"No person shall be allowed to handle the books upon the shelves." 1st rule published in the Catalog of the Madison Free Library-1877
In my eighth grade social studies class, we discussed the philosophical question, "Are people good or evil in the state of nature?"
The rules of the library always have been developed under the premise that the public is basically good, but has a dark side too. That is, patrons can responsibly share the services and materials of the library, but rules must be established to help the social contract to succeed and penalties exacted to serve as deterrence to significant violations of the regulations.
There are no comprehensive records or files that have systematically preserved the procedures and policies practiced by MPL since its founding as the Madison Free Library in 1875. Consequently, any attempt to trace a particular policy or rule through the years is inherently piecemeal. Nonetheless, weaving together the patchwork of information that can be gathered around specific themes provides fascinating tales to tell.
Stories about library cards and borrowing privileges inform us who could use library materials, what types of materials and under what conditions they could be accessed, and what quantities of materials were permissible to be checked out from the library. The progressive liberalization of lending policies since the library's founding reflects a growing desire to increase access to the library’s materials. Rules governing overdue books shed light on how the library dealt with the universal problem of materials that were not returned in a timely fashion. The debate over opening the library on Sundays is part of a ceaseless effort to maximize usage of the library.
Policies have continually changed regarding the eligibility for obtaining a library card, the type of card which could be used to check out materials, the rules regulating reserving and renting books, and the hours the library would be open to conduct any of these transactions. The evolution of all of these practices has varied over time as different librarians and library boards have responded to the dictates of the times. Detailing the histories of these ever-changing policies offers a window of understanding into the ways librarians addressed similar problems at different times in history and reflects a continuity of administrative concerns that librarians have shared from the library's founding through the present.
It's All in the Cards: How to Borrow Library Materials
The underlying principle behind the library card is trust. The library trusts that in exchange for receiving a library card, the patron will take materials from the library and return them in a timely fashion. A unique act of faith occurs and, most of the time, the confidence is justified that total strangers can cooperatively share often highly valued materials.
When MFL opened in 1875, library cards did not exist. The library used ledgers to keep track of which books were checked out and by whom. All readers had their names on individual pages, and each book taken was listed on that page with the date taken, the day returned, and the condition it was in. In 1877, however, the Catalog of the Free Library -1877 includes an extract from the library's rules and regulations that implies library cards were then being used, "All persons taking or returning books shall present their cards or give the letters and numbers of the same to the Librarian."
By the time MFL opened its new Carnegie library in 1906, patrons had two library cards, one for fiction and one for nonfiction. Until 1927, the library allowed only one book of fiction to be checked out on a patron's card. In 1927, the policy was changed to allow patrons to check out two books of fiction and the loan period was extended from two weeks to four.
In August 1912, the library issued a new special vacation card for patrons. Madisonians leaving town for an extended vacation could apply for this new card on which ten books could be borrowed and kept until October 1st. This policy continued during the next two summers. As a result, it was reported in 1914 that all previous records for circulation in August and September had been broken at library. The gain was attributed to these vacation cards and came in the nonfiction classes. Over 550 books were circulated on vacation cards during the summer in 1914.
By 1922, the summer vacation card program remained in effect and patrons still could borrow ten books, six of which could now be fiction. A new card also was offered for temporary residents of Madison.
In July 1941 the MFL again offered holiday book loans. The MFL announced special privileges for borrowers who planned out-of-town vacations for more than the customary four-week lending period. Cardholders who left their forwarding address could borrow five fiction and five nonfiction titles until October 1.
In the late 1940s when former Library Board member Alicia Ashman moved to Madison, she recalls a policy that required a prospective patron to find a local property owner who would sign a card to attest to the prospective patron’s character in order for a new card to be issued.
On February 2, 1948, a new borrower's card was created when the library started its record lending service. The library used the borrower's registration number preceded by the letter "R" to distinguish his/her record borrowing card from the regular charging machine identification card. A 50¢ fee was charged for this service. The special card was a means of controlling the number of records a patron could borrow and of emphasizing that the record service was an "extra."
The special record card requirement remained in effect until October 10, 1957 when the library board eliminated the requirement to have a special card to check out phonographic records. Instead, records would henceforth be borrowed on a regular borrower's card. It was deemed neither necessary nor economical to control circulation by means of a special card, and phonograph records were then considered a regular part of library service rather than an extra.
In 1959, the library board authorized changing the requirements for juveniles seeking borrowing privileges as the board minutes reported:
"The present practice in registering juvenile borrowers is to wait until they are seven years of age or in the second grade before they are permitted to apply. Since many children are beginning to read before this stage and since it is desirable that they become acquainted with and accustomed to use of library facilities as early as possible, it is recommended that any child otherwise eligible who is able to print his first and last name legibly (and has the consent of his parent) be issued a borrowers card."
To avoid sparking a controversy, prevent a flood of children from invading the library, or for other unknown reasons, the board mandated that no publicity be given to this change in policy.
In 2000, a child of any age can receive a library card. Children unable to write can have a parent sign the card in their stead. Adults are required to provide a photo I.D. and proof of current residence. In 2000, MPL also offered a special 125th birthday library card as part of the anniversary celebration.
In 1977, a young mother, after frantically searching for her library card in the Gilbert M. Simmons Library in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was advised by her preschool child, "That's OK, Mom, just use your Master Charge."
Restricted Borrowing Privileges: "Is This the Class of Literature You Want Your Family to Read?"
Five papers were presented at 1894 American Library Association Conference in response to the following question:
"Is a free public library justified in supplying to its readers books which are neither for instruction nor for the cultivation of taste; which are not books of knowledge, nor ideas, nor good literature; which are books of entertainment only?"
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, professional public librarians argued vigorously among themselves over the provision of fiction. On one side of the debate were those who supported the circulation of fiction in public libraries. Proponents argued that providing patrons with fiction, even of questionable literary taste, would attract readers who would otherwise read nothing. Fiction could serve as a springboard for elevating the literary tastes of readers. While most librarians wanted to foster interest in reading, they also wanted to discourage the reading of too much fiction and particularly to guard against "worthless fiction."
The other side of the debate favored restricting or even eliminating the library's purchase of fiction. William Kite of the Friends Free Library of Germantown, Pennsylvania, for example, refused to buy any fiction for his library. His argument was simple. The library is an educational institution. Popular fiction has no educational value; therefore it should be excluded.
The Madison Free Library’s position in the debate was manifest in its lending policies. As librarians increasingly came to recognize that the library could offer a valuable service by providing patrons with novels to read as a recreational activity, the policies regarding borrowing works of fiction were liberalized.
When the library opened in 1875, the rules and regulations outlined the limited borrowing policy: "No person shall be allowed the use of more than one volume at any time, or to handle books upon the shelves or to take them therefrom." Evidently, this book could be nonfiction or fiction.
Between 1875 and 1904, the rule changed to allow patrons to check out one nonfiction and one fiction book. In 1904, the borrowing rules again were changed to remove all limits on the number of nonfiction books a patron could take out, though in fiction the one-book rule was retained. The philosophy continued to be the promotion of nonfiction coupled with a seemingly reluctant acceptance of the reading of fiction as a worthwhile activity. This reluctance appeared most clearly in 1909 when an alderman attempted to slash the library budget because of its fiction collection. Janet Ela describes this incident in her book Free and Public: One Hundred Years with Madison Public Library:
"In November 1909, the City Council was meeting to take action on Madison's 1910 budget and was dismayed at its size. An alderman named Hayes found $2500 for library books a good target for slashing. He was incensed with statistics on the number of "fairy tales" and "juveniles" being accumulated. "Is this the class of literature you want your family to read?" he asked.
When other aldermen came to the Library’s defense, Hayes skipped off to a new tangent: he had knowledge that book companies in New York and Chicago were interested in the sum being requested from the Council and that members of the Library Board were agents of this 'book combine.' Our Board was not amused, and asked the Council to require Hayes to substantiate his charges at its next meeting."
Hayes never substantiated these charges and the Council quickly reconsidered their vote cutting the $2500 and voted it back in full."
In 1927, the library changed its lending policy and to allow two fiction books to be checked out on a patron’s card. Finally, in 1937, the new head librarian Helen Farr instituted a series of changes in the library, including removing the limit on the number of books that could be checked out at a time. This policy remains in effect today.
Library Innovations at the Turn of the Century: The Rental Collection and Reserve System
In 1902, the Madison Free Library began renting popular new books to patrons. In the Annual Report to the Board of Directors, the innovative policy was explained as follows:
"With the increasing number of books published, it is impossible to supply the immediate demand for new books. To meet this emergency, many public libraries have started what is known as a 'rent collection' of books. Extra copies of popular books on the library shelves are bought and rented for a small fee. As soon as the books have been rented long enough to pay for themselves, they are put into the regular library…. A fee of five cents per week was decided on. The plan has met with great success."
Financially, the rental collection soon paid for itself. The 1906 Librarian's Annual Report detailed a near "balanced budget":
"…the receipts from the rental collection during the past two years have been $490 and the expenditure for books $483.79."
The 1903 Annual Report lauded the introduction of the reserve system as part of library service: "By leaving a penny at the desk, a reader may have a book, out at the time, held for him when it comes in, and he will be notified by post card of its return. The convenience of this has been highly appreciated by the Library readers."
In 1947, after more than forty years of maintaining the original policies related to the rental collection and reserve system, the library adopted two changes in its rules governing these practices:
- Books will be loaned for a charge of ten cents for the first week and one cent per day thereafter, instead of five cents for each week or part of a week.
- Reservations will be made on all books, including rental books for two cents for each book instead of five cents for books in the rental collection and two cents on other books."
In support of these changes, librarian Helen Farr pointed out that the fees currently in place had been "fixed" when the rental collection was established in 1902. At that time, the average cost per book in the rental collection was 95¢ while at the present time it is $1.72. At 5¢ per week only the most popular books earn their cost before the urgent demand for them is passed. The new rate would still be lower than that charged by the commercial rental libraries. Brown’s Book Store, the Co-op, and Mosely’s charged 3¢ per day with a minimum of 10¢ per book. Yost’s charged 3¢ a day for the first two weeks and 5¢ a day after the second week.
At the September 12, 1957, library board meeting, it was decided to discontinue the rental collection altogether:
"The collection of rental books at the Main Library is no longer required since adequate funds for the purchase of free copies is available. The use of the collection is relatively light, with an annual volume of about $500. The cost of ordering and processing titles which are already in the regular collection and of maintaining a completely separate set of detailed records is far greater than the income received."
In the year 2000, rental books checked out cost $2 per week. Books and other materials may be reserved free of charge, and, in this technological age, from a patron’s own home computer utilizing the LINKcat online library catalog.
Commercial rental libraries such as those in Madison described by Helen Farr continued to exist into the 1960s. Booksellers and other merchants maintained those circulating libraries as a profitable sideline that would increase traffic through their shop doors. In 1963, the demise of one of these libraries was reported in the newsletter of the Toledo Public Library:
"The W.H. Smith rental libraries at newsstands all over Britain have recently ended operation. The company, still operating newsstands and publishing a book and periodical trade weekly, says inroads of paperbacks and the fact that middle class readers formerly repelled by the social stigma of public libraries are now using them quite openly have made book-renting unprofitable."
Evidently, libraries once had a tainted reputation, at least in Britain.
Would You Believe Fines for Overdue Books Were the Same in the Years 1875 and 2000?
The dilemma of what to do about overdue books has continually challenged MPL staff and board. The problem with an overdue book is that it is not available to others. When it is overdue, the library often feels compelled to order other copies to have enough to go around. To combat this ongoing problem, the library has exacted fines to discourage patrons from retaining books beyond their due dates, used the courts as a more formidable deterrent, employed book collectors to retrieve books from the homes where they resided, and as a last resort, offered amnesties to encourage the return of books.
The first library in Madison known to address the problem of overdue books was the library of Governor James Doty. In 1841, Governor Doty opened his private library to the public. It contained approximately seven hundred fifty volumes of a general historical, legal, and literary character and a number of the best maps of the time. It was housed in the Governor's private office, which was a small one-room frame building situated among the trees on South Pinckney Street.
A sign painted in black displayed over the shelving on the west side of the room directed "Take, Read and Return." The library was unsupervised. It contained a register in which to enter the taking and returning of books. There were only two regulations overseeing the use of the library and they were displayed conspicuously in red ink. They established who could use the library, the lending period, and presented a deterrent for returning materials beyond that stipulated lending period. The first regulation represents the only known instance of a discriminatory rule regulating any library in Madison:
- Any white resident between the lakes, the Catfish, and the westerly hills, his wife and children, may have the privileges of this library so long as they do not soil or injure the books, and properly return them.
- Any such resident, his wife or children, may take from the library one book at a time
and retain it not to exceed two weeks, and then return it, and on failure to return promptly, he or she shall be considered, and published as an outcast in the community.
The value of this "enemy of the people" approach as a deterrent was quite formidable as evidenced by the following excerpt from an article which appeared in the Wisconsin Library Bulletin in August 1907, in which Colonel George Bird reminisces about his childhood experiences in Governor Doty’s library:
"I do not remember of there ever having been occasion for inflicting this penalty. I do remember my father sending me one day when the time-limit of a book was about to expire, with a note to a family, requiring the return of a book that day, and calling attention pointedly to the above penalty of failure; and I remember how concerned the mother was, and how quickly she got the book and dragging me along after her, speedily returned it to the library, and thus escaped the sentence of outlawry."
When the founders of the Madison Institute opened their library in 1854, they instituted fines of 5¢ per day for overdue books. The patrons also were responsible for providing compensation for any damaged or lost books. Any malicious destruction would be punished by double the costs and possible expulsion from membership in the Institute.
When the Madison Free Library opened in 1875, many of its policies and rules were a mere reenactment of the Madison Institute library regulations. However, the policy regarding overdue books changed significantly:
"Any book retained two weeks beyond the time prescribed by these rules and regulations shall be sent for by the librarian and the expense incurred in obtaining it shall be paid by the person retaining it. The expense shall be twenty cents for each book sent for within the distance of one half mile from the library and ten cents additional for each mile or fraction part of a mile actually traveled beyond that distance."
Eventually, this unwieldy formula of exacting fines based on the distance a patron lived from library was replaced with a simple fine of 1¢ per day for overdue books, which remained in effect until 1959. In that year, the library board approved increasing adult fines to 2¢ per day for overdue books. The higher fine was expected to decrease the number of overdue books, as well as provide the library with an increase in revenue estimated at $4000 per year. Juvenile fines remained at 1¢ per day. Sundays and holidays were not charged as overdue days under the new schedule.
In 1963, the library board raised fines for adults' overdue books from 2¢ to 3¢ per day. The fines for juveniles remained at .1¢ per day. Bernard Schwab, library director, said that the new 3¢ fine for overdue books was still lower than the 5¢ rate charged by many city libraries. The reasons cited for the policy change were increased costs of postage and labor, encouragement of faster return of books, and keeping library earnings from fines up to the estimate so that budget cuts would not be necessary.
Library records indicate that in 1970 adult fines were set at 5¢ per day up to a maximum fine of the price for the book. Juvenile fines remained at one cent per day.
In 2000, adult fines are 20¢ per day and there are no fines for children. Twenty cents also was original fine foreach overdue book sent for within the distance of one half mile from the library. In a peculiar way, the library’s fine policy began at a 20¢ rate, went through assorted decreases and increases, and now has returned to the same amount charged for overdue books by the original Madison Free Library. Although the fine of 20¢ has come full circle in one hundred and twenty five years, the value of that 20¢ has been inflated approximately 1300% over that same time period. In other words, the original fine of 20¢ per day would be comparable in the year 2000 to a fine of $2.60 per day.
While there are no library records chronicling fines throughout the history of the library, the largest fine paid for overdue books in recent years, according to Administrative Clerk Tom Karls, was $247. The largest fine paid for lost books, according to head of circulation Harriett Anderson, was approximately $420.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the most overdue book in the United States was a book checked out in 1823 from the University of Cincinnati Medical Library and returned on December 7, 1968, by the borrower's great-grandson. The calculated fine of $2,264 was waived.
Enforcement of Fines for Overdue Books: How Strict was the Madison Free Library in 1906?
Library patrons often try to get their fines reduced or revoked because of extenuating circumstances. Libraries vary in their flexibility in enforcing the rules governing such overdue books and other violations of rules.
One of the topics of great interest at the state meeting of librarians in 1906 related to the enforcement of fines for overdue books. The April 1906, edition of the Wisconsin Library Bulletin published the results of a survey sent to Wisconsin librarians and presented the following survey findings:
Amount of fine exacted (91 answers): 1¢ a day, 54; 2¢ daily, 28; 3¢ daily, 5; 6¢ per week, 1; 10¢ per week, 2; no fine, 1.
Strict enforcement of payment (81 answers): yes, 48; no, 9; enforced according to circumstance, 24.
The Madison Free Library fit into the more flexible category regarding its enforcement policy. The MFL response to the enforcement question was particularly interesting in that, along with the Kenosha, Oshkosh, and Racine Public Libraries, the policy specifically provided for exceptional enforcement procedures for children. Given that children younger than 15 years old were originally banned from the MFL when it opened in 1875, the MFL response to the survey seems particularly enlightened. The range of responses throughout the state including Madison’s are presented below:
Responses to survey of libraries around Wisconsin in 1906 when asked about strict enforcement of payment of fines for overdue books:
Algoma- Quite strictly.
Baraboo- Not strict. Prefer to waive if disputed.
Beloit- Yes. Has to be enforced, as this is money we use to buy books.
Cumberland- Enforced, unless a very good reason is given.
Evansville- Lenient as possible.
Fort Atkinson: As far as possible, with usual experience with difficult people.
Kenosha- Rather strictly adhered to except in case of sickness or a first offense from some small child which seems to justify leniency.
Madison- Strictly enforces payment of fines, but sometimes allow children to work it out at a rate of .05¢ an hour.
Manitowoc- Strictly except in case of bereavement in family.
Menasha- Carefully collected.
Oconomowoc- Strictly enforced for fiction.
Oshkosh- Fines seldom remitted. Occasionally we allow for circumstances. We do not return cards unless the unpaid fines are very large and we allow children to pay fines in installments.
Racine- Occasional exceptions, teachers and poor children.
Rhinelander- Including Sundays and holidays. Use judgement-country people seldom.
Spring Green- Strictly, no books being given offenders who owe fines.
Patron Goes to Small Claims Court over Overdue Book Titled "So Little Time"
"Literature has the right and duty to give to the public the ideas of the time." Bertoldt Brecht, playwright
The earliest tactic employed in a Madison library for dealing with the problem of overdue books was Governor Doty's threat to publish the transgressor’s name 'as an outcast in the community." In more recent times, legal recourse was the tactic of choice for several years. From 1959 until the end of 1961, the Legal Department of City Attorney’s office had the job of collecting overdue books after a fourth notice had been sent by the Library. In 1961, 673 fourth notices were sent for 1,460 books. The City Attorney took 177 cases, and cleared 132 of them. Efforts to get 169 books had to be dropped.
The library board relieved the City Attorney's office of this responsibility in 1962. A Wisconsin State Journal account of one of the violators who was brought to court provides insights into the workings of the process when the legal remedy was pursued.
October 10, 1959: "First Overdue Book Case Tried in Court"
"Ellen Ruppert, 112 S. Hancock St., Tuesday became the first "overdue" reader to appear in Small Claims Court on a charge of failing to return to a book to the city library.
The book had been due since Nov. 26, 1958, and she had been sent four notices by the library. Miss Ruppert, an employee in the state assessor of incomes office, paid a $3.12 fine, $2.20 sheriff’s fees for serving of the warrant on her, and 60 cents court docket costs.
She also turned in the $3.25 book to Court Clerk Charles Doran with the explanation that she "just didn't have time to take it back to the library."
The title of the book was So Little Time.
In 1963, the Sarasota, Florida, city commissioners passed a new ordinance making it a criminal offense to fail to return a book to the Sarasota Public Library–punishable by a $500 fine or a sixty day jail term. Betty Service, the librarian, told the commissioners the annual loss on books was approximately $600, while the annual budget was only $5000.
The book So Little Timeby John Marquand was published in 1943 by Little, Brown, and Co. and can be acquired in 2000 through the LINKcat online library catalogue. The title of the first chapter of the book is "Why Didn't You Ever Tell Me?"
When Western Union Boys and a Library "Detective" Collected Overdue Books
When the Madison Public Library relieved the City Attorney's office of primary responsibility for collecting overdue books in December 1961, the library board concurrently approved a plan to hire a book collector on a trial basis for six months. This man would work between eight and sixteen hours a month visiting the homes of those refusing to return books and would attempt to retrieve the errant books. The cost for such a visit was $1 in addition to the fines.
Before a visit by the collector, a warning card was sent to the recalcitrant borrower. The $1 fine for the visit could be avoided if the book was returned before the arrival of the collector. If the collector did not receive the books, the borrower was notified that the case would be referred to the City Attorney. If still there was no response, the case then went to the City Attorney, who in turn also wrote, waited, and then took the matter to Small Claims Court.
Bernard Schwab, director of the MPL, provided the rationale for taking such extreme measures:
"The trouble with an overdue book is that it is not available to others. When a book is overdue, we have to order other copies to have enough around. A firm, but courteous attitude to make public property available to other citizens-even to take a case to court when warranted-stimulates a return of otherwise lethargic borrowers."
In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal on February 2, 1962, Schwab extolled the financial benefits accrued from the book collector’s services:
"The book collector has more than paid his own salary and expenses in the value of the overdue books he has secured. On Jan. 14, for example, the collector was sent to see 11 borrowers who held 31 books valued at $116.43. He got 24 books, valued at $90.90, and cleared six cases at a total cost to the city of $10.97."
The success of the book collector experiment was short-lived, however, at least in its initial form. By September 11, 1962, the Library Board decided to use Western Union messenger boys instead of a book collector to collect library books long overdue. The Board opted for this strategy "since it promises to be nondamaging in public relations, and more practical than employing a qualified individual for the small volume of collections our library needs." The messenger was dispatched only after three overdue notices had been sent and a fourth notice warned that a messenger would call. The boys collected no money, just overdue books. Mr. Schwab explained that this plan was being used successfully in about 40 cities across the United States.
In 1976, the Dallas, Texas Public Library employed Harry Singleton as its full-time collector of books. During that year, he made enough "house calls" to return $26,130.30 worth of books back to the shelves of the library. It once took Singleton several months to locate a man who had $600 worth of library books in his possession. When Singleton finally visited the house, the man kept slamming the door in Singleton’s face. Singleton finally called the police to help. The man jumped out of a back window. The police helicopter picked him up. It seems the man also wrote bad checks.
In her book A Small Place, novelist Jamaica Kincaid confessed to the crime of stealing books from her childhood library in Antigua, explaining that her intention was not to steal, it was "just that once I had read book I couldn't part with it."
Giving ‘'Pardons' to Library Sinners: Library Amnesties through the Years
The dilemma of how best to recover overdue books has perplexed the Madison Public Library staff since the library’s founding. The strong desire to retrieve the overdue book to make it available to other patrons has periodically resulted in the offer of a general amnesty for overdue library items to encourage returns.
In 1938, the library had a free-return policy featuring a barrel outside the library into which delinquent borrowers could toss their overdue books. This "stunt," however, failed to bring back many valuable books, according to librarian Helen Farr. Moreover, she said that one unexpectedly unfavorable result was the succeeding increase in overdue books. She speculated that this increase developed because delinquent borrowers were hopeful there would be another fineless return day.
In 1954, the library board rejected the suggestion of board member Thomas Stavnum to consider the merits of a free book return day. Miss Farr's explanations of the problems created by that policy in 1938 were sufficient to dissuade the board from attempting such an amnesty again. Three years later, the library board did make it easier for patrons to return materials to help reduce the number of overdue books being withheld. They enacted a new policy that permitted library patrons to return all borrowed materials, except phonograph records, to any library branch.
Early in 1968, the Chicago Public Library sponsored a fineless day of amnesty for people with overdue books. When asked about offering a similar amnesty at the Madison Public Library, director Schwab repeated Helen Farr's previous rationale for rejecting the amnesty:
"We're not anticipating an amnesty day for the foreseeable future. We have given thought to this a number of times, whenever another city announced that it was going to have an amnesty day. But the experience has been that the great majority of books returned on amnesty day would be returned anyway. They are the books recently taken out. Also, some people expect this to set a precedent, and then they hold on to their books, waiting for the next amnesty day."
Evidently, Mr. Schwab and the library board had a change of heart eight years later, for on May 20, 21, and 22, 1976, MPL sponsored Library Amnesty Days. The purpose of Amnesty Days was to encourage the return of long overdue books and to clear patrons' records to enable them to resume use of the library. There have been no additional offers of amnesties for overdue books since that time.
While the overdue book problem has yet to be solved, it has produced some interesting occurrences. In 1938, a copy of the "American Girls Handbook" was dropped into the overdue book barrel. The book had been printed and withdrawn from the library in 1895.
In 1946, the Wisconsin State Journal reported the story of a businessman who ventured into the library after a hiatus of thirty years. He walked into the library and asked if he could draw out a book. "And there it was…his crimeful past. In his early youth he had drawn out Peter Rabbit (or some such book) and had failed to return it. The kind-hearted librarian just tore up the card."
There also was an incident reported about a woman who walked into the library in 1946 with a book that had been taken out in 1910. She didn't know whom had taken it out, or how it had gotten into her home, but she "found it while cleaning her bookcase."
According to Bernard Schwab's son Bill, his father steadfastly opposed offering amnesties for overdue books throughout his career. He believed it promoted bad behavior, and Bill remembers his father telling urban legends of houses in New York lined with overdue library books awaiting the next amnesty in order to return them. Bill believes his father supported the 1976 MPL amnesty either because the staff supported offering the general amnesty or because during that time of tight budgets, he reluctantly accepted the notion that offering the amnesty would help to replenish a rapidly depleted collection.
Bill also said that there were no amnesties for overdue books within his household. When he or his siblings had overdue library books, they received no privileges because their father was the library director: "Overdue books in a library family was not a good thing, even if we had to spend our entire allowance to pay the fine, it was tough luck!" Contrary to what one would expect, the Schwab family owned few books since Bernard believed it unnecessary to have your own books when there was a library to fulfill most reading needs.
A Sunday Afternoon in the Library?
"Whatever the costs of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." Walter Cronkite, broadcast journalist
In 1975, as part of its 100th anniversary celebration, the Madison Public Library opened its doors to the public on Sunday, May 11th for "A Sunday Afternoon in the Park." Though the name for this event was a take-off on George Seurat’s painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," there's a certain irony in the title given a controversy that has raged through the library since its opening. Specifically, the issue of whether the library should and could be open for business on Sundays has challenged the library administration for nearly one hundred twenty five years.
When the Madison Free Library opened in 1875, the hours of operation were from10: 00 a.m. to noon and 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on all days except Sundays and holidays. By 1880, librarian Ella Giles, in her public lecture on "What Madison Needs," gave an impassioned plea for opening the library on Sundays:
"Is there not something radically wrong in the system by which this city is governed, when saloons are kept open on Sunday, although against the law, and our public libraries are closed? How many young men and boys just approaching manhood can be found in Madison who, unaccustomed to attending church, are almost driven on long Sunday afternoons and evenings to haunts of intemperance and vice?
… Let the city extend its public reading rooms employing a sufficient number of persons to have the doors open from an earlier hour in the morning to a later one at night, and on Sundays as well as week days…."
The library, however, remained closed on Sundays until 1906, when it was opened on Sundays on an experimental basis, although with limited services. The library offered a free lecture series and browsing privileges in the reading room, but would not allow books to be checked out. The Madison Democrat gave this experiment a strong endorsement in an article published on January 22, 1907:
"Lectures Create Love for Reading; Opening of Library on Sundays Proves Success"
"The experiment of keeping the public library open on Sundays has justified itself by its success, and has become such a necessity that there is little doubt that the custom will become a permanent one… The number of readers-as one evidence-has doubled since the opening of the reading room on Sundays. And, surely that is sufficient reason why the experiment should be continued."
On January 23, 1907, in an interview in the Madison Democrat, librarian Julia Hopkins defended the library's refusal to permit patrons to check out books on Sundays:
"The issuing of books on the seventh day of the week means that extra help must be secured, and the library has other places where money could be placed to better advantage at this time. Undoubtedly it would be a good thing to issue books on Sunday, and I, for one, am in favor of doing so, but the finances of the library will not permit it."
A compromise of sorts was reached during the following winter's lecture series when a magazine exchange was established in connection with the Sunday lectures. Readers were permitted to return periodicals they'd checked out and take home others they hadn’t read.
The Sunday lecture series proved to be sufficiently popular to continue on a yearly basis from 1907 through 1914, but only during the winter. Sunday hours at the main library and branches were discontinued in January 1918 in order to save coal during World War I. At the war's conclusion, the library opened on Sundays once again and remained open until 1938, when again war forced the discontinuation of Sunday hours.
Nearly thirty years later, the library remained closed on Sundays and the issue reopening it re-emerged. In the minutes of the Library Board from September 9, 1969, a report from Library Director Bernard Schwab addresses patron interest regarding Sunday hours:
"There have a been a growing number of requests and some letters to the newspapers urging opening of the Main Library on Sunday. While the requests have not been numerous (and always made very informally), there is apparently growing interest in this type of scheduling. We have not contemplated any change for the immediate future but have felt that any program generating this much interest should at least be examined so that the Board and staff might develop a general position." As was the case with issuing books on Sundays in 1907, financial constraints again precluded opening the library on Sundays in 1969, but finding the means to offer Sunday hours began to gather momentum. In 1971, the library requested but was denied a federal grant to demonstrate the practicality of Sunday hours.
On February 28, 1975, WMTV Channel 15 presented an editorial commenting on the "good old days" before 1938 when the MPL last was open on Sundays and urging the main library "to open on Sunday afternoons on a trial basis and measure the results." By June of 1975, the library heeded WMTV’s call and planned a sixteen week test of opening the library on Sundays from February 1-May 23, 1976. Again, insufficient funding ended the Sunday hours experiment.
During the winter of 1991-92, the library used surplus funds from the previous year to open the main library, the Pinney Branch, and the Sequoya Branch on Sundays in the winter months. The Capital Times trumpeted the opening with the headline "Sunday Delight: Open Libraries" and an article that began,
"A small but significant barrier fell in Madison this past weekend. City residents could use their public libraries on Sunday…."
During the winter of 1998-99, the library once again held Sunday hours from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. As of the winter of 2000-01, the library remains open on Sundays during the winter.
The debate over how one should spend Sundays pre-dates the founding of the Madison Free Library. In 1859, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a series of "blue" laws (statutes regulating personal and public conduct, particularly on the Sabbath; so- called because such laws, which originated in Virginia in 1624, reputedly were printed on blue paper) prohibiting any person from "doing any manner of labor business or work…" on the "Lord's Day, commonly called Sunday." The blue laws were ignored in Madison until 1870, when a group of rowdies insulted Yankee aristocrats on their way to church. This harassment prompted a coalition of sabbatarians and prohibitionists to begin to work together to reestablish the sanctity of the Sabbath by closing saloons and forbidding the playing of games such as billiards on Sundays. After four years of failed efforts, the coalition collapsed.