affection for the new spaces that the old Carnegie Library still evokes.

"The Patron Saint of Libraries": Andrew Carnegie and the Madison Free Library Collaborate

Andrew Carnegie PortraitAndrew Carnegie, often referred to as the "Patron Saint of Libraries," made new library buildings available to hundreds of communities all over the world. He donated more than fifty-six million dollars for the construction of 2,509 library buildings throughout the English-speaking parts of the world. In Wisconsin alone, he built sixty-three libraries in sixty Wisconsin municipalities between 1901 and 1915, many of which still operate as libraries today.

When asked why he chose to channel his philanthropic energies into the building of public libraries, Carnegie always told the story of Colonel James Anderson of Allegheny, Pennsylvania. One day each week, in the years before the Civil War, Anderson opened his personal library to the working boys of his neighborhood. As one of those boys, Carnegie treasured the time he spent in the Colonel’s library. In his Autobiography, he credited the library with instilling in him a love of literature, with steering him "clear of low fellowship and bad habits," and opening to him "the precious treasures of knowledge and imagination through which youth may ascend." Carnegie also shared the late nineteenth century conviction that men of wealth had a moral responsibility to provide for cultural institutions like libraries. Some of his critics, however, claimed that he built libraries as monuments to himself for posterity.

Carnegie's formula for funding libraries was to provide a city or town $2.77 per capita of the latest census. Recipient towns were required to provide a site for the library building and to tax themselves at an annual rate of 10 percent of the total gift, the funds to be used to maintain the building, to buy books, and to pay the salaries of the library staff. Carnegie's money would finance the building itself, but not the interior.

In 1902, the sum of $40,000 was obtained from Andrew Carnegie for the purchase of a new library building in Madison. Heading the drive were Library Board members Dr. Frank Edsall, an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist, and Frank Hutchins, secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Association. Hutchins prevailed upon Carnegie to make the gift $75,000 so that a library school could be established in the same building.

On June 13, 1902, the Madison Common Council accepted by ordinance the gift of $75,000. This grant proved to be the largest stipend allocated to any Carnegie-funded library in Wisconsin. The Board immediately began investigating sites for the new library, and by September the Library Board signed a contract to buy land on the northwest corner of Carroll and Dayton Streets for $25,000.

The library was primarily built during 1905 and occupied in February 1906.

In her book Free and Public: One Hundred Years with the Madison Public Library, Janet Ela, described the new building as follows:

"The design and materials in the building were of high quality. The red bricks were mellow in color and well laid; limestone trim of windows and entry were well crafted, and the bay windows, spacious and handsome on the Carroll Street face, gave distinction to the reading rooms inside. The oak of trim and shelving was of the best, and if one can remember far enough back, under the skylight two floors up (before the open balcony was ceiled over) was a wonderful octagonal desk where patrons checked in and out their books. On top of the desk, since librarians have a way of being botanists, there was often a bowl of paper narcissus or something more exotic like a pitcher plant."

This majestic structure served as the central public library building for the city until 1965, when the library moved to its present site at 201 West Mifflin Street.

Many communities in Wisconsin did not accept money from Andrew Carnegie as readily as Madison did. In 1902, a Wausau school principal opposed accepting such a "hand-out," writing "Wausau, the mendicant! Wausau, the recipient of the largess of a stranger! Shame! Shame! Shame!"

In 1912, the trades and labor council of Racine persuaded the city council to reject Carnegie's offer of $10,000 for a branch library because of Carnegie's unprincipled business practices and the oppressive way Carnegie had amassed his fortune in building the Carnegie Steel Company. Eleven Wisconsin municipalities eventually rejected formal offers from Carnegie, although six of them (Wausau, New London, Columbus, Ripon, Sturgeon Bay, and Racine) later changed their minds.

The Library School and the Madison Free Library Share a Building for Thirty-Two Years: A Marriage Made in Heaven?

Library SchoolIn 1895, Frank Hutchins sponsored a lecture on library schools and training classes setting off a process that would result in the formation of a library school that still thrives in the twenty-first century. At the time, Wisconsin had library leaders, but all lacked formal training and it was becoming clear that the growing library movement required competently trained librarians. Katherine Sharp, Director of the Library Training Class of the Armour Institute in Chicago, gave a presentation that generated momentum for developing such a training program in Wisconsin. During the summer in 1895, a Summer School in Library Economy was established, funded by lumber magnate State Senator James Stout. The University provided quarters for the School and patronage of the program as part of its Summer Session, but its formal role was merely that of landlord to tenant with no further controls exerted, academic or otherwise.

Over the next eleven summers, the program continued to grow in attendance, breadth, and duration of the session (extended from six eight weeks). As early as 1901, the library commissioners on the Wisconsin Free Library Commission had been attempting to find more permanent quarters for a library school. During that same year, the Library Board of the City of Madison applied to Andrew Carnegie for a gift of money to erect a public library building. Carnegie soon approved the Library's Board funding request and eventually increased his donation with the tacit understanding that the Library Board would suggest to the Commission the establishment of a Library School within the building.

The Library School opened on the second floor of the new building in September 1906. Twenty-four students were enrolled in the program, eighteen from various towns in Wisconsin and six from out of the state. The Library School and the Madison Free Library enjoyed a mutually beneficially relationship for the next thirty-two years. From the students' viewpoint, working in the public library was useful because it was of real value and the students knew it was not merely work devised for to them to learn by. Students had many practical work experiences in the library. In the Children's Room, for example, they worked at the loan desk, did reference work, shelved books, and kept order and discipline.

The MFL, in turn, derived many benefits from its relationship with the Library School. It was due to help from Library School students that new deposit stations could be opened in many Madison neighborhoods where collections of books were put in grocery stores and frequently changed. Many visiting lecturers from UW-Madison and throughout the United States also came to the library to speak to the Library School students.

By 1936, the Madison Free Library's use was booming and all of its departments were suffering from lack of space. On May 6, 1936, the Library Board discussed the occupancy of the second floor and passed a resolution that the Library School be notified that it must vacate the space. On August 5, 1938, Governor LaFollette signed an executive order transferring the School from the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission to that of the University’s Board of Regents. The Library School shortly thereafter moved to the university where it is still located today.

NOTE: MPL and the UW-Library School still maintain a strong relationship in 2000. MPL librarians often teach courses for the Library School and speak to students on a variety of subjects. Library School students regularly are placed in internships in the public library, make a variety of contributions such as intern Nina Lindsay's authorship of the MPL publication "A Guide to Searching for Materials about Wisconsin Indians in the Madison Public Libraries," and they often become MPL staff members upon completion of their studies. 

Attracting Workingmen to the Library: The Men's Smoking Room 1910-1912

During the early development of public libraries from approximately 1880-1920, thousands of strikes and lockouts occurred throughout the United States. Many librarians insisted that this disorder fomented by the working class was a result of stupidity. It was the librarian's job to provide quality literature that would counteract the dangerous ignorance of the workers. The library could serve as a direct rival to the saloon and could help prevent crime and social rebellion.

By 1910, approximately 80 percent of the librarians in the United States were women. Libraries in Madison and elsewhere were primarily patronized by women, children, and middle class men. Recognizing that many citizens regarded the library as a haven for women and children, the Madison Free Library Board embarked on a series of activities to attract workingmen to the library.

In 1906, Edward Birge, president of the Board, wrote a letter to Henry Legler, secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, requesting the names of librarians who had been effective in developing programs with men. During the winter of 1906-1907, the Madison Free Library initiated a lecture series on Sundays, in part, as an attempt to attract workingmen to the library. Lectures on such topics as gas and gasoline engines were offered to draw workers into the library for presentations in the auditorium. Special committees proselytized among employees at several factories about the benefits to be derived from the lectures. In 1908, the Board took the unusual step of appointing a man, George A. Averill, as the new librarian. Perhaps, reasoned the Board, a male at the head of the system might be able lure Madison workingmen to the library.

Despite all of these efforts, workingmen did not swarm to the library in great numbers. Hence, on April 1, 1910 a Men's Reading Room was opened in the basement of the library building. Two ground floor rooms were designated as a kind of club room for men’s use only, provided with reading matter of interest to mechanics and other tradesmen including newspapers, general periodicals, and ones of scientific or sporting interests. "Men are invited to make appointments at these rooms, bring their friends in there, and to make it their headquarters in every legitimate way." It was to be a place where men could read and smoke pipes and cigars as they might do at home. The hours were fixed at 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., and two university students were employed as attendants, one for the afternoon and one for the evening.

The Men's Room, or "Smoking Room" as it often was called, attracted few workingmen during that first year. This failure prompted a vigorous outreach campaign the following year. Cards calling attention to the room were printed and 1000 distributed to the secretaries of the different labor unions of the city, asking them to give them to the members. This advertising effort had no impact whatsoever on the attendance of the Men's Room. Finally, the short-lived Men's Room was closed down in December 1912 because it was too costly for the small attendance it drew.

Attempts to attract workingmen to public libraries in the early 1900s were not unique to Madison. A new library built in Wausaukee,Wisconsin in 1904 included a recreational room for men. In 1906, a women's club in Modesto, California hoped to "keep boys out of saloons" by opening a poolroom with a public library as a minor feature in the corner. During that same year, the Stevens Point, Wisconsin Library set up a billiard room for men in connection with the library, "hoping to entice the participants into the uplifting influence of good reading." This clubroom was supplied with newspapers and technical magazines and included games such as checkers, chess, and dominoes.

Perhaps the best explanation for the failure of libraries to attract workingmen can be found in an article published in the Library Journal in 1906. The article, "An Innovation in Library Meetings," written by Lutie Stearns, one of the leaders and dominating forces in the Wisconsin Library Association, is a fascinating critique of library elitism toward labor. Stearns reports on an innovative library meeting sponsored by the Fox River Valley Library Association that took the radical step of soliciting reports by "laymen" to explain why working people did not use the library. Comments from many of the workers shed light on the failure of the Madison library to attract workingmen despite efforts of several years.

"…One speaker insisted that the library did not need librarians of a new order or a different class of books to attract the working man; but that what was needed was ‘an awakened public conscience, a conscience so wide awake that it will touch wealth not only into building and equipping libraries, but into the purpose of affording the men wealth employs time to lay hold of the opportunity the building and equipment afford (i.e. leisure time)….a man cannot work ten hours a day, attend to his duties as husband and father, study and read in the evening in the library, and keep himself in physical condition to hold his job….'

Another speaker said, 'While the atmosphere within the reading room should be refining and elevating, the speaker feared that there was great danger through rigidity of rules and a general air of stiffness and conventionality that those who aremost in need of such opportunities are repelled and reserved for those who need it least and use it little.'"

NOTE: In 2000, the inconceivability of creating a library "Smoking Room" speaks, in part, to the powerful direction in which the anti-smoking pendulum has swung during the past century. Establishments that promote smoking have been stalled from even operating near libraries, schools, and playgrounds. In August, 1999, for example, the neighborhood organization that includes the Rockridge Branch of the Oakland Public Library successfully lobbied the City Council to prevent a "Cigarettes Cheaper!" discount chain store from opening across the street from the library. Opponents did not want children looking outside from the library windows and seeing a "tobacco-only" store.

The Story of Wildflower: Even a Statue Can Get Cold!

WildflowerA bronze statue rests amidst a fountain on the second floor of the central branch of the Madison Public Library. This weather-beaten figure of a child about to take a plunge into the water at its feet has been with the library since 1917 when it resided in the old Carnegie Library garden. The Madison Democrat rhapsodized about Wildflower from the moment of its acquisition:

"… The face expresses eagerness and joy in a measure which, without seeing it one would scarcely believe possible in bronze or wood. The figure is truly alive. The beauty of its chaste simplicity will inevitably grow on one, and it is easy to predict that if Madison should become a center of art at some time, nothing that may grace our streets or public buildings will make a more direct appeal to the hearts of young and old alike than Wildflower."

In 1916, Professor and Mrs. Moses S. Slaughter acquired Wildflower from a sculpture show that was brought to Madison by the Madison Art Association. The sculptor, Edward Berge, had studied in Baltimore and eventually in the studio of the famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The Slaughters wrote to the library asking permission to donate the piece in memory of their young daughters, Gertrude and Elizabeth. Madison architect Frank Riley helped plan the pool and garden setting for Wildflower on the Dayton Street lawn outside the original library.

In 1963,when plans for a new library were developing, there was concern about the fate of Wildflower. On October 2, however, the Friends of the Library announced that a gift of $1500 had assured the bronze figure a location on the second floor, near the children’s room, in the new library. The donor was Robert Taylor, Princeton, New Jersey, the nephew of Mrs. Slaughter.

Wildflower was so popular that the new library's planners initially considered situating the building around a garden so that Wildflower would have a suitable setting. Eventually, this idea was abandoned because it was deemed illogical to have the planning process driven by the desire to design a building to accommodate a statue, albeit a beloved one.

Before Wildflower moved to its current location, it did attract the attention of at least one concerned citizen, to the delight of many others. In January 1962 with frigid cold moving into Madison for an expected low of 5 to 10 degrees below zero, a T-shirt was found covering Wildflower to "protect" him from the cold. The compassion (or peculiar behavior) of Madisonians knows no bounds!

NOTE: Several library patrons who remember Wildflower's former setting in the garden on Dayton Street are ambivalent about the statue today. They are glad that it still adorns the library, but they lament the inferior location in which it now resides. The garden, they contend, was the perfect spot for Wildflower.

The Early Book Deposit Stations: Factories, Drug Stores, and Rest Rooms, Oh My!

In the last years of the nineteenth century, branch libraries became a regular part of the public service offered by libraries in larger cities. Middle-class settlement workers and their willingness to experiment with unconventional means for disseminating culture fueled this explosion of library facilities. Midwestern cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, and St. Louis are just a few examples of cities that maintained either storefront branch libraries or more modest book deposit stations before 1900.


Shortly after the turn of the century, the time arrived in Madison for reaching out and making it still easier for people to receive library services beyond the central downtown library location. In her first report to the Library Board in 1903, librarian Julia Hopkins spoke of Madison's special necessity, with its location between the two lakes, to take service to outlying regions: "The future growth of the Library's work must be largely through branch stations, by which means the books will be brought within reach of the people."

Miss Hopkins began this effort in 1903 by opening a book station at Schenk's Corners, first in Gustav Voss's grocery store, then in the store of Fred Schenk, where a librarian went twice a week with new books to refreshthe small collection. Schenk’s General Store, located at 2009 Winnebago Street, sold groceries, housewares, cigars, cigars, clothing, and general merchandise. Presently it is the location of the Schenk-Huegel Company, a store that specializes in uniforms and work apparel.

The Schenk book station and those opened at later dates had small rotating stocks of fifty to one hundred fifty books, primarily fiction. In 1906 when the new Carnegie Library opened with the Library School housed on the second floor of the building, Miss Hopkins and her successors had a steady supply of students from the Library School to help coordinate the book stations. Consequently, during the next twenty years, new stations were opened and closed at various intervals throughout the city. The locations for these station varied considerably, including inside of the Wingra Park Menges Drug Store, a fire station, the boys' department of the Y.M.C.A, the Girls Club on Monona Avenue, the Bethany Free Church, Longfellow and Hawthorne Schools, the Masonic Temple, above the Mills Grocery Store, and the Telephone Company's rest room for women.

In 1919, at the request of the Association of Commerce, the Madison Free Library began opening factory deposit stations as part of a community educational program. The first one was placed in the French Battery Company (which became Rayovac) at 2317 Winnebago Street "in the care of a welfare worker, an educated woman, thoroughly interested in the books as well as in the 300 men and women employees." The 200 volumes in the collection included both general and technical reading. Lists of books submitted by the workers themselves were used as a basis of selection for the collection. Another factory deposit station soon opened in the Madison-Kipp Company factory at 201 Waubesa Street. Workers filled out applications to check out books, and regular library cards were issued and used.

NOTE: In the early 1900s, rest rooms were not the bathrooms we associate with that name today. They were buildings or separate rooms acquired by women's organizations for several purposes: clubhouses for women, resorts for farmer's wives and children, lodging houses, nurseries, dining-rooms, and temporary homes for girls.

Library Branches on Williamson Street, in Neighborhood House, and Almost in the Middle of Orton Park

Williamson Street LibraryIn 1911, the Carnegie Foundation gave Madison $15,000 to build its first library branch in its Sixth Ward district on the East Side. This blue-collar section of the city contained a large population of workers employed by Fuller and Johnson (farm implement manufacturers), Gisholt (machine tool manufacturers), and other factories. An early deposit station run by the Madison Women's Club had been operating on the East Side above Mills Grocery Store at 1053 Williamson Street since 1906.

The Sixth Ward branch library opened on March 25, 1913, at 1249 Williamson St. adjacent to the Sixth Ward school, Marquette. Originally simply referred to as "Branch," it subsequently received the name "Sixth Ward" and then "Williamson Street Branch." A suggestion to build the branch in the center of Orton Park had been rejected because it was feared that "the laboring class would not patronize it for the reason that the park would be too far from the factory district."

The new building had a fine assembly room and quickly became a focal meeting place in the neighborhood. During the 1913-14 winter, the lecture series that had been held in the Main Library's downtown auditorium was transferred to the Sixth Ward Branch. By 1915, the meeting room became a heavily used multipurpose facility, as indicated by the following description of its uses by the branch librarian:

"Activities of educational and recreational value varied enough in scope to interest all were carried on in the auditorium of the library evenings during the winter months with very satisfactory results. Classes in mechanical drawing, millinery and dressmaking were offered…camp fire girls met there; light gymnastics drill and social and folk dancing were offered by the Continuation School Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings from 7:30-9:30. Miss Marie L'Hommedieu organized a group of camp fire girls who met Tuesday evening and the fine spirit evinced by this group of twenty young girls reflected great credit on the earnest work of the guardian. As it was impossible to find a hall suitable for basketball and indoor sports of similar nature, light gymnastics drill and social and folk dancing were offered to two groups under suitable conductors. Miss Dolan of the Continuation School and Miss Cohun of the University took charge of a class of young women Thursday evening and Miss Anita Pleuss and Miss Bodman from Miss Trilling's class in physical culture at the University of a similar group of young men Saturday evening."

The hope that the Williamson Street Branch would be a forerunner to other library branches soon was realized. During the winter of 1916-17, a second library branch was opened in the newly founded Neighborhood House on West Washington Avenue. Neighborhood House had opened through the generous donation of Madison lumber millionaire Thomas Brittingham. A brief article in the Wisconsin Library Bulletin described this new branch: "The library board has been offered free of cost rooms, with light and heat. A reading room with a collection including books in Italian and Yiddish will be open two evenings and Sunday afternoons. The room will not be open to children below the 7th grade, who have access to books in their class rooms, provided by the public library."

This new library branch soon moved to Chandler Street and finally took up residence in Longfellow School in 1925, where it became a school library by day and was opened to the adult public three evenings each week. Neighborhood House has endured to the present, eventually being relocated to 29 S. Mills Street.

In 1958, the Williamson Street Branch moved to Atwood Avenue. The Carnegie Library branch building eventually became the home of the Grieg Chorus Club, a vocal/social club that was named after the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg and that still is active today. It is the oldest surviving library building and the only remaining Carnegie funded library building in Madison.

The "Name Your Library Contest" or How the Hawthorne Branch Got Its Name

Hawthorne Library Naming"Can you think up a name-colorful, appropriate, descriptive, and apt-for the East Side Branch library soon to be moved to a new Schenk's Corners Location?" challenged the East Side News on January 9, 1958.

The branch library was to be moved to 2041 Atwood Avenue from its previous location at 1249 Williamson Street, where it had been situated since 1913. The library board was looking for a new name since "Williamson Street Branch" would not suit its new Atwood Avenue locale.

The prizes were a $50 gift certificate from Casy and O'brien; $25 certificate from the Schenk Huegel company; $15 gift certificate from Security State Bank; and a $10 gift certificate from Ragatz Shoe Store.

The branch was described as Madison's oldest neighborhood library service. In 1903, a station had opened in Voss's grocery store at Schenk's Corners. Some 150 books were sent out, and an assistant from the Main Library spent two afternoons each week issuing books. On Saturdays, Miss Georgia Hough, city librarian, came out to this station on a streetcar from downtown with a basket of different books for the East Siders.

As the names for the Atwood Avenue branch were filtering into the East Side News offices for consideration, the neighborhood newspaper reported, "The wheels are grinding within the craniums of many East Siders these days, and producing possible names for the new branch library."

The winner of the contest, Mrs. Jessie Sagen, chose the name "Hawthorne" because it brought back into being a name associated with the area for many years. The Hawthorne School was built and given its name in 1903. A brick school building previously on the same site and built in 1871 was known as the Northeast District School.

As the East Side News explained, "To many East Siders, the Hawthorne name immediately brings back memories of school days, and school days mean books, no matter what time of year. At the time of the naming of the Hawthorne School, many of the city’s schools were named for literary figures, included two East Side schools, Emerson and Lowell."

The Hawthorne Branch moved to 2817 E. Washington Avenue in 1973 and to 2707 E. Washington in 2000.

A Pattern for Naming Branches that Wasn't to Be: How the Sequoya Branch Got Its Name

Sequoya LibraryIn 1956, the Board of the Madison Free Library voted to open a new library branch in West Madison. Several board members questioned the wisdom of "announcing that the agency shall be known as the West Madison Branch." Bernard Schwab, director of the Madison Free Library, explained that "the West Madison name seems to be the only name that covers the area conglomeration." Board member Kermit Frater suggested using an Indian name. It was the consensus of the Board that research be carried out to discover a satisfactory name applicable for both temporary and permanent branch use.

At the next board meeting, the board members received copies of material prepared with the assistance of the Reference Department and the Curator of Anthropology at the State Historical Society. Ten Indian names, with biographical data were considered. The Board voted its preference for the name "Sequoya," after a Cherokee Indian who invented the first written alphabet used by North American Indians.

Mr. Schwab observed that it was desirable to pick a pattern to be followed in future naming of branches. His desire for such a pattern, however, never was realized, as evidenced by the somewhat helter-skelter naming of subsequent branches: Pinney, South Madison, Meadowridge, and the Alicia Ashman branch. Ironically, the central branch is now housed in the "Bernard Schwab Building."

A Rose By Any Other Name … Name Changes for the Library

The Madison Free Library, founded with this name in 1875, became the Madison Public Library effective on January 1, 1959. According to Library Director Bernard Schwab, "The Library Board and the City Council early last year (1958) changed the name held by the library since its founding in 1875 to make it more readily identifiable and to indicate that it is a municipal service."

Answering the Library Board's questions at the April 17, 1958, Board meeting, Schwab provided several reasons for the name change:

  1. The term "Free Library" was originally used to indicate that this was not a subscription library. The term is not needed for the same purpose today.
  2. The term "Free Library" is regularly confused with the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. Not only are mail and telephone calls misdirected, but the Commission office at 706 Williamson Street is frequently thought to be a branch of this library.
  3. The term "Public Library" would readily differentiate this library from University and other libraries in the city.
  4. The term "Public Library" would identify this as a municipal service.
  5. The term "Public Library" is easily identified by persons coming from other communities where it is commonly used.
  6. Although "Free Library" is our official name, the public and even our own staff generally refer to us as the "Public Library."

The "subscription library" Bernard Schwab referred to originated in Philadelphia in 1731. At the time, books were becoming more common, but they still were expensive. "Why not share the cost?" proposed Benjamin Franklin. He and some friends formed The Library Company of Philadelphia. People paid dues or "subscriptions" to join. With this money, the library purchased books, which the members could, in turn, borrow for free. This became the first public lending library in the United States. The Library Company of Philadelphia is still open today.

Franklin's Autobigraphy is one of the most frequently expurgated books ever published in America. His grandson, William Temple Franklin, censored its first published edition.

'44 A Good Year for ‘Guinea Pig’ Branch: Monroe St. Branch Reports Success

 Monroe Street LibraryThe Monroe Street Branch began operations in rented headquarters at 2606 Monroe Street in 1944. The branch shared a stairway with a bakery leading to the basement. Librarians could see pies being baked when they went to the basement bathroom. It was the first extension of Madison Public Library service on the West Side, experimental both in hours and location.

When asked why the branch had been nicknamed "the Guinea Pig," City Librarian Helen Farr told the Capital Times: "We have been using this branch experimentally to find out which hours are best for our borrowers, whether a location in a business area is better for adult service than in a school building, whether cooperative buying of books for all branches is practical, and the answers to a number of other questions which can help us give better service throughout the library system."

When the Monroe Street branch opened, the MFL staff wanted to find out how a branch library would work out in that rapidly growing section of town and whether it was feasible to rent space in a shopping center. Since neighborhood merchants agreed that late afternoons, Friday evening, and all day Saturday were the most convenient times for shoppers to combine business with visits to the library, the following hours were chosen:

3:00 to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday; 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., Friday; 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 6:30 p.m., Saturday.

The theory was that persons out shopping would find it convenient to stop in at the library, or, putting it the other way, persons wishing to check out library books would rather have the library near their shopping area. At the time, other branch libraries in the city either were located in buildings built for a library or in schools.

The experiment immediately was successful, as Helen Jansky, librarian of the new branch explained, "Children often bring their parents to show them their 'find' (a new library), and before you can say 'Robinson Crusoe' or 'Time for Decision,' a new adult borrower is registered."

At the end of the first year of operation, window displays at the branch graphically showed the registration and circulation gain occurring since the opening.

By 1956, the Monroe Street branch was the fastest growing branch of the city's library system and the Capital Times reported, "It isn't uncommon for mothers to push baby carriages and strollers into the library and plunk a couple of books down beside baby and the bag of groceries."

In 1960, the branch moved to larger quarters at 1705 Monroe Street.

More Than Just Print: The Beer Can Swap at Meadowridge

During the 1970s libraries throughout the United States offered innovative programs and services designed to popularize the library. A library in Minnesota played videotapes of the Vikings' games twice on Wednesdays for football fans who had missed the games on the weekends. A library in Phoenix sold garbage bags at the request of city officials. Around the country, libraries provided programs or demonstrations of many kinds: sky diving, mountain climbing, belly dancing, skateboarding, lock picking, safe cracking, hair styling, and coupon or comic book swapping.

On Saturday, October 30, 1976, the Meadowridge Branch Library held its first annual Beer Can, Pop Can, Stamp, and Comic Book Swap. Approximately 45 young people passed through the library during the event, and many objects changed hands. According to librarian Lois Robinson, "Some very sharp dealing took place–mostly concerning beer cans." Ms. Robinson highly recommended similar events at other branches for "letting the community know we deal in commodities other than print!"

A Unique Library "Branch": The Municipal Reference Service

On April 26, 1971, the Municipal Reference Service was established as a branch of the Madison Public Library located in the City-County Building to serve the library reference needs of city and county government employees. While approximately forty other municipalities in the nation had libraries or reference services, according to Ann Waidelich, librarian in charge of new Municipal Reference and Research Service, "as far as I know this one is unique because it serves both city and county."

The Capital Times explained the function of the service as follows: "Need to know how much snow removal costs in the 50 largest northern cities? The Municipal Reference Service can find the answer to that and virtually any other question city or county officials may have about local government operations." From 1981 through 1998 the County hired the Municipal Service to move into and manage the Dane County Law Library in addition to providing general government reference service.

In 1999, the library withdrew the Municipal Reference Service from the City-County Building because of changing budget priorities. Management of the Dane County Law Library was taken over by the State Law Library. The Municipal Reference Service collection was integrated into the Central Library, and city and county employees were instructed on how to use their computers to access the general reference service at the library.

NOTE: Ann Waidelich, the librarian for the Municipal Reference Service, retired after 35 years of service with MPL. She did not, however, cease providing service to MPL and the public. She is continuing a project that librarians Ellen Erickson and Margaret Stephenson began when they too had retired which is to index past editions of The Wisconsin State Journal to enable patrons to locate articles on select topics. This index is available via the Internet through LINKcat, the library’s automated catalog. Ann also is the resident archivist for MPL historical documents.

An Antidote to Motion Pictures: The Madison Free Library Operates Libraries in the Public Schools from 1911-1952

Beginning in 1911 by furnishing a group of reference books and a librarian in the old Madison High School, the Madison Free Library operated libraries for students in each public school building until 1952. During the summer of 1912, stations for the circulation of children's books were set up at Longfellow and Hawthorne Schools. For several years the library sent duplicate collections of books to schools for circulation, told stories and presented "talks" to pupils about books with the goal of interesting them in good literature, and spoke with teachers about effective ways to use books to supplement their teaching.

In her annual report of 1915, City Librarian Mary Smith argued that learning to read and having access to a library could serve as an antidote to the growing motion picture phenomenon: "The school teaches the child the art of reading. The library places within easy reach that which enables him to perfect the art….if the children of Madison can only get the good books they need they will read despite moving pictures and other diversions."

The commitment to keep the public library involved in developing the best school library practices succeeded so well that Madison gained the reputation of having some of the finest school libraries in the country. Librarians from throughout the United States regularly wrote letters to the MFL seeking advice concerning methods for operating libraries within schools.

As early as 1937, library staff had recommended the transfer of control of the school libraries from the public library to the Board of Education. In her annual report in 1937, City Librarian Helen Farr argued that the ever-expanding functions of the school library were placing unmanageable demands upon the public library’s resources. Library service to the adult population had been suffering more each year from the burden of the school libraries. Meanwhile, the schools’ income had increased fivefold since 1912 compared to only a fourfold increase in library funding, thereby making the former more able to support the school libraries. The Library Board, however, virtually ignored Helen Farr's recommendation, and the status quo continued for the next fifteen years with the MFL maintaining control of the school libraries.

By 1952, the MFL maintained thirteen elementary school libraries, three junior high school libraries and three senior high school libraries. It employed a supervisor, seventeen school librarians, and four clerks in the schools and it spent $188,634, more than half of its total funds for the year, on the libraries in schools. It was clear both to the Library Board and the library staff that the substantial resources being poured into the school libraries were seriously eroding the public library services. It was unclear to them, however, how the MFL could reasonably extricate itself from its long-standing partnership with the schools. After months of discussions, it was agreed that a survey of library practices conducted by outsiders might provide a solution to the problem. Ralph Ulveling, Director of the Detroit Public Library, and Ruth Rutzen, head of Home Reading Services of the same library, were contracted to conduct such a survey.

The 1952 Ulveling-Rutzen Survey changed the course of history for the Madison Free Library. After analyzing a wide variety of services provided by the MFL, the Detroit-based librarians made a series of recommendations that pointed the library in directions that it would pursue for years to come. The transfer of the school library jurisdiction to the Board of Education was among the many recommendations presented in the1952 Ulveling-Rutzen survey. They said that the growth of the school libraries made the task of administration by the MFL "almost impossible." They also reported that because of its inadequate funding, the MFL offered "less to its readers" than libraries in any of twelve comparable cities in the same population bracket.

The Board of Education agreed to the transfer and the MFL gave the board the entire book stock assigned to the school libraries. The school librarians and clerk-typists working with them became Board of Education personnel. On January 1, 1953, the Madison Free Library reverted to its original status as a public library for the adults and children of the city. The school libraries officially became a part of the Madison Public Schools.

Some of the other Ulveling-Rutzen Survey recommendations were not implemented for several years but eventually their major suggestions were heeded. The recommendations that fundamentally altered the development of the MFL and the eventual outcomes of those recommendations are presented below:



Make the financing and administration of the school libraries the responsibility of the Board of Education.

On January 1, 1953, the Board of Education assumed control of the operation of the school libraries, all library materials located in the schools were donated to them, and the school librarians were added to the Board of Education payroll.

Appoint an Assistant City Librarian to enable the City Librarian to devote more time to planning and consultation with department heads, branch librarians, city officials, community leaders, etc

On February 22, 1954, Bernard Schwab was appointed to the new position of Assistant City Librarian. In August 1957, Mr. Schwab became City Librarian, a position he would hold until 1982.

Extend service out into the city through bookmobile and three new branches.

Bookmobile service began in the summer of 1953, the Lakeview Branch was established 1953, the Sequoya branch was established in 1957, the South Madison Branch in 1967, the Meadowridge Branch in 1975, and the Alicia Ashman Branch opened in September 2000.

Establish a Friends of the Library Organization

In 1960, the Madison Friends of the Library was established, the first such organization in Wisconsin.


Ralph Ulveling became the director of the Detroit Public Library in 1941 and served as President of the American Library Association from 1945-1946. He believed the library had a social responsibility to elevate citizens' levels of education and thus in 1943 responded to the Detroit race riots by publishing a brochure to promote understanding and tolerance. According to Louise Robbins in Censorship and the American Library, Ulveling was credited with easing racial tensions during those race riots. He also believed in limiting access to materials he considered quesitonable and hence removed the Wizard of Oz books from the shelves of the Detroit Library's Children's Department in 1957, saying that they were negative and gave youth a wrong approach to life. The Detroit Times reacted by publishing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in serial installments so that no local child would be unable to read it. Ulveling also conducted surveys of public libraries in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1950), Oak Park, Illinois (1951) and San Francisco, California (1964).

Controversial Public Art: The Story of the Hieroglyph Sculpture

When the Madison Public Library decided to build a new library in 1965, the plan included acquiring a significant piece of sculpture for the entry court. This piece would add to the artistic highlights to be provided by Wildflower and a mural of stylized animals for the Children's Room created by University of Wisconsin artist-in residence Aaron Bohrod. In February 1964, the Library Board delegated the assignment of selecting the sculpture to a special committee, which subsequently chose the design submitted by O.V. Shaffer of Beloit entitled Hieroglyph.

In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal in 1964, O.V. Shaffer explained his work: "Today's libraries have many functions, but the greatest is to safeguard and make available man's thoughts and ideas from earliest recorded time to now. The library that preserves the past is the inspiration and the seedbed of the future.

The sculpture attempts to symbolize this timelessness of knowledge and suggest the mysterious quietude of a seeking spirit. It is as though the past and the future of mankind were contained within these 'walls.'

A large undeciphered form looms flat and bold as one approaches from the steps, even tipping slightly forward as he walks beside it. On either side, a large crevice opens up, suggesting the canyon walls and caves upon which man has recorded in painting and hieroglyphics a part of what he knew.

The side facing the window wall is reminiscent of pillars and curved capitals or monuments, implying another kind of knowledge. Moving between these two forms is a figure which seems to become a part of the sculpture.

On the other side, another figure appears to emerge from an opening, yet it is also a fragment or frieze, symbolic of the 'voices of silence' which come down to us from past civilizations and still 'speak.'"

The Wisconsin State Journal interview, which also included four photographic views of the design, soon caused an uproar. The newspaper was barraged with letters both pro and con. The detractors' letters included such scathing comments as:

"… I know a lot of people who would give anything to get rid of it; like a bad odor, bury it….It should not be a symbol of sending people to a psychiatrist’s office or couch."

" I agree with the sculptor that the proposed sculpture for the front of the new library is symbolic of our times. It looks like an automobile which has been in an accident."

"Yesiree. I'm glad to see the good taste of Madisonians again comes to the fore. I’m speaking of course of the controversy aroused by the proposed city library sculpture. Now, I'm no artist, but like many of my neighbors if I don't know art I sure do know what I want in front of my new library, and this incomprehensible blob of metal isn't it."

One critic suggested alternative themes for a sculpture including Jefferson signing the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation, Gutenberg printing with the first movable type, or a representation of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Hieroglyph had its defenders as well:

"The American College Dictionary defines "art" as the production or expression of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance….I think we can be proud of the proposed sculpture now and in the future if we as citizens of Madison can attain and hold the aesthetic interpretation art is intended to warrant."

"Some months ago, I examined the sculpture in Mr. Shaffer’s studio, and must confess that it has great appeal to me…. May I suggest that if the critics could arrange to purchase the piece to prevent its placement in the library, I would be delighted to take it off their hands."

The sculpture was installed in the courtyard just before the building opened. Hieroglyph still resides in the entry court of the library today. Few Madisonians know its name and fewer still know what it is supposed to represent.

The "Jewel of West Mifflin Street" Opens in 1965: 12-Year-Old Boy Can Use Library for First Time and Exclaims, "I Never Realized There Were So Many Books to Choose"

The new Madison Public Library building was officially dedicated on June 23, 1965. The former library building, completed in 1906, initially served a population of 23,000. The new structure was designed to serve a community of 157,000 and was planned to provide service to a population of up to 240,000. To meet future requirements, the building could be doubled in size with the addition of two more floors.

Special care was taken with entrance and internal traffic planning to make the library accessible to the aging and handicapped. "The entrance and all parts of the building can be reached without using stairs. The front doors will have automatic openers."

The benefits of this newly handicapped accessible library were immediately realized, as the following letter to the Wisconsin State Journal in September 1965 indicates:

"Sirs- The planners of the new Madison Public Library can justly feel 'a job well done' in regard to eliminating architectural barriers which all too often prevent persons with handicaps from using public buildings.

Because a ramped entrance, wide automatic doors and an elevator to the second floor were provided, a 12-year-old boy who is confined to a wheelchair was able last week to be inside a library for the first time in his life. He did not know exactly which book he wanted before going, but was able to browse in the book stacks for that special one.

He commented, 'I never realized there were so many books to choose, and I would like my own library card.'

I'm sure many citizens with disabilities have experienced the same enjoyment of being able to book-browse because of the new library. Perhaps all the citizens of Madison have found it easier."

Ronald Friberg, Recreational Services, Rehabilitation Center, University of Wisconsin Medical Center, 1300 University Avenue