"Problems worthy of attack, prove their worth by fighting back." Paul Erdos, mathematician
Providing services to the consistent satisfaction of a community over a span of one hundred twenty-five years is as difficult and frustrating a challenge as Sisyphus' attempt to push a stone to the top of a hill. As with many public institutions, it is inevitable that controversies periodically have erupted in the history of the Madison Public Library. The original collection of the Madison Free Library contained several books that spawned many fierce controversies in other parts of the United States in subsequent years. This chapter begins with the story of these volatile materials to show that the potential for controversy resided within the library from its inception, although these materials were benign in terms of stirring the ire of Madisonians.
Censorship controversies have aroused the most intense passions among patrons and predictably produced the greatest number of conflicts. The debates around birth pictures in Life Magazine in 1938 and yoga books in 1957 concerned the limitation of access to materials already in the collection. The more incendiary controversies involved battles over decisions to purchase, failure to purchase, or the removal of politically charged materials. These conflicts revolved around the book McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, the Ism in 1953; the Soviet embassy's magazine USSR in 1961; the Adele Davis diet and health books in 1966; and the underground newspaper Take Over in the 1970s. The library board and greater Madison community usually became embroiled in these controversies.
The library also has had several controversies unrelated to the materials themselves. The proposal to build a Vaudeville house near the new library in 1906 produced a hostile reaction from the library board and the newspapers. A school librarian's placement of a chain across the door of a library reference room in 1913 prompted a board member to propose discontinuing payment of her salary unless that chain was immediately removed. Librarians' refusal to provide answers to questions posed in radio contests in 1948 angered several citizens.
These conflicts show us how previous generations acted in the midst of controversy and how they attempted to mediate those problems. They serve as a reminder of the intensity with which patrons care, and have always cared, about their library to the extent that they have been willing to enter the fray of acrimonious discussions to steer their beloved library on what they considered to be the right course.
"Immoral Literature" Plentiful in the Early Collection of the Madison Free Library
In 1881 public librarians in the United States made a bold attempt to define the best-selling fiction that offended "genteel" sensibilities. In that year the American Library Association Cooperation Committee sent a questionnaire to 70 major public libraries to determine if they had ever held, or later withdrawn, the works of certain authors. The list was limited to those "whose works are sometimes excluded from public libraries by reason of sensational or immoral qualities."
The ALA committee listed sixteen questionable authors, thirteen women and three men. According to Dee Garrison, in her book Apostles of Culture, ten of these can be generally be classified as "domestic novelists, writing chiefly for women and about feminine experience….Common to all these best sellers was a rejection of traditional authority, particularly in domestic life, in religious faith, and in matters concerning class distinction."
The Catalog of the Madison Free Library 1877 included works by eleven of those sixteen authors. A report from the U.S. Bureau of Education characterized their works as "feeble, rudimentary, perhaps sentimental," as "silly reading" and "trash." While the inclusion of such "subversive" works in the public library aroused no known controversy among Madison citizenry, librarians elsewhere favored restricting the purchase of such fiction. In 1879, for example, the Burlington, Vermont, Public Library actually removed from the shelves the books of certain popular authors.
E.D.E.N Southworth's novels are representative of the class of questionable author whose works were in Madison's early collection. She wrote forty-three novels and was the best-selling woman novelist in American history when her book Bridal Eve was published in 1864. Her plots can be characterized as soap operas spiced with violence. Her writing style is highly melodramatic, as this excerpt from The Bridal Eve indicates:
"Infatuated youth! Could he have foreseen the long and terrible agony which that goddess-like being had been ordained to suffer, and which was soon to burst upon her imperial head, he would, in the ungovernable passion of his wild Italian nature, have struck her dead at his feet, and gladly died for having saved her from such unspeakable woe."
While critics and historians of popular literature have lambasted the writing style and content of E.D.E.N Southworth and many other sensationalist authors, the reading public found their work immensely appealing. Presented below are the names of these authors and several titles of their novels that appeared in the Catalog of the Madison Free Library 1877.
Broughton, Rhoda - Joan, Nancy
Forrester, Mrs. - Fair Women
Hentz, Carol Lee - Banished Son, Courtship and Marriage, Linda, or the Young Pilot of Belle Creole
Holmes, Mary Jane - Ethlyn's Mistake, Dora Deane
Lawrence, George A. - Guy Livingston, Sans Merci, Sword and Gown
Ouida - Cecil Castlemain of Gage, Idalia
Marryatt, Florence - Settled in Canada, Jacob Faithful
Southworth, Mrs. E.D.E.N. - The Bridal Eve, Curse of Clifton, Out of Depths
Stephens, Ann Sophia - Mabel's Mistake, Old Homestead
Wilson, Augusta Jane Evans - Abode of Snow
Wood, Ellen P. - Elster's Folly, Verner's Pride
NOTE: In 100 Banned Books, the authors (Nicholas Karolides, Margaret Bald, and Dawn Sova) tell the stories of one hundred well-known, often classic works with significant censorship histories. These books were suppressed on political, religious, sexual, and/or social grounds. Although many of the books were published after 1877, several present in The Catalog of the Madison Free Library 1877 were among those which were subsequently involved in censorship controversies during the twentieth century. Those works include:
Darwin, Charles - Origin of Species
Dickens, Charles - Oliver Twist
Franklin, Benjamin - Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Goethe, Johann - The Story of Goethe's Life
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter
Kant, Immanuel - The Critique of Pure Reason
Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
Birth Pictures Cut From Life Magazine at City Library in 1938
In April 11, 1938, the Capital Times reported that the four pages of pictures in the current issue of Life Magazine depicting the birth of a child were removed from copies on the shelves of the Madison Free Library.
Helen Farr, city librarian, insisted that the pictures were not removed with any idea of censorship. She said that the deleted pages of the magazine were kept at the library desk and were available to anyone who might desire to see them.
"The pictures were removed from the magazines which we keep at the library simply because I can see no sense in becoming involved in a controversy," Miss Farr said. "If the pictures were something of real literary value, I would fight to keep them on our shelves despite objections, but I don't think they are worth all the fuss that is being made about them."
Miss Farr said that the city library received five copies of the magazine for the main library and its various branches. All but one of the branch libraries, Miss Farr pointed out, were located in school buildings.
"I haven't censored these pictures, but I merely thought it would be best not to have them out where persons who might object to them could stumble on them," Miss Farr said.
"Parents might have raised objections and I would have thought that the pictures were not worth making a fight over."
Miss Farr said that some of the world's literary classics, which the library had on its shelves, were undoubtedly just as frank as Life Magazine's pictures, but because of their value as literature she would never think of removing such books from the library shelves no matter how many persons objected. Miss Farr's definition of "censorship" seemed to be determined by her own sense of what were appropriate library materials to make readily available to the public.
Yoga Books Spark Mutilation, Misunderstanding, and a Censorship Controversy
The rules of the Madison Free Library were very restrictive when the library opened in 1875. In order to check out a book, library patrons submitted the name of the book they wanted to take out and the librarian would retrieve the book for them. Patrons were not allowed to browse the shelves, for the librarians saw themselves as the guardians of the books. It was only with the opening of the Reading Room in 1879 that browsing began.
On July 17, 1957, the Capital Times published a letter complaining about a different manifestation of the closed shelf policy that had existed when the original library opened. Mrs. C. A. Sholtes of Richland Center wrote,
"Who are the people that censure our library books? The other day while at your library in Madison, I asked for the book entitled Yoga by Desmond Dunne, a noted English teacher and writer. I was told that this is a 'closed shelf book' and if I cared to take it out, I would have to leave the building immediately. I wondered then, if it contained the works of the Devil and hurried away as fast as I could, ran to my car and hid it under the seat.
Upon reading the book that night I found it to be the most enlightening and fascinating piece of literature that I have ever read, on how to live a long and happy life in union with our Creator. In order to be able to do this, according to the book, one must learn four things-Relaxation, Contraction, Dynamic Breathing, and Concentration. Now what is there wrong in that? Our shelves are full of books filled with filth and corruption, while this book which teaches one how to live a happy life by simple living, in unity with God, is a 'closed shelf book.'
Who are these people who are trying to destroy our beautiful thoughts to be replaced by evil filthy ones?"
In a response to this complaint, Bernard Schwab, Assistant City Librarian, wrote a letter to the Capital Times in which he lamented Mrs. Sholtes' misunderstanding of the purpose of the closed book shelf. He explained:
"… books are not placed on closed shelves to prevent people from using them but rather with the intention of protecting them for legitimate use by library patrons. There are some categories of books which tend to be stolen or defaced if placed on open shelves. I have two mutilated volumes of this type on my desk now. One is a book about Yoga which had been kept on open shelves.
We do ask patrons who are withdrawing closed shelf books for home use to have them checked out as soon as they receive them. If patrons wish only to examine the book in the Library, they are asked to sign the book card and return the book to the desk before they leave. Because these books are particularly subject to loss or damage the Library keeps a careful record of their use both inside and outside the library.
I regret you did not call this letter to our attention before printing it."
NOTE: With the tremendous growth in the United States and wide-spread acceptance of the value of Yoga by the end of the twentieth century, it is difficult to imagine how Yoga books could have been so inflammatory in 1957 as to prompt patrons to steal or deface them. What was so objectionable or what were people afraid of?
The Great Censorship Controversy of 1953: McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism
"An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all." Oscar Wilde, playwright
In February 1950, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy became known for his anti-Red campaign when, during a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, he claimed to have a list of "card-carrying Communists" working for the U.S. State Department. Two years later, journalists Jack Anderson and Ronald May published a scathing indictment of Senator McCarthy in their book McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism. At the time of publication,Anderson was a veteran newsman who worked as a staff reporter for Drew Pearson on the "Washington Merry-Go-Round." Anderson had first met McCarthy when McCarthy became a senator in 1947 and knew him so well that McCarthy attended Anderson's wedding reception in 1949. May had lived in Wisconsin for twenty years where he had worked as a radio news writer for the Madison office of the United Press and chief record clerk of the Wisconsin State Senate.
On March 31, 1953 the McCarthy book became the center of a controversy involving the Madison Free Library, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Capital Times, the University of Wisconsin, the Unitarian Church, and the larger community. The storm erupted from a newspaper column in the Capital Times headlined:"Anti-McCarthy Book Banned at Library"
The article reported that,
"… an anti-McCarthy book had been banned at the Madison Free Library, apparently on the basis of a syndicated newspaper column attacking the book written by Westbrook Pegler. The order banning the book was given by Helen E. Farr, head librarian. The book is McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism by Jack Anderson and Ronald W. May.
A notice available at the library information desk informs librarians that the column written by Pegler Feb. 18 expresses Miss Farr's reason for not buying the book for the library.
The note instructs librarians to use the Pegler column to answer questions as to why the library does not have the book. A clipping of the column is attached to the note."
In the column, Pegler attacked the authors principally because they were members of Columnist Drew Pearson's staff and "Pearson has been known to employ two communist leg-men on his staff." Pegler admitted he didn't know if Anderson and May were communists, but his guilt by association ploy was evident. May, in fact, was not a member of Pearson’s staff."
The following day, the Capital Times printed a photograph of Miss Farr's note and claimed that this represented proof that Westbrook Pegler’s column had been used for more than a month as the reason why the anti-McCarthy book was banned from the MFL. The note, with the column attached, was dated February 18, 1953, and read, "Miss Farr has given us the attached clipping to express her reason for not buying the book 'McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism.' It should be used to answer questions as to why we do not have the book."
The note had been typed by Ellen Erickson, a library employee, who said that she was instructed by Helen Jansky, Head of Circulation, to do so. "It (the note) was in my own words of what I understood from Miss Jansky."
The Capital Times reported that according to its information, Miss Farr gave the clipping to Lillian Moehlman of the cataloging department. Miss Moehlman relayed it to Miss Jansky and Miss Jansky passed it on to Miss Erickson.
The Capital Times also ran an editorial in that same edition headlined "An Astounding Revelation About the Madison Free Library." The article began by castigating Helen Farr for censoring the book and then attacked Westbrook Pegler both for this particular book review and for his reactionary and racist attitudes:
"Americans used to say that 'it can't happen here.' But Tuesday The Capital Times revealed that a book that can be bought in the bookstores in Madison, McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism, has been barred from the Madison Free Library by order of Helen E. Farr, head librarian.
…Pegler is known for the bitterness of his attacks on the late President Roosevelt and his wife. He refers to the late President as "Old Moosejaw" and Mrs. Roosevelt as "Big Mouth." He has defended lynching and racism and has attacked the institution of marriage….
Miss Farr denies that the Pegler article provided the basis for her decision. She said she clipped it for use in the library because it mentioned the book. These are strange standards for a librarian, when such reviews as the New York Times and the Saturday Review of Literature, the bible of the book review world, are available.
It is incredible to think that Westbrook Pegler is the arbiter of what books should appear on the shelves of the Madison Free Library. If Miss Farr were to follow his lead in the selection of books, the library would soon be half empty…It is shocking beyond belief that a book should be barred because of a character of the nature of Westbrook Pegler has sought to smear the authors.
The barring of the Anderson and May book is an astounding revelation of the dismal depths to which we have sunk in this age of hysteria. Here, we think, is a case for the newly organized Madison chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union."
The Wisconsin State Journal entered the conflict on the same daythe Capital Times editorial appeared (April 1). Its report on the controversy was markedly more sympathetic toward Miss Farr than the rival newspaper. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Helen Farr claimed that a misunderstanding within her staff and shoddy reporting from the Capital Times had combined to create a false impression that she had banned the book simply because it was controversial. Instead, she explained that the book had not been purchased immediately after publication because it seemed doubtful that Madison taxpayers' money would have been as well spent on it as on other books. She added that she clipped the column because it mentioned the book, but a decision had been made previously to wait for more reviews on the book to come out before deciding whether to buy it.
Miss Jansky was asked whether she understood that it was Miss Farr's instructions that the column be used as a basis for banning the book.
"That was my understanding," she said. 'Of course misunderstandings are always possible when information is passed through two persons that way.'"
Miss Farr accepted responsibility for any staff misunderstanding, but vehemently denied that she was attempting to censor Madison's reading material. Six MFL Board members contacted during the controversy defended Miss Farr, asserting that her choice of books in the past was strictly in the interest of providing the best reading matter available with the funds at hand.
On April 2, Reverend Max Gaebler of the First Unitarian Church fanned the flames of the controversy by offering McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism as a gift to the Madison Free Library. Reverend Gaebler contended that "the book in question is an important one for Wisconsin readers, and it is one in which we have a stake since it was published by our own Beacon Press." Books published by Beacon Press were offered for sale at the Unitarian Church during that time period.
Asked whether she would accept the book as a gift, Miss Farr said, "I don't know. The book has been offered to me and I believe it is a bona fide offer. I am not ready to jump into a purchase of the book and I will have to study it (the offer) further."
On that same date, the Capital Times published a letter to the editor from Walter S. Botsford, secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, defending Helen Farr in connection with the banning of the anti-McCarthy book. He urged the Capital Times to let the public know that a mistake has been made in accusing Miss Farr of censorship.
"It is extremely likely that the photographed note was written by someone who entirely misunderstood Miss Farr's reasons for referring it to Miss Jansky. …Like other librarians, Miss Farr uses such columns as one index to the public’s interests. Knowing her, it is to be doubted that she has ever catered to public prejudice or feared the public as a taskmaster….All of us support your attack on censorship, but doubt that Miss Farr should be the culprit."
On April 3, Library School Professor J. R. Ashton from UW-Madison voiced his opinion on the controversy and used it as an opportunity to add his own longstanding criticisms of MFL policies:
"The facts in the case speak for themselves and merit no further comment except to point out that the library has obviously outraged several of the cardinal principles of librarianship, for example impartiality (books on both sides of all questions).
Likewise I imagine that staff morale has not been strengthened by the fine buck-passing.
This case entirely aside, the speed demonstrated by the some five months between publication of the book and the decision not to buy is typical of the Madison Free Library. Months after the citizens of Lake Mills, Stoughton, Portage, and Baraboo have read the newest books, they begin to trickle into Madison, painfully one or two a week….If taxpayers of Madison would like to see a library that really gives service in a modern way, let them visit Milwaukee, Racine, Janesville, or Fort Atkinson."
On April 4, The Capital Times continued its coverage of the banned book issue with a discussion of inflammatory books already in the MFL collection. The article, headlined "Pegler, Marx, and Hitler in Library- But Not Anti-McCarthy Book" described a handful of books the library already possessed that offered conflicting points of view including works like Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto. The article was accompanied by a photograph of those books and Pegler's own T’Aint Right book to demonstrate the diversity of the library collection. The writer pointed out that "all of these works are readily available at the library and can be drawn on cards issued by the library."
In the same edition of the Capital Times, UW English Professor Paul Fulchur likened the city library’s ban on the anti-McCarthy book to the book burnings of Hitler. After characterizing Helen Farr's explanations of her stand on the purchase of the book as "an alarming threat to our free society," Professor Fulchur attacked the rationales Helen Farr presented to explain the library's failure to purchase the book:
"In the first place why did it seem to Miss Farr 'doubtful that Madison taxpayers' money would be as well spent on it as on other books?' Surely one may assume that a book about one of Wisconsin's two senators would be of great interest to Wisconsin citizens. Is Miss Farr correct in her assumption that Wisconsin citizens are not interested in the careers, the personalities, and the qualifications of their elected public servants?
In the second place, Miss Farr is quoted as saying that when the book was published 'she and her assistants decided to wait for more reviews before deciding on whether or not to buy it.' I don't not know the exact date of publication of the Anderson and May book, but I purchased my own copy on Nov. 14, 1952. Between the publication date and Feb. 18, 1953 when Westbrook Pegler's column on the authors appeared, at least 97 days had passed. In that period the book had been reviewed in numerous places, including the Saturday Review, the New York Times, and the New York Herald-Tribune. How many reviews was Miss Farr waiting for?
…What is tremendously important is this. Hitler's Germany achieved thought control by, among other ways, burning the books of authors whom they disapproved. If a sufficient number of librarians come to consider the opinions of our Westbrook Peglers as somehow pertinent to their decisions on acquiring books, we shall not need, in these United States, to resort to bonfires."
On April 6, the Capital Times continued its coverage of the story by reporting "Miss Farr Silent on McCarthy Book." She refused to respond to an inquiry from the newspaper whether she had decided to accept or reject an offer of the First Unitarian Society to donate to the library a book that is critical of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
On April 7, a report from the city auditor added a new twist to the controversy as the Capital Times headline announced "Library's Surplus $28,800 in 1952." These surplus funds cast a peculiar shadow on Helen Farr's comment that the library did not purchase the McCarthy book because it seemed doubtful that Madison taxpayers’ money would have been as well spent on it as on other books. Obviously, there were ample funds with which to buy many extra books. In response to a question on this subject, Mayor George Forster said that the entire surplus could have been spent purchasing books. The article also informed the readers that McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism retailed for $3.50. An insert attached to the article said copies of the book available outside of the library were "selling like hotcakes" and one local bookstore reported it had sold out its entire inventory on the book and had ordered more to satisfy demands for it.
The Wisconsin State Journal, strangely silent for a week after its initial coverage of the controversy, reentered the conflict on April 8 with an editorial "Much Ado about a Book." The editorial castigated its rival newspaper, the Capital Times, for fabricating evidence against Miss Farr and for failing to give her the opportunity to defend herself:
"For the ordinary laymen to determine what books should or should not occupy the shelves of a public library is about the same as the average man trying to coach the Badger football team, manage the Milwaukee Braves, or conduct the New York Philharmonic. They all require special knowledge, special training, and special skills …
All of which is preliminary neither to defending nor accusing Miss Helen Farr, the Madison Free Library chief, who suddenly finds herself the victim of another one of those vicious, half-the-facts Capital Times campaigns.
It is, however, to give Miss Helen Farr the fair hearing which the Captimes, in its customary flailing about, has denied her. The Captimes gleefully discovered that a volume entitled McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism was not available at the Madison library. It promptly set off to prove that Miss Farr had banned the book on the basis of criticism leveled at it by Westbrook Pegler.
Miss Farr says that isn't the reason the book hadn't been purchased. She was merely concerned with its lack of merit, or lack of same, and the wisdom of using library funds for it when more important books of greater merit needed buying.
But the Cap Times bothered with none of this before ripping away at Miss Farr. It gave her no chance to explain or answer what it so assiduously dredged up to manufacture a case against her, no chance to defend herself on an equal footing with her accusers….
And thus, in its zeal to keep Sen. McCarthy’s name in an unfavorable light, the Times employs the very methods for which it claims to find McCarthy objectionable; attacking without allowing the accused a chance to answer, seeing only those facts suitable for his own aims….
Meanwhile, the pending investigation of the question by the newly formed chapter of the ACLU here may find that libraries, as well as newspapermen and the reading public, are entitled to civil liberties."
Also on April 8th, the Capital Times presented an article implying that the Library Board was remiss in its responsibility to govern the library by failing to participate in the selection of books to be purchased: "The Madison Free Library Board, a group of citizens appointed by the mayor and charged with the responsibility of managing the city library system, does not participate in the selection of books for the library, The Capital Times was informed today."
Several library board members interviewed explained that they did not have time to review books purchased. Board member Carroll Metzner added, "We have never dictated to the librarian on the purchase of books."
Metzner expressed doubt as to whether any members of the board knew that the McCarthy book had not been acquired for the library and said that whether the book was in the library "doesn't make any difference to me."
The April 8th edition of the Capital Times also contained a letter to the editor defending Helen Farr, pointing out that the library's collection had many significant omissions including several anti-Roosevelt and anti-new Deal books. Two days later, the Capital Times printed another letter to the editor, this one highly critical of Helen Farr for her failure to purchase a book so strongly of interest to Madisonians, given that Joseph McCarthy was their senator. Perhaps this conclusion implicitly represented the ultimate position of the Capital Times over the McCarthy controversy, for there was neither coverage nor mention of the controversy henceforth in the pages of the newspaper.
The Wisconsin State Journal, however, kept the story in the news through April 22nd by printing several letters to the editor from concerned citizens weighing in on the controversy. On April 16th, Professor Paul Fulchur, whose letter to the editor of the Capital Times had appeared on April 4, expanded upon that original letter, criticizing Helen Farr for her censorship and attacking her for the inadequate explanations she provided for banning the book.
Several citizens wrote responses to Professor Fulchur's letter. One writer argued that the book reviews Profesor Fulchur proposed considering as evidence that the book should be purchased were "far from being the unbiased sort of thing that book reviews are supposed to be." Another contended that Fulchur’s criticisms were in fact a veiled attempt to "get that guy, McCarthy, and don't be fussy how you do it…He (Fulchur) represents a highly articulate faction out to convince the American people that the real threat to this country is the people who aren't fussy about how to fight Communism. Professor Fulchur isn't so fussy either."
News of the controversy traveled well beyond Wisconsin, for Ronald May, co-author of the book, wrote a letter to editor of the Wisconsin State Journal from Washington, D.C., which was printed on April 11 under the headline "‘Smear' Book Writer Protests." May wrote that he had recently learned that a column by Westbrook Pegler, a syndicated columnist carried by the Wisconsin State Journal, was used by employees of the Madison Free Library as an explanation of why the library had not bought his book on Senator McCarthy. He felt it was beside the point whether the head librarian admitted that this was done, and whether it was done officially. The point was that the actions of the library staff, whatever their intent, damaged his reputation, and also the rights of Madison readers who "are entitled to have such a book available to them."
He then attacked the explanations Helen Farr provided for refusing to purchase the book with a line of reasoning similar to ones previously presented by Professors Ashton and Fulchur:
"Your newspaper quoted Miss Farr, head librarian, as saying that she was waiting for more reviews and … that Madison taxpayer money would have been well spent on it as on other books. This is a patently foolish statement, if she made it …
Few books have received higher and more universal praise by responsible publications. And few books could be of more value to Madison residents than a factual accounting of the life and political activities of their controversial junior senator, an accounting that is nowhere else available to them…"
May goes on to say he was actively opposed to communism and that Pegler's attempt to associate his name with Communism is a "long-despised method of smear." May then proceeds to smear Pegler himself, characterizing him as a former sports writer ("one of the best") who became a "political hackwriter filled with a flatulent, misanthropic malice against all but the lunatic right-wing fringe."
He concludes by suggesting that the Wisconsin State Journal cease carrying Pegler's column altogether: "...In all honesty, I believe that most State Journal readers would be glad if you stopped printing the column. After all, children read your paper."
In the midst of the controversy, the Library Board held its regular monthly meeting on April 16. Library Board member Fred Risser said that the newspaper stories had led the ACLU to inquire about the book selection methods of the Library. At the request of the Board, Helen Farr outlined the procedure followed in choosing books.
Most of the Library Board discussion centered on Reverend Max Gaebler's offer to give the book to the library as a gift. Board member Kermit Frater inquired if he had been correct in saying that the Board rules on all gifts. Helen Farr explained that she referred controversial gifts to the Board but that much of the material was valueless and many duplicates of books in the library were received. Such items were accepted or rejected without taking the time of the Board.
The issue of purchasing the book finally was resolved at the May 6 Library Board meeting. A motion was unanimously passed to do the following:
- That the Board reject the offer of the Unitarian Society to supply the library with a copy of the book, McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism.
- That the Board recommend the purchase of this book and also of the book, McCarthyism: The Fight for America.
- That the president appoint a committee to prepare recodification of the library's policy on the book and periodical acquisition."
Hence, the ultimate resolution of the controversy was to add the McCarthy book to the collection and, in the interest of presenting all sides of an issue, also purchase a book with a strong pro-McCarthy bent. There is no record of the actual purchase of the book because the accession records for the library in 1953 no longer exist. However, the library has in its collection today a copy of McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism. This copy was donated to the library as a gift in 1976 by Benjamin Ashman, the uncle of Alicia Ashman, a Library Board member who fought against censorship throughout her tenure on the Board and after whom the newest library branch was named in 2000.
NOTE: In hindsight, it is interesting to speculate about why Helen Farr initially refused to purchase the book. Her refusal to purchase the book can be explained by any of the following:
- She was indeed waiting for more reviews before deciding whether to purchase the book.
- She genuinely felt the library’s money would best be spent elsewhere.
- She disliked spending money under many circumstances, and this simply was one opportunity to hoard library funds. The reported budget surplus of $28,800 in 1952 as well as anecdotal reports that suggest that Miss Farr consistently desired to have surplus funds at the end of a budget year support this speculation.
- She was fully aware of the critical nature of the book and consciously chose to keep it out of the library collection. There is no hard evidence to support this hypothesis, but it is possible that she privately supported Senator McCarthy and perhaps considered this a way to contribute her support. During the previous year, she had invited Ralph Ulveling, director of the Detroit Public Library, to conduct an evaluation of the services provided by MPL. Ulveling was known throughout the American Library Association as a militant opponent to the "menace of communism" and a strong proponent of restricting the availability of subversive books. He believed that in such times of ideological warfare, free access to library materials was not a privilege to be extended to all general readers. Librarians should guide patrons in "right thinking" and readers should be protected from their own poor choices. At his Detroit Public Library, informational books on communism were not available at library branches and only accessible in Reference-research services rather than part of the general collection. It is quite possible that Farr was sympathetic to Ulveling's anti-communism and/or his position that the responsibility of the librarian to provide only the "best" reading for patrons superceded the notion that the choice of materials should be reserved for the patron.
- She understood the controversial nature of the book and refused to purchase it to avoid controversy (although of course the opposite occurred). In the climate of hysteria in the early 1950s, librarians were vulnerable targets. As Chairman of the Permanent Investigations Sub-Committee of a Senate Committee on Government Operations, Senator McCarthy investigated the State Department's information program, its Voice of America, and its overseas libraries, which included books by people McCarthy considered Communists. The State Department removed forty books from its library centers across the world. In March 1950 Elizabeth Haas of the Enoch Pratt Free Library (Baltimore, Maryland) was fired for refusing to take a loyalty oath. In July, Ruth Brown, librarian at the Bartlesville, Oklahoma Library for thirty years, was ostensibly fired because she was accused of purchasing subversive periodicals like The Nation and The New Republic. In her book The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown, Louise Robbins contends that Ruth Brown actually was fired because she had become active in promoting racial equality and helped form a group affiliated with the Congress of Racial Equality. The fear of communism and the outrages to civil liberties produced by that fear understandably caused librarians to be prudent about book selections.
The Cold War and The Madison Free Library Collide: Offer of Free Subscription to "Red Magazine" Creates a Stir
In May 1961, a man named James Ingelbritsen offered the library a subscription to the Soviet embassy's monthly magazine USSR. The magazine was an English language magazine similar to Life magazine. It was published by the Soviet embassy in Washington in exchange for the right of the American embassy in Moscow to put out the magazine Amerika. The offer sparked a flurry of dissension at a library board meeting as the fear of the "red menace" flickered: "I don't think our library needs to be the medium which circulates their (Soviet) propaganda," objected board member N.J. Frey.
Bernard Schwab, library director, said the magazine is "an attempt on the part of the Russians to build in our minds a favorable image of the Soviet Union. I strongly object to Communist material that is camouflaged, but this publication makes no bones about being a Soviet publication." He and the Reverend Robert W. Towner, board president, urged acceptance of the gift. The board decided to postpone making a decision until the next meeting so that they could have a chance to study the magazine.
One month later, the board unanimously accepted the gift of USSR. Philip H. Falk, library board member and superintendent of schools explained, "When you read some of the tortured arguments they (Soviet writers) use, it's hard to believe it (the magazine) would have much propaganda effect here."
Bernard Schwab and Philip Falk evidently were able to persuade the library board to add USSR to the library collection because it was so clearly propagandistic.
I wonder how different the discussions might have been had USSR published Communist material that was more subtly "camouflaged" and well written.
Censorship controversies traveled complicated routes in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After the death of Stalin during the Khrushchev period when the Kremlin eased its censorship policy in 1953, author Boris Pasternak began writing Doctor Zhivago. He had been silent during the Stalinist period, which had "muted creative individualism and exacted conformity to party dictates from all writers." Upon submitting it to the State Publishing House and receiving a positive reaction, Pasternak sent a copy to Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, who subsequently published it. When Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1958, he was forced to refuse the award because the State Publishing House had reevaluated and condemned the book; its "cumulative effect casts doubt on the validity of the Bolshevik Revolution which it depicts as if it were the great crime in Russian history."
"If Mein Kampf and Das Kapital have Places on Our Library Shelves, Why Not Let's Get Well or Let’s Eat to Keep Fit by Adele Davis?"
"This book would have been too depressing to write were it not that nutritional research, like a modern star of Bethlehem, brings hope that sickness need not be a part of life." Adele Davis, Let's Get Well
On September 25, 1966, nutritionist and author Adele Davis spoke in Madison to the Natural Foods Association Convention at the Lorraine Hotel. The headlines of the Capital Times provided great fanfare for her visit in their September 22 edition: "'Banned' Nutritionist to Speak: City Librarians Term Her Works Frightening"
Adele Davis was considered the first "health authority" among modern food faddists who had any formal professional background. She was trained in dietetics and nutrition at the University of California at Berkeley and received a M.S. degree in biochemistry from the University of Southern California. She advocated taking large doses of vitamin supplements and adopting high protein diets to heal a variety of ailments. At the time of her visit to Madison, many libraries in the United States, including the Madison Public Library banned her books.
Critics contended that she promoted hundreds of nutritional theories and tidbits that were unfounded. Mabel Fischer, Fort Worth Public Library librarian, commenting on Davis' book Let’s Get Well explained, "…Purports to be a documented study of therapeutic effects of proper nutrition-especially in stress situations-but is actually full of author’s conclusive statements which are only half or less of the truth…. The Foreword contains a physician's warning against the reader's self-diagnosis. But public librarians should remember people’s propensity for self-diagnosis and treatment."
At the 1969 White House Conference on Food and Nutrition, the panel on deception and misinformation agreed that Davis was probably the most damaging source of false nutrition information in the nation. They contended that she quoted hundreds of studies to support her theories, but the experts cited in the book said that they had been misquoted or taken out of context.
Around the time of her Madison engagement, the Capital Times reported:
"Association members have been deluging city librarians with requests to place books by Miss Davis on shelves at the Madison Public Library, to no avail. Librarians have been pressured during private visits by association spokesmen to back down on the ban, but librarians defend their position by producing written testimony by University of Wisconsin and other dietary experts who call her works 'frightening.'"
Orrilla Blackshear, associate director of the library, claimed the ban was "not a case of censorship." She told the Capital Times, "We must be guided by the authorities in books about public health. Critiques of the Davis books show that no-one believes the author's motivation are 'bad.'It's her interpretation of the facts that makes it difficult for us to carry her books." The Wisconsin Dietetic Association added fuel to the anti-Davis fire by claiming the author makes "frightening uses of legitimate studies."
Natural Food Association member Joseph Zapata, operator of Vital Foods, Inc., 120 E. Washington Ave., however, told The Capital Times her books should be made available to the public: "I'm not interested in whether the city librarians and 'experts' agree or disagree with Miss Davis. We want to be able to read the books and be able to make up our minds ourselves."
A letter to the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal published on October 4, 1966, reflects the intensity of displeasure the ban produced among pro-Davis advocates:
"Sirs: On Sunday, Sept.25, Mrs. Adele Davis spoke to the Natural Foods members and their friends, in The Lorraine Hotel. …her books are banned in Madison libraries and the many who know her and have read her books are dumbfounded by this action. To our knowledge, this is the only place in the country where her books are censored.
If Mein Kampf and Das Kapital have places on our library shelves, why not Let's Get Well or Let’s Eat to Keep Fit by Adele Davis? Is the medical profession so strong that they dominate our library policies?
Someone owes the people of this state an adequate answer as to why her books are banned since it does affect one of our vital freedoms." — Fred Dahir, Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin
The controversy over the purchase of a popular do-it-yourself health book such as Let's Get Well was not unique to the Madison Public Library. In the 1960s, librarians throughout the United States grappled with the dilemma over purchasing books they felt to be medically questionable but were highly requested by patrons. The question of medical competence disturbed many librarians, and they often were in a quandary when it came to popular do-it-yourself health books. The most well known fad diet book of this ilk was gynecologist Herman Taller’s 1962 best-selling book Calories Don't Count. Taller advocated a high fat diet (65% of calories) for those who wanted to lose weight. He recommended consuming at least a pound of meat per day and limiting carbohydrates to only 5% of calories. Although the book sold two million copies and was the best-selling hardcover, nonfiction book in 1962, 20% of the libraries surveyed by researcher Dorothy Broderick refused to purchase this book. In 1967, Taller was convicted of conspiracy, mail fraud, and food and drug law violations for Calories Don't Count.
"We Don't Want Just A Bland Collection of Bobbsey Twin Books:" The 1970s Take Over Censorship Controversy
On April 1, 1969, William D. Dyke, an articulate political conservative, was elected mayor of Madison. During the next three years, he would appoint three new Library Board members per year, thus reshaping the board to support his more conservative philosophies.
Mayor Dyke's desire to impose his beliefs upon the library first appeared publicly in 1970. On February 11, Mayor Dyke devoted his weekly news conference to the subject of obscenity. He announced a two-pronged effort at removing alleged obscenity and pornography from Madison’s "go-go" bars and the Public Library. He announced his plans to prosecute "go-go" bars in the city and proclaimed his attention had been called to a book and a magazine in the Public Library in which he had found the content to be "objectionable" material. Dyke did not name the magazine in question, saying that would increase its sale value on newsstands. He believed the library should "clean up our house" along with the bars. The Mayor called for censorship of materials and called upon the Library Board to review its selection policies.
When reporters interviewed Bernard Schwab, director of the library, he stated his conviction that no censorship of materials was in order. "We don't have anything anywhere here that is obscene or prurient under the United States Supreme Court definition." Schwab added that "Content is evaluated as a whole. Material should not be excluded because a particular section may be offensive to some individuals. We oppose efforts by individuals and groups to limit the freedom of choice of others or to impose their standards or tastes upon the community at large."
Both newspapers rallied firmly to the Library's defense. The Capital Times editorial on February 13 explained, " If Mayor Dyke wants to launch an attack on pornography, he can count on our support. If he wants to begin looking for it in the city library system, he won't get any help from us….There is no doubt that pornography, and some of it the hard core variety, is being peddled in Madison, but it isn’t in the city library. If Mayor Dyke will consult some of his own police, they will tell them as they have told us exactly where it can be purchased."
The obscenity tangle proved to be a short-lived skirmish, and in the ensuing months, the Board obliged the Mayor by doing a thorough review of selection policies. The Board determined that its basic philosophy must be consistent with two guidelines published by the American Library Association, The Library Bill of Rights and The Freedom to Read Statement,and approved a motion adopting these for use in formulating the materials selection policy.
Mayor Dyke next battled with the library over a resolution the library board passed on October 13, 1970, stipulating that the library "declines access to circulation records by any governmental agency for the purpose of ascertaining who has been using specific titles or types of materials." The decision to decline access to the library files came in the wake of reports during the spring of 1970 that the Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department’s Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division had demanded to see the circulation records of libraries in Milwaukee, Cleveland, San Francisco, and several other cities. They wanted to gather, they said, names of people who had checked out books on the manufacture of explosives. The library decision also occurred at a time when the perpetrators were still being sought for the August 24, 1970, bombing of the Army Math Research Center in Sterling Hall at UW-Madison.
On February 3, 1971, Mayor Dyke raised objections to restricting the access of law enforcement officials to records of a tax-supported institution. He believed this policy could hinder police in the enforcement of law-and-order programs. The following day, both newspapers came out in support of the library's policy. The Wisconsin State Journal defended the library explaining,
"We think Mayor Dyke has been overzealous in questioning whether the board has the right to restrict anyone, including law enforcement officials, from unlimited access to circulation records.
This still is not 1984, and we do not want Big Brother looking over our shoulder.
If the mayor, or anyone else, wants to know what we read, we might, or might not, disclose the information. Frankly, that is none of his, or their, business. The freedom to read what one wants should not be clouded with such snooping, however 'official' it pretends to be."
The Capital Times editorial on February 4 echoed these sentiments: "Madison has a right to be proud of its public library system. But the best way to insure that we'll have empty library buildings is to let Dyke censor the books we can read or allow the police to snoop around the circulation records."
In July 1972, Mayor Dyke appointed his final three Library Board members, thereby giving him a clear majority on the board. Major business on the August meeting’s agenda was to take action on a Library System, a single county system or a multi-county system, in which MPL would serve as the resource center. Before this issue came up, however, Board secretary-treasurer Mrs. Maureen Rideout had checked over the bills for payment and had singled out one of which she did not approve. This was a subscription to Take Over, a local underground newspaper of anti-establishment views.
Mr. Schwab provided the rationale for subscribing to Take Over. He explained that although the staff might well share Mrs. Rideout's distaste for some of the paper’s contents, they felt that as a local representative of a contemporary trend, it ought to be owned by the library. He went on to state that if a publication is controversial, that is one reason that it should be included in a complete spectrum of materials. "We don't want just a bland collection of Bobbsey Twin books," he contended. Take Over was not on the open shelves but was available on request at the Literature and Social Sciences desk. Furthermore, he pointed out that the decision in this matter was a staff decision, according to the Book Selection Policy. He also explained that the Board's role was not to select titles, that the major duty of the Board is policy-making and that never in the past had the Board questioned a title picked out by a Librarian under the Book Selection guidelines set up in 1970.
Board member Paul DuVair rose to exclaim that the Board "doesn't like being pushed around. The Board has the right to accept or reject anything that is put before it." He went on to state that he felt the Board has a responsibility for "taking care of the public," and that if the Board was too conservative that is probably the mood of the community. "We don’t like being told what we can and cannot do."
Alderwoman and Board member Alicia Ashman stated that she felt it was the duty of the Library to provide materials from all points of view, from extreme right to extreme left. Board member Florence Raemisch remarked that she felt this publication was too extreme. Board member Rideout moved for a No vote on paying the Take Over bill. Her motion was carried with six Noes, one Aye from Alicia Ashman.
Ashman later told newspapers that she was "appalled and aghast at the whole thing. The board was assuming we're going to get this community straightened out."
At the same board meeting, the Board voted to reject Madison's participation in a single or multi-county library system. The Board rejected the proposal on the basis of insufficient information on costs and on the effects upon Madison Public Library resources. Paul DuVair said he had opposed joining the federation because he had not been given enough information on what the program would cost Madison. It was felt that the Main Library might need to be expanded earlier than would otherwise be the case, and that the Madison taxpayer might have to bear an undue share of the high cost. Also, the representation formula for members of the systems board was considered inadequate.
Advocates of the library system from Dane and adjoining counties knew it to be a major setback for their plans, and a great many people recognized that while the Take Over veto and the rejection of systems seemed to be two quite unrelated actions, their occurrence on the same evening was no coincidence. They felt that the board was blockading their desire to help form a single or multi-county library system to punish the library for carrying a controversial newspaper like Take Over.
In the months following the August board meeting, many Madisonians expressed their disapproval with the board's decision to reject subscribing to Take Over. The September 11, 1972, edition of the Capital Times reported that a group of 176 professional librarians and Madison residents had gone on record in favor of selecting materials representing all viewpoints. In a letter to the Capital Times, the group rejected the Library Board's involvement in book selection:
"No one person, or group of people, supports every point of view presented in the material collected in a public library. The viewpoints and reading interests of people in a city with the size and cultural diversity of Madison are understandably various. So, when a public library presents all of these points of view, people will be found to disagree with any one of them. It does not follow that any materials with which someone disagrees should be denied others."
Those signing the letter included personnel from the Madison Public Library, Dane County Library service, the branches from the University of Wisconsin Library, the UW Library School, the UW Library School Faculty, the Madison Area Library Council, Madison Area Technical College, Edgewood College, Edgewood High School, Madison Memorial, West and East High Schools, Orchard Ridge School, Mendota State Hospital, Wisconsin State Division for Library Services, the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, and the central administration of Madison Public Schools.
The September 14, 1972, Board meeting included a discussion about a letter from the staff of Take Over regarding the Board action of August 10. Charging that "political censorship" was behind the Library Board’s recent decision not to fund subscriptions to the publication, Take Over staffers said in a letter to Bernard Schwab that they would offer free subscriptions of Take Over to the central library and its branches. Alicia Ashman moved that the Board accept these issues and put them in historical archives arguing that such materials are potentially useful as historical documents and reference. The motion failed.
The December 12, 1972, edition of the Capital Times reported on a radio sermon by Unitarian minister Reverend Max Gaebler in which he cautioned against library censorship: "…the freedom to hear and read the ideas of others is as important as the freedom to speak and publish," Gaebler said.
In a sermon entitled "The Right to Read," Gaebler warned against the form of censorship that can occur when a group of people decides what other people ought to hear or read:
"The absence of official boards of censors does not mean that censorship is indeed non-existent in any community. There are more subtle, and some not so subtle, forms of pressure which can result in serious limitations on what the people of any community are able to hear or to read, and this without the intervention of the police censors who not so many years ago banned books in Boston and movies in Chicago."
He also took the Madison Library Board to task for rejecting the offer of a gift subscription to the underground newspaper Take Over, earlier in the year:
"While our Public Library cannot and should not aspire to become a major research library, it does have an obligation to collect and retain as complete a file as possible of material published in the Madison area. No mater how ephemeral such a publication as Take Over, no matter how repugnant any or all individual members of the Library Board or staff may find its contents, it ought to find space in our library archives as the one place any person seeking some day to study such phenomena might first and most appropriately look to find it."
In April 1973 William Dyke lost his bid for a third term and Paul Soglin was elected Mayor of Madison. When Soglin appointed three new Library Board members in July, the adversarial relationship between the board and the library staff began to thaw. At the January 24, 1974, Library Board meeting, David Lavine of the Take Over staff appeared before the Board to request that it reconsider its earlier decision and re-subscribe to Take Over, making it available throughout the city. He said that circumstances had changed since the paper’s removal from the collection in 1972. Claiming that the publication represented a "sizable opinion in Madison now," Lavine asked that the board "not keep its head buried in the sand." The request was referred to the Board Book Selection Committee and the library staff to bring their recommendations back to the Board.
In March 1974 after a series of motions and substitutes on amendments, the Board voted to subscribe to Take Over. Take Over was to be restricted to adults only, and stored in the main library's basement archives. Two clergymen, the Reverends Warren Heckman and Richard Pritchard spoke in opposition. Bernard Schwab, library director, echoed David Lavine’s rationale for subscribing to Take Over: "I don't think anyone can fail to realize the movement represented by Take Over represents a sizable portion of our community. Attempts to impose restrictions may pose far greater dangers. There's no such thing as a little censorship."
The majority opinion was summed up by board member Alicia Ashman, who called the publication "in very poor taste, in lousy taste sometimes; but a library must present a range of opinions, and since it's available in the community, we should have a depository for it in the library."
In the fall of 1974, the Library Board also approved Madison Public Library's participation in the South Central Library System, which began operating on January 1, 1975.
It is ironic that Max Gaebler took the Library Board to task for failing to accept the gift subscription to Take Over. In 1953, during a controversy in which the public library refused to purchase a book critical of Senator Joseph McCarthy "McCarthy, The Man, The Senator, The Ism," it was Max Gaebler’s offer to give that book to the library as a gift which was rejected by the Library Board. It also is ironic that the contention that Take Over should be a part of the library collection because of the public's rightful access to controversial materials was exactly the same argument rejected by the library in the Adele Davis books dispute in 1966.
In 2000, back issues of Take Over can be reviewed by requesting them from the MPL archives. Upon examining issues of Take Over from approximately 1971 to1975, it is striking how little coverage the newspaper published concerning its skirmishes with MPL. One headline and one full article represent the entirety of the attention Take Over devoted to the controversy. The September 20, 1972, issue had the front page headline
"TAKE OVER BANNED IN LIBRARY" with no accompanying article. The April 10th, 1974, edition of Take Over reported on the Library Board’s compromise of bestowing upon the newspaper an "X-rating," thereby restoring it to the library collection, but "relegating it to the basement archives. See no evil. Hear no evil." The article was written by "Pavlov's Dogs."
Take Over is strikingly similar to the current newspaper The Onion, although markedly more political. Take Over headlines included,
"Thousands Lead Normal Lives"
Paul Soglin was one of the greatest visionaries of all of Madison's mayors. His creativity and ingenuity touched all aspects of Madison life including, of course, the library. He made one of his lesser-known contributions to the Madison public with an idea he suggested to the library in 1977. During that year, the Madison Public Library adopted Mayor Soglin's idea of having tool kits for loan: household, plumbing, electrical, and heating and cooling, each accompanied by a how-to-do-it repair book. Soglin thought that easy access to tools would help homeowners and renters maintain their properties. However, the experiment was short-lived because the library could not offer power tools for loan due to problems related to liability and the maintenance of such tools.
Careful About Vaudevilles! The Controversial Proposal to Open a Vaudeville House Next to the Madison Free Library
In January 1906, the Madison Free Library opened its new Carnegie-funded library at the corner of Carroll Street and Dayton Street. In the month preceding the library's opening, a controversy developed over a proposal to operate a vaudeville theater near the new library.
In December 1905, Professor F.W. Kehl applied for a license to operate a vaudeville theater on West Dayton Street, near the location of the new public library. Considerable public opposition to the proposed theater immediately emerged. The City's Committee on License held a public meeting to hear arguments on the matter.
T.C. Richmond represented Professor Kehl and claimed that "the presence of an ordinary playhouse in that locality would operate to prejudice no property interests nearby, and that no crowd of boys would congregate on the walks in front of it to discommode women and children who might want to pass there on the way to the public library."
Dr. Edward A. Birge, Library Board member, spoke against the proposal:
"It is inevitable that a crowd will collect in front of a theater about the opening time and often this crowd is somewhat unruly and noisy. The theater with afternoon and night performances means a congested condition for public walks on one side of the library for a considerable time each day. This would greatly interfere with the general use of the building in which the city has made so large an investment. What we want is to encourage all our people to use the library day and night, not place obstructions in their way."
When it came to a vote on the proposal, two aldermen voted against granting the license and two voted for referring the whole business back to the council without recommendation. No action could be had with a split committee, so the matter was sent to the full council.
The Madison Democrat was particularly vehement into its opposition to the vaudeville house as the following excerpts indicate:
December 15, 1905 "Vaudeville and Library"
"What, a noisy vaudeville house next to the Carnegie library! This is a most unhappy proposal, and should never be consummated. Professor Kehl, mindful of the advisability of enjoying public favor, should not press such a project. There are other sites, just as good, that may be had. Let not the quietude of our noble library be threatened for all time by the proximity of a playhouse whence the clangor of orchestras and the roistering song of "operatic artist" or negro minstrel may come to distract the helpless readers nearby."
February 9, 1906 "Vaudeville and Library"
"Careful about vaudevilles! They never have been, never will be, never can be desirable adjuncts to libraries. They form counter-attractions of invidious, injurious character. They fit, if at all, in another connection, a different relationship. Boys bound for a library, whose aim is pure, elevating, instructive, may easily, naturally, be drawn aside by the cheap and not usually uplifting attractions of a playhouse placed alluringly in their pathway.
In Madison the library is located presumably for all time. Not so the vaudeville which seeks a neighborly association with it. That institution may readily be established elsewhere-and it should be!"
Evidently, public pressure or a coincidental change of heart by property owner Mrs. E. A. Davis, 116 Doty Street, closed the curtain on the vaudeville project altogether. On February 10 she announced that she would not build nor permit the building of a vaudeville theater near the new city library. She said that she took this course because of the harm she felt such a building would do to the interests of other near property owners as well as her own.
In the mid-1800s, concert saloons in the United States flourished on the margins of polite society. Waitresses in fancy costumes flitted up and down the aisles between merrily boisterous male customers. A brass band and piano might pump out a lively Irish jig. Such concert saloons were ancestors of the vaudeville theater.
Vaudeville came to refer a stage entertainment made up of several individual "acts" or presentations by a single entertainer or group of entertainers such as acrobats, family acts, jugglers, magicians, comedians, trained animals, etc. The word "vaudeville" originally was a French term, referring to a type of satirical or humorous drinking song from the valley of Vire : voix de ville, or "voice of the city."
At the turn-of-the-twentieth century, entrepreneurs sought to make vaudeville more tasteful for middle-class women, men, and their families by removing the smoky, boozy, licentious male atmosphere that had been the trademark of this type of entertainment. The 1906 controversy in Madison occurred in the midst of this attempt to make vaudeville more palatable to the genteel code of behavior characteristic of the middle-class identity of the times. The following sign that appeared in a vaudeville house in 1899 is indicative of this transformation:
A Chain Across the Reference Room Door
In 1912, the principal of the Madison High School, Mr. Thomas Lloyd-Jones (a distant cousin of Frank Lloyd Wright) studied the school library situation in the United States and reported in favor of operating school libraries managed by public libraries. In pursuance of that plan, the board of education asked the library board to establish a library in Madison High School (currently the building on Carroll Street housing Madison Area Technical College). The board of education agreed to equip the room and assume the maintenance costs. The library board agreed to employ the librarian, purchase books in cooperation with teachers' suggestions, and meet expenses incidental to the running of such a library.
The first library room was an adapted large recitation room. The library began as strictly a reference room, whose books were primarily copies of standard works, plus a few course-related specialties. Eventually a reading room was added to the reference room. All reference work in which an entire classroom, or a large proportion of it, participated was done in the high school library. "Topic work," work with periodicals, and work calling for a wide range of books and pamphlets was done in the public library.
In 1913, the high school librarian was accused of refusing to permit high school students to use the reference room by ordering them to leave when they asked for this privilege. She also was accused of forbidding the high school students the use of the library by placing a chain across the door to the reference room. The accused librarian indignantly denied the allegation. She explained that if any student was deprived of the use of the reference room, it was because of misbehavior or something of that kind, and the reason given for closing the direct door was that it prevented the "purloining of books from the reference room." She also rationalized closing the door on the grounds that it would prevent truancy on the part of the students in the high school.
When library board member Henry M. Lewis heard about this incident, he was appalled. He introduced a resolution to the library board that quickly was adopted to "liberate" the high school library, which stated, "That the librarian be and is hereby instructed to remove the chain and all obstructions from the door of the reference room in the library building so as to give free access from the main library into said reference room."
He also made a complicated motion that the board of directors of the library not pay the salary of the librarian in the reference library in the high school as of July 1, 1913, that this reference room be opened to all pupils in the schools of Madison, and that it be opened to the general public instead solely for the use of the high school students. The introduction of this motion caused an uproar from the library board, resulting in the appointment of a committee assigned the task of evaluating the library program in the high school. The committee's subsequent report affirmed the value of the school library in unequivocal terms. Mr. Lewis' motion was soundly defeated, and the school library continued to function as a branch of the Madison Free Library until 1953.
NOTE: The Madison High School librarian's reasons for discouraging high school students from using the reference room are unclear. She claimed to have locked the door of the reference room to prevent theft, but Henry Lewis found this excuse ridiculous since "everyone in the reference room is within sight and observation of the librarians at the desk and those passing out could be observed as well as those in the general reading room."
When she contended that the room was locked to prevent truancy, Henry Lewis ascribed this to be a "puerile excuse coming from any well regulated school." Does this mean that she feared students would hide in the reference room instead of attend their classes?
The committee report never specifically addressed the allegation concerning the chain across the reference room. Henry Lewis argued that "the report of the committee was bald as to any light on this subject." However, it appeared that a statement was made on the part of the board of education that they proposed to establish a reference library of their own in the high school. Mr. Lewis speculated that "if the students in the high school were receiving adequate treatment in the library, why did the board of education desire to expend the money for another library when the public library was so near it? There was every reason to suppose it was because the pupils of the high school had been debarred from the privileges of the reference room."
Mr. Lewis further contended that this threat by the board of education to open their own library terrified the library committee into overzealously defending the status quo at the expense of objectivity:
"When the board of education proposed to establish a library of their own, it so frightened the library board that it fairly froze the marrow in their bones and made each individual hair stand on end like the quills of the fretful porcupine."
Radio Contest Fans Swamp Librarians with Requests for Answers
In May 1949, the radio music contest craze swept the nation. "Stop the Music," "Sing It Again," "Truth or Consequence," and several local programs challenged listeners to identify the latest "mystery tune." Librarians, in turn, were quickly swamped with requests from contest fans for assistance answering the contest questions.
"It's enough to drive you to distraction," exclaimed Evelyn Miller, music librarian at the Madison Free Library. "We could devote all our time to answering questions about these contests."
Library service in Madison for contest fans, she warned, is not complete:
"We do not give out clues. We explain to people that they can come in and use the facilities of the library if they want to. And we will help people help themselves in trying to find out the answers. We figure it's our duty to help people know how to use the library. Some libraries refuse to help at all if they find out the patron is trying to get information on a music contest."
Evidently, patrons were not entirely satisfied with this policy, for a letter to the Capital Times on February 3, 1950, complained about the library’s refusal to supply contest answers, arguing that "libraries are set up by the people for the express purpose of enlightenment of the people."
Miss Helen Farr, City Librarian, responded to this criticism in an interview with the Capital Times on February 9, 1950:
"…Those who ask for answers to contest questions are not seeking enlightenment, they are looking for prizes. Librarians have no objections to prizes, but they are hired to provide 'enlightenment.'…It is hard for the inquirer to realize that hundreds of others call the library, as he does, each time a new question or contest is released. The resources of the reference library are available to those who wish to come to the library to look up their answers, but contest questions will not be answered over the telephone."
The Capital Times strongly endorsed Miss Farr's policy in an open letter addressed to her on February 11, 1950:
"We find ourselves in hearty agreement with the city library's refusal to supply answers to quiz questions on radio shows…. Certainly, fair-minded people will agree that to impose such duties on members of the already busy library staff would be an excessive burden and would result in the neglect of other essential work. This would not be fair to those people who use the library for the purpose of 'enlightenment.'
The library facilities are available to all. Those who want to win prizes are free to go to the library and do their own research. They should not ask for more than that."