Back to top

Chapter 9: Outreach: "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand"

"Instead of going to Paris to attend lectures, go to the public library, and you won’t come out for twenty years, if you really wish to learn." - Leo Tolstoy, author

In celebration of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Madison Public Library, the library displayed an exhibit of historical photographs and stories. A sign accompanying the exhibit summarized the accomplishments of MPL proclaiming "125 Years of Service to Madison."

Outreach efforts have been an ongoing, aggressive means for the Madison Public Library to provide the best service possible. Activities and events have been planned within the library to attract patrons and they've been extended into the community to meet the needs of underserved populations. Art exhibits, book displays, film festivals, computer literacy classes, public lectures, tool lending kits, and celebrations are but a few of the many vehicles MPL has employed to make the library more appealing to the public. Library staff also has made concerted efforts to go into the community and provide services to those patrons unable or unlikely to avail themselves of library services in such locales as hospitals, neighborhood centers, senior centers, and the residences of the homebound. Radio, television, newspapers, computers, bookmobiles, and even marching bands have been employed to get the message out that the library is ready and willing to serve Madison whenever and wherever possible.

The stories that follow reflect the determination of MPL staff to best serve their patrons. The first group of stories depicts efforts to bring patrons into the library. The lectures and debates in the early 1900s were the first systematic attempt MFL staff undertook to reach a specific population. The Social Hygiene Day story is representative of MPL's ongoing commitment to provide public education, with an implicit recognition that well-presented information is likely to attract patrons. The selection on Esther Hianny describes the variety of approaches employed by the first MPL staff member whose specific task was to promote the services of the library. The Marching Band story is characteristic of the creative avenues MPL staff has pursued in order to entice patrons into the library. The fruits of all of these multifaceted outreach efforts are evident, in part, through the diversity of people who use the library, as demonstrated in the description of the results from the 1940 survey of new borrowers.

The second collection of stories exemplify MPL efforts to bring the library out into the community. The tale of librarians aiding hospital patients describes the library's commitment to provide services to some of Madison's neediest citizens. The article on collaborative efforts with labor unions describes one of the many partnerships MPL has forged to serve a population seeking library resources. The Lakeview librarians' selection shows how one library branch extended itself out to several special populations in the community, both as part of the library’s outreach efforts and on a voluntary basis. The story on "Using the Radio to Promote the Library Across the Airwaves" offers an examination of how the library used one of the electronic media to promote the library. Finally, the stories on Charles Hathaway and the gifts donated to the library reveal, in part, the successful results of the outreach efforts. That is, these presents were donated to the library as an expression of gratitude for the its services.

Lecture Series Gives Delight to Staid Business Men and Lounging Boys; Women Promised "A Square Deal" Too

During the winter of 1906, the Madison Free Library initiated a campaign to attract more patrons to the library. On an experimental basis, the library offered a free lecture series on Sundays. The lecture series proved to be surprisingly popular. The first was given in November to an audience of seventy-five people. In January the interest had grown sufficiently to warrant offering three series of weekly lectures.

In an article published in February 1907 in the Library Bulletin, Madison Free Library Board Member Frank Hutchins described the different lecture series as follows: "At 3:00 p.m., an illustrated lecture on some subject is presented. Japan, Holland and Belgium, snowflakes, forestry, air-ships, the French and the Indians were among the topics given and have been giving delight to workmen, clerks, students, staid business men and lounging boys.

The second Sunday lecture, at 4:00 p.m. is intended for mechanics or persons interested in some subject that demands serious study. An hour’s talk on the mechanism, the care and use, of gasoline engines was heard by more than one hundred eager, earnest men who not only listened intently but asked questions, and many remained after the lecture to discuss intricate points and to enquire about books that could be consulted and studied on gasoline engines and related subjects. The prevention and cure of tuberculosis, wireless telephones, the dangers in our milk supply are others of the practical subjects treated.

The third series of lectures comes Tuesday evenings and is especially intended for people managing shops, stores, or factories. These lectures are generally illustrated and include presentations of the latest time-saving devices, methods of filing, adding machines and kindred devices, the loose-leaf-ledger system, accounting, computing cost in production of factories, advertising and salesmanship. They have proved a great help to ambitious young people and are eagerly anticipated by a class of young men and women who had felt somewhat helpless before great opportunities."


In November 1907, the Madison Free Library Board again announced that a series of Sunday lectures would be offered during the winter in the auditorium of the city library. The particular intent of this series was to attract Madison workingmen to the library. This desire to lure workers into the library was characteristic of the belief held by many Progressive Era librarians that the library had the responsibility and power to eradicate the "ignorance" of the working classes and transform them into intelligent citizens. The Madison Democrat reported that

"…special committees are now at work among the employees at several manufacturing institutions, talking to them of the benefits to be derived from the compact lessons taught by the lecturers. These committees will watch all the announcements of lectures and will learn enough in advance of the talks to be able to tell their fellow workers what they may expect, and whether to attend is the wisest thing to do on certain Sunday afternoons. This will do away with the disappointment which attends the gathering of a certain class of men in a lecture room when a subject uninteresting to them is presented. The committees will act as advance guards."

Lest the library board be guilty of neglecting female patrons, the all-male board promised to give women a "square deal" too. The board announced its intention to provide women with special lectures "to be given during the hour their husbands are listening to the talk on some subject in which they are interested. Some subject dealing with household management and household economy will be taken up by one who understands, and opportunities for asking questions will be given. The library board does not intend to devote all its time to providing instruction and pleasure for men alone."

The topics for the entire 1906-1907 lecture series are presented below as well as several lecture topics from the years 1908 to1914:

1906-1907 Winter Lecture Series Topics

"Elements of Success in Business"
"Debating Societies and How to Organize Them: Best Methods to Study Public Questions"
"Snow Flakes"
"Flying Machines, Old and New"
"Tuberculosis, Its Prevention and Cure"
"Early French Explorers and Their Relations with Indians"
"Gas and Gasoline Engines"
"Holland and Belgium"
"The Moon"
"Hurricanes and Tornadoes; Weather Forecasts"
"Coal Mines"
"Old Times on the Mississippi"
"Draining on Marsh Land"
"Care of the Home Lot for Pleasure and Profit"
"Curiosities and Follies of Fashion"

Tuesday Evening Lectures

"Modern Practice in Accounting"
"Cost of Production, and Factory Accounting"
"Wall Street and the Nation"

A Sampling of Lecture Topics From 1908 to 1914

"Forgeries: The Secrets of Notable Counterfeits"
"The Fireless Cooker"
"Old Indian Legends"
"Discovery of America by the Norsemen"
"Employment for Girls"
"Wisconsin's Campaign Against Tuberculosis"
"The Development of Marriage"
"Gasoline Engine Troubles"
"Collecting Rubber on the Amazon"
"Impressions of Inner China"
"Highways and By-Ways of the South"
"In the Land of the Moors"
"Paper Bag Cooking
"The Hetch-Hetchy Valley"
"The Balkan Situation"
"A Stroll along the Milky Way"
"Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde"
"Care of the Furnace"
"Health Before All Else"
"Madison Garden Plans for 1914"


Library Attempts to "Raise the Madison Standard of Intelligence"




As part of an outreach campaign begun during the winter of 1906-07, the Madison Free Library held a series of weekly debates in the library's auditorium. The first debate pitted contestants from the University of Wisconsin-Madison against a University of Minnesota team, and a second UW team debated a team from the University of Illinois. The debate subject was "Should there be federal control of railways?" The Wisconsin State Journal promised that this would be "one of those old fashioned kinds of debates and it is expected that some hot arguments will be indulged in by both sides. The discussion of this question opens a wide field of the knowledge every voter should possess." Planned topics for subsequent debates included "the income tax, municipal ownership, taxation, and other subjects of the greatest possible value to those who aim to keep posted on current thought."

The series was instituted as part of the library board's desire to make the library more of an educational center. They wanted to make it a "peoples college, a place where knowledge may be obtained by those who were unable to attend school when young."

The board felt that "it is chiefly due to ignorance that our cities are not better managed, and they hope through the knowledge which the debates and lectures will disseminate to raise the Madison standard of intelligence."

The board encouraged people to ask questions both when attending the debates and the lecture series that also were being offered. "The more questions asked, the greater will be the educational success of the gatherings. It is desired that no one feels backward about speaking, and that the utmost freedom prevails."

One of the most famous debates in the history of the United States took place a mere fifty miles from Madison in 1858. On August 27 in Freeport, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held the second of their seven debates during the 1858 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. Douglas, a Democrat, was the incumbent Senator, having been elected in 1847. Lincoln was a relative unknown at the beginning of the debates.

The Freeport debate focused on the morality of slavery. Lincoln asked Douglas whether the people of a territory could lawfully exclude slavery before the formation of a state constitution. Douglas replied that slavery could be excluded from a territory if the people refused to enact the necessary local laws for its protection. This opinion became known as the Freeport Doctrine. It subsequently cost Douglas much of his support among Southern Democrats. Although Lincoln would lose the Senate race, he would defeat Douglas in the 1860 race for the U.S. presidency.

Social Hygiene Education at the Library in the 1930s & 1940s: "Ten Million Americans Have It"

On February 2, 1938, and in several subsequent years, the Madison Free Library observed Social Hygiene Day. Sponsored by the American Social Hygiene Association, one of the specific objectives of the day was the promotion of public education on the diseases of syphilis and gonorrhea. The library displayed an exhibition of "some recent books published by doctors in terms not too technical for the laymen." The books on display included:

Syphilis, the Next Great Plague to Go? By Morris Fishbein
Ten Million Americans Have It by S.W. Becker
Plain Words About Venereal Disease by Thomas Parran

In 1944, Helen Farr, city librarian, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the Madison Free Library was still playing a part in the social hygiene educational program: "The time when people showed embarrassment at asking for books on marriage, pre-natal care, and other aspects of sex hygiene is passing, if not already gone. Library users do not hesitate to ask for books on sex education."

Books on social hygiene were kept on closed shelvesnear the information desk and were listed in the index under such headings as marriage, sex hygiene, sex instruction, pregnancy, and venereal disease. "The library has a number of books giving full, frank, and authoritative information and is preparing a selective book list for the guidance of those who need advice and instruction," Miss Farr commented.

Miss Farr also said that the most popular books on pre-natal care at the Madison Free Library were:

Getting Ready to Be a Mother by Carolyn Van Blarcom
Expectant Motherhood by Nicholson Eastman
Prospective Mother by J.M. Slemons

Leading books in the marriage field were:

Marriage for Moderns by Henry Bowman
Marriage Manual by Hannah and Abraham Stone
Ideal Marriage by Theodoor van de Velde

In 1945, the increasing national emphasis on the social hygiene problems prompted the Madison Free Library to prepare a new list of books on social hygiene. According to Miss Farr, "The help of leading authorities in Madison was enlisted in making selections for the list, and it will be available in large quantities to doctors, educators, social workers, and clergymen who wish to distribute it to those seeking information and advice. Copies also will be obtainable at the library information desk."

NOTE: On September 12, 2000, I asked Reference Librarian Vada Mayfield to comment on Helen Farr's statement that "the time when people showed embarrassment at asking for books on marriage, pre-natal care, and other aspects of sex hygiene is passing…"

Ms. Mayfield was astounded by this quote for several reasons. How, she wondered, could Helen Farr presume to know if most patrons were or were not embarrassed about asking for materials related to sex hygiene? Those who were embarrassed probably searched for the materials themselves rather than asked for assistance. Many patrons today, and probably in 1944 as well, are reluctant to ask any reference questions to librarians, let alone on what to some people are still uncomfortable topics to discuss like sexual hygiene. They feel capable of doing their own research and are loath to "impose upon" a librarian, even if giving such assistance is their job.

NOTE: Expectant Motherhood and Ideal Marriage are still available in the year 2000 through LINKcat, the online shared library catalogue.

Library Publicity in 1940: "Prudent Housewives Have Already Baked Their Christmas Fruit Cakes and Their Pfefferneuse…"

In 1940, the Madison Free Library created a new position in the Circulation Department. Miss Esther Hianny was hired as a junior librarian with half of her time to be devoted to promoting the services of the library to the people of Madison. These responsibilities were diverse and many. She wrote weekly columns in the Capital Times ("Library Notes"), gave talks to community organizations, and spoke on book-related radio programs. She also prepared book lists and arranged exhibitions of books and pamphlets at the Main Library.

Miss Hianny often used her columns in the Capital Times to publicize special events occurring at the library as well as to promote books in the collection. In April 1941, for example, she highlighted books about the Army in observance of Army Day "now that one of every five young men is being called to the colors." In February 1943, she wrote a column describing many of the books and pamphlets on display at the library in cooperation with the eighteenth annual observance of "Negro History Week."

Periodically, she would connect library materials with popular cultural events. In 1940, she encouraged Madisonians who planned to listen to the Metropolitan Opera Company of New York's Saturday radio broadcasts to examine the library’s scores, synopses, and librettos to enhance their listening pleasure.

On December 8, 1940, Esther Hianny wrote a column promoting the cookbook collection at the library. This column provides us with a "taste" of some of the popular delicacies, cookbooks, holiday entertainment resources, and services provided homemakers sixty years ago:

"Library Notes," by Esther Hianny
Capital Times, December 8, 1940

Prudent housewives have already baked their Christmas fruit cakes and their pfefferneuse, but any homemaker who still has room in her cookie jar for a new and interesting recipe will find the cook books at the Madison Free Library an almost inexhaustible source of new ideas.

Josephine Perry's Around the World Making Cookies has recipes for such Euripean delicacies as Mandel Kuchen, Platzen, Svensker, Scun Cakka, and Scotch Ginger cake. She doesn't slight American ones either - for she gives directions for baking cookies popular in colonial New England, Virginia, and Creole New Orleans.

Mrs. Lois Sumption's Cookies and More Cookies, lists and even greater variety, and includes many delicacies from central Euripe, and even the Near East. The famous Swedish Princesses Cook Book lists not only cookies but also recipes for such Danish delights as Christmas sausage

During the past fortnight, the library has acquired two new editions of cook-books that have a classic collection of recipes for everything from soup to nuts for holiday meals. Mrs. Simon Kander's Settlement Cook Book is a new edition of an old stand-by compiled from recipes used by three generations of Milwaukee housewives. America's Cook Book, from the New York Herald Tribune Home Institute, is more modern information, and profusely illustrated with photographs. It's Christmas recipes include Kringles, rocks, Danish vanilla cookies, English brandy wafers, and a large array of dropped and rolled cookies that only the resources of a newspaper's home service could garner.

As for those holiday parties, the library's books on entertaining offer suggestions for games and for special decorations. Jeanne Abbott's Fun's Fun, Mrs. Andrews' Complete Book of Parties for Adults and Children, Putnam's Book of Parties, The Cokesbury Party Book, and Mrs. Fisher's Party Fun are only a few of the many titles listed in the library catalog. All the Dennison Co. suggestions are also on file, and these may be foudn in the special collection of Christmas books on display in the center of the circulation department.

A mimeographed list of books for the homemaker is now being distributed to Madison housewives who use the library. It was originally compiled for the American Home section of the Women's club. In addition to cook books, it lists volumes on building, repairing, and decorating.

Wisconsin State Journal Headline, February 2, 1941: "Butcher, Rabbi Use Library"

One out of every three Madisonians was a registered book borrower, according to the 1940 Report of the Madison Free Library, which revealed that 42 percent of the population held library cards.

Occupations of borrowers were as varied as the books they read. A survey of twenty-seven new borrowers obtaining cards on January 27, 1940, revealed that five housewives, four college students, three high school students, and a rabbi were among the applicants for library privileges. Other cards were issued to a butcher, a nursemaid, a laboratory technician, a waitress, a laborer, a painter, and a hospital attendant.

In keeping with its policy of making books as accessible as possible while still protecting public property, the library continued its recently adopted ruling of allowing applicants to withdraw books immediately after presenting identification providing their name and Madison address.

In the case of University of Wisconsin students, the parents' addresses were taken as an additional assurance for the recovery of lost books.


The Extremes Librarians Will Go to Make a Point: The Day the Marching Band Visited the Library

Here is where people,
One frequently finds,
Lower their voices
And raise their minds

- Richard Armour from The Happy Bookers:
A Playful History of Librarians and Their World from the Stone Age to the Present

Libraries often are stereotyped as places where silence is at a premium and children (and other patrons) are better seen than heard. Librarians frequently have been portrayed as stern disciplinarians who point to prominently displayed "No Talking" signs and regularly "shush" patrons to maintain the quiet they supposedly desire. Madison Public Library librarians, however, like most contemporary librarians, prefer a calm, but not silent atmosphere in which patrons and librarians can concentrate, but reasonable conversations are encouraged.

In planning the 1975 centennial celebration for the Madison Public Library, the celebration planners decided to take the proverbial "bull by the horns" and attack the stereotype of libraries as places for silence. The library's centennial celebration began with members of the First Brigand Band marching to the entrance of the library. The band members, decked out in authentic uniforms and playing instruments of the period, kept tradition by turning their backs on the audience because the instruments were designed to be heard from the rear so the band could march ahead of the troops. Noise indeed was encouraged on this festive occasion!

"Shut-Ins" Compete for Copies of the "Lusty Story" of Sophie Tucker's Life: Library Service for Hospitals

Library Service in HospitalsIn 1924, Madison Free Library librarian Mary Smith inaugurated book service for patients at Madison General Hospital. A special hospital librarian from the MFL devoted two and a half-hours in the afternoon twice a week to serving the patients. She wheeled a special book cart from room to room, offering patients a selection of 100 books to choose from. This successful project stimulated the students of the Civics League at one of the schools to purchase books for several of the hospitals in the city. The gift was a special observance of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale's birthday.

By 1928, the service had been expanded to provide service for patients at St. Mary's and Methodist's Hospitals. Twice a week the librarian, taking the latest books and periodicals, made visits to each hospital. The cart of books was wheeled to the bedridden, and the patients made their own selections. According to Miss Smith, light fiction and National Geographic magazines were the most popular reading materials.

The popularity of hospital service remained strong for several decades. In November 1945, two library staff members, Miss Emma Bryan and Mrs. Elizabeth Sodemann, continued the twice-weekly visits to each of Madison's three hospitals. They reported that "several men patients eagerly contested for the first chance to read the lusty story of Sophie Tucker's life, Some of These Days." They also reported a strong demand for books with a religious tone, love stories for women, and most popular of all, "genuinely humorous books." Patients typically would ask them questions like "Got a new Life Magazine today?" and "Where is that Zane Grey book the patient in 213 had last week?"

In an article published in the Capital Times on November 25, 1945, the reporter rhetorically asked, "Is this kind of library service worth while?" and answered the question by citing 1944 library circulation statistics for hospital patients, "Ten thousand, three hundred and twenty books for the boy with a broke back, the man with severe burns, the girl with paralysis, the old man with ulcers, the guy with no legs and the woman who just had her first child. Each of these responded with anticipation to the soft buzz of the book truck coming to their door."

In 1950, the library offered a new service for hospital patients. The Lions Club donated funds for the purchase of 10 ceiling book projector machines and more than 400 microfilm books for use of Madison's bedridden. The machine projected microfilmed pages of books on walls or ceilings, thereby permitting the bedridden to read. The club also promised funds for the repair and service of the machines and additional books. The machines and books could be obtained through the public library.

Library Service in HospitalsThe library immediately sent out letters to all doctors in the city asking them to recommend patients "who are suffering from physical handicaps which in the judgement of a member of the medical profession make the use of regular books impossible." Bedridden patients seeking to use the projectors and books had to be certified by their doctors in order to eliminate temporary or unqualified patients. The service was intended for the chronic or long-term bedridden patients. The Wisconsin State Journal described the value of this machine in an article on library services with an accompanying photo of a hospital patient published on March 27, 1960,

"…For those who are flat on their backs in bed, life can be dreary until they rediscover the joys of reading. Philip Faivre, Westfield, left, is one of these patients, and he is confined to a Stryker frame at Madison General Hospital with a spinal injury. He is shown reading with the help of a projector which flashes the pages of his book on the ceiling."

Librarian Helen Farr certainly must have recognized the satisfaction the ceiling book projectors provided hospital patients. In a letter to the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal on June 6, 1957 praising librarian Helen Farr just before her retirement, a neighbor wrote,

"…On one occasion a request came to her at night for some library equipment that casts reading matter on a ceiling and enables a hospital patient to read while lying prone. Although her day’s work was done and the library was closed, she went alone to the library, got the requested equipment, and delivered it to the hospital."

Solidarity Forever: The Unions and the Madison Public Library

"When you read, you must read widely. Even reading trash has some value; it helps one to distinguish between good and bad.…In a modern society we must constantly ask ourselves the why and wherefore of things. That is why we must read." - Jacob Friedrick, Secretary-Treasurer of the Milwaukee Federated Trades Council,

As early as 1938, the Madison Free Library and local labor unions shared a commitment to provide union members with relevant library services and materials. On July 14, 1938, plans for an expanded public service program, particularly for labor union members, were outlined at a meeting of approximately 40 union leaders and members of the city library commission. The people's culture committee of the University of Wisconsin's teacher's union and City Librarian Helen Farr had called the meeting. Recommendations were made to make labor papers and books more readily available in the library for use of Madison workers, to provide bibliographies of books that might interest union members, and for the libraries to install special places for union newspapers and magazines.

In 1949, Helen Farr wrote an article on the services a library can provide for carpenters which was published in the Carpenter and Builder, the official journal of the State Council, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

In 1959, Madison union officials and other members of the Labor-Management Committee of the Madison Public Library met to develop a program of labor-management-library cooperation. They discussed at length services that could be rendered to union and management officials by the public library. They also agreed upon the need for the library to add to its collection of labor and craft materials. Another outcome of this meeting was the creation of a library column for the Union Labor News, a local union newspaper, to inform trade unionists of the resources available to them at the library. Beginning in January 1960, library director Bernard Schwab and assistant director Orrilla Blackshear contributed monthly articles for several years for the column "Use Your Library" in the Union Labor News. The column featured reviews of publications particularly relevant for union members such as The Labor-Management Arbitration Manual, discussions of general interest books like The United Nations Design for Peace, and descriptions of library resources useful for union members.

Unions are among the many organizations that have donated gifts to the Madison Public Library. In 1961, for example, the Communications Workers of America presented the library with a record album of speeches by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1965, local trade unions contributed $365 to help purchase a new library building.

In January 1981 the Library Assistants and Clerks began to meet informally to discuss the need for a union. A petition to become a bargaining unit of AFSCME Local 60 soon was filed and on September 16, 1981, the vote was affirmative to form a union.

In November 1981 the Professional Librarians at Madison Public Library began to meet informally to discuss the need for a union. A petition to become a bargaining unit of AFSCME Local 60 soon was filed and on October 20, 1982, the vote was unanimous to form a union.

Lakeview Branch Librarians Discuss Women's Liberation and Other Relevant Social Issues with Inmates

The social activism of the 1960s spurred a new emphasis on outreach work to disadvantaged populations. In 1970, for example, the Madison Public Library received a three-year grant for Service to the Disadvantaged, which led to major outreach efforts at neighborhood centers and cooperation with fifty agencies and organizations working with the culturally and economically disadvantaged.

The Lakeview Branch Library served several special populations during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. A small class from the Central Colony (an institution for people with disabilities) came to the branch for a story hour for several years. In 1976, a new service carried on by the branch included weekly visits to the Huber center of the Dane County Jail. As an extension of Main Library service to jails and detention centers, gift books and magazines were taken there on a regular basis, requests were solicited, and materials delivered weekly. Many other agencies had specific service ties with this branch including area day care centers, MARC (Madison Area Retarded Citizens), schools, and Dane County Health and Social Services.

In 1978, a plan to stimulate community interest in the problems of the aging resulted from the concern of the staff members at the Lakeview Branch. The activities included locating neighborhood people 60 years old or older by street; an intensive campaign to establish contacts with community resource people and build a resource file for use by patrons and staff, and an Information Fair bringing together agency representatives and older adults from the community.

Library Service to InmatesIn December 1969, Lakeview Branch librarians JoAnn Zamacona and Betsy Proctor began meeting with a group of inmates from the Thomas State Farm in Cambridge. At the request of the warden, James Mathews, the librarians organized and conducted weekly meetings with the prisoners. Ms. Zamacona and Ms. Proctor volunteered their time along with several other librarians to discuss readings on relevant social issues and personal problems. In the September-October, 1970 issue of the Wisconsin Library Bulletin, Ms. Zamacona describes this particular outreach effort:

Looking Toward Release, by JoAnn Zamacona
Wisconsin Library Bulletin, September-October, 1970

Each Thursday evening since December 1969 a group of inmates from Thompson State Farm has met with several volunteer librarians and other staff members from Madison Public Library to discuss readings on relevant social issues and personal problems. The group has two aims: to help participants understand themselves and their problems as they read about and discuss the solutions others have found for similar difficulties; and to keep the inmates informed about current social issues.

The librarians solicit suggestions for topics to discuss and then search for appropriate reading on the subject. The most enthusiastic discussion to date was about the Women's Liberation Movement. It continued for a second meeting with local members of the movement participating in the discussion. Resource people are often recruited by the librarians to enhance the discussion with their special knowledge and interest.

Thompson State Camp is located three miles from Cambridge and is a minimum security prison for adult male prisoners. Two-thirds of the 32 men confined at Thompson are on work release and are driven to and from jobs in the nearby communities each day. These men pay a dollar a day for transportation and three dollars a day room and board to the State. The money they earn is held for them until their release and is then released to them in sums and at intervals decided on by their parole officers.

At the request of the warden, James Mathews, I formed the group. Meeting are organized and conducted by Betsy Proctor and myself on a volunteer basis with cooperation from Madison Public Library and Dane County Library Service.

As an offshoot of the discussion group, since there is no librarian to serve the camp, we spent an afternoon weeding the camp "library," which consisted mainly of discards from Mendota State Hospital Library, ladies' book club novels of the 1940s, assorted Nancy Drew mysteries, a 1911 set of the Book of Knowledge, and a run of 1940 National Geographics. The nearly empty shelves which resulted from our weeding have since been filled with books on loan from MPL and DCLS, supplemented by assorted gift books and magazines. Harry Tobias of the Madison News Agency donated a paperback rack and $20 worth of paperbacks to the camp. Don Lamb, the Dane County Library Coordinator, helped us to get a $200 grant of Federal funds for a collection of 230 paperbacks. We selected current and standard fiction titles and a variety of self-help materials.

James Grogan, consultant to Institutional Libraries for the Division, made $50 available to the group to be used for film rental. This made it possible for us to show two commercial films after we had depleted the supply of relevant films available from MPL.

Because the men are usually within a few months of their release date when they reach Thompson, the participants in the group are constantly changing. The group attracts about half of the men at the camp and their enthusiastic response is a measure of the group's success and their appreciation of the MPL staff who bring them requested material and help to keep them in contact with free society.

Recently, the last meeting of each month has been held at the Madison library. At these off-grounds meetings the men browse and choose materials to take back with them, see films and enjoy refreshments.

Early this summer we submitted a formal request to the Division for Federal funds for materials for the Thompson Library for fiscal 1971. Since no newspapers or magazine subscriptions are available at the camp, part of the money would be used for periodical and newspaper subscriptions. As a man's release date approaches he vitally needs information on jobs and housing from newspaper want ads as well as current local news. Recordings for the stereo donated to the camp are in great demand and funds will be needed to maintain the paperback collection. The inmates have indicated their desire to have art prints and posters to alleviate the monotony.

The librarians serving Thompson State Camp hope to use it as a demonstration project and to contact librarians working near the other eight camps, only one of which now receives the services of a librarian, to encourage them to initiate similar projects at the camps in their areas. 

Using the Radio and Television to Promote the Library

"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming." - Lee De Forest, U.S. inventor and "father of the radio"

In the 1930s increasingly lower prices brought radios into most American homes: in 1932 about 17 million American households had them. A survey in 1938 found that 40 percent of American households on a typical winter evening had the radio turned on.


The power of radio was never so amply demonstrated as by the October 30, 1938, broadcast of H.G. Wells story "The War of the Worlds." Orson Welles "Mercury Theater's" presentation was so realistic that thousands of people actually believed an alien invasion was occurring. Coincidentally, the Madison Free Library began to publicize its services across the radio airwaves during that same year.


In 1938, librarians Gladys Cavanagh and Ruth Hatfield presented book programs on station WHA, University of the Air. Various educational radio programs also were advertised through the library by posting bulletins and announcements on the Radio Bulletin Board, including "Town Meeting" and Chicago's "Round Table" programs.

In the 1944 Annual Report to the Board of Directors of the Madison Free Library, City Librarian Helen Farr described how the library used the radio during World War II:

"The 'Book News' program this year has offered an opportunity for extension of the use of radio as a medium for reaching the public. A series of seven of the regular war book talks adapted to radio script form was given over WHA during the summer….The reviews were a part of the Home Maker's Hour and averaged about twelve minutes in length.

Possibly because the library cooperated with both stations during the year by arranging exhibits relating radio to books, both WHA and WIBA have been willing to make brief announcements from time to time about library activities. A radio program, which incidentally provided good library publicity, was sponsored in April by Olds Seed Company. The script writer visited the library and made materials available in the library the main subject of her talk. A Garden Club program over WHA also described the Garden Information Center at the Library."

These book talks continued into 1946, when library staff gave presentations for WHA on "Books as Christmas Gifts" and for WIBA on "Color in Everyday Life, Books on Our Racial Minorities."

Perhaps the library's most successful radio venture began on September 19, 1948. Radio station WKOW sponsored the Classical Hour, a program on Sunday evenings from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. The program played music from the library’s collection of records, called attention to relevant books and services of the library, and included a transcribed interview called "Meet the Author" featuring such well-known authors as Thomas Mann, Clifford Odets, and James Hilton. Helen Farr reported that that the program attracted many new library patrons and stimulated the use of scores, records, and books from the library's collection. In 1949, the library also used a series of historical broadcasts collected under the title "I Can Hear It Now" to introduce current books on related subjects.

When Bernard Schwab succeeded Helen Farr and became the director of the library in 1957, he continued to promote the library on the radio. He also expanded the outreach efforts into television and participated in fifteen broadcasts in both mediums in 1958. He regularly encouraged staff members to maintain the library's high profile on the airwaves throughout his tenure as library director. In 1960, for example, Orrilla Blackshear, assistant director of the library, made regular broadcasts about books on WHA and appeared on television programs to discuss books and library services. In 1965, a daily series of taped interviews with Madison Public Library staff was broadcast by station WMAD. Each participating librarian taped thirty-five minutes of brief question and answer periods about library services for one week’s use. The series was part of the station's program "Aspects of Education" heard Monday through Friday at 9:45 a.m.

In 1999 and early 2000, MPL librarians presented weekly two-three minute book reviews on WKOW's early morning television news program. In this age of the electronic information revolution, it has become increasingly difficult for the library to gain access to the media to publicize its services.

Gifts to the Library: "Love Something if You Give it Away, You End Up Having More"

Patrons of the Madison Public Library have expressed their support and appreciation for the services provided by the library in innumerable ways. They've written unsolicited "thank you" letters, waxed eloquent to friends and library staff alike about the marvelous library services, lobbied politicians for additional funds or to prevent cutbacks, helped pack books and move them between library branches, and much more. Donating gifts to the library has been another way in which many patrons have demonstrated their love for the library and their commitment to maintain and often expand services. Throughout the history of the library, gifts and bequests have enriched the library’s collections of books, magazines, phonograph records, and works of art. The story of Charles Hathaway, who in 1939 left in trust the single largest endowment ever given to the city library at the time, is one of the stranger tales in the library's history.

During the 1930s, Hathaway spent considerable time sitting in a rocking chair in the library's reading room. He wore patched clothes with a motley assortment of colors and materials. At least in appearance, it seemed unimaginable that this eccentric man who lived the life of a semi-recluse would be responsible for Madison Public Library's acquisition of an impressive collection of books in the fine arts.

According to Hathaway's trustee and three landladies, he had no friends, made no effort at social contacts, watched his pennies, and cared little about his appearance. He was sufficiently austere in his habits to the point of not allowing himself to buy a newspaper if he wanted one. Like as not he carried soda crackers in his pockets to save paying for his bread at the cafeteria where he sometimes ate.

He kept a combination cash and scrapbook. On the same date, he once entered an expenditure of 12 cents for cabbage and he recorded a cash balance of $38,289. Among other items was a list of books borrowed from the library, Bible quotations, tables for computing interest rates, and a composition he wrote on the subject of a rich man’s chances of getting to heaven.

His only known hobby was reading. He spent many hours in the library's reading room. Hathaway always sat in a rocking chair, quiet and unobtrusive. His tastes in reading ran heavily to Dickens, Thackery, and lives of great men. He also read religious and inspirational books.

Hathaway left half of his estate (after providing for final debts and burial costs) of approximately $34,000 to the library. The other half was willed "to people over 60 who became poor through force of circumstance rather than through their failure to devote themselves industriously to their own maintenance." Charles Hathaway evidently experienced the Depression in ways that both heightened his appreciation for the Madison Free Library and brought out his compassion for elderly victims of the economic crisis.

Following Hathaway's terms, the library used half of its income from the bequest for the purchase of expensive books in various fields. Charles Hathaway's name was kept in memory for many years through the "Hathaway Collection," a collection of deluxe books with the art book holdings, which had been built up partly with Hathaway bequest funds. Eventually, those books were integrated into the regular collection.

Though the Hathaway bequest is perhaps the most unusual in terms of the circumstances surrounding a gift bestowed to the library, an abundance of presents have been offered to the library throughout its history. Patrons donated books at the opening of the library in 1875 and have continued to make contributions to the library through the present. Listed below are some of the many diverse gifts bestowed upon the library.





$75,000 for a combined public library and library school building

Carnegie Foundation



Madison Art Association


Ceramic medallion of St. George and the Dragon

Mrs. William Hobbs


80 bound volumes of the Eclectic Magazine and a fern for the reading room

Mrs. Breese Stevens


Marble bust of Daniel Webster

Mrs. S.U. Pinney
(Mary Mulliken)



Framed photograph of the Roman Forum (4' x 6')

Mrs. O. M. Conover


$301 and 6 Stereoscopes and 175 views including 100 views of Egypt

Women of Madison


Several hundred books

Book social held by the "Interested Citizens"


$1,000 (first bequest received by the library)

Halle Steensland


$ 1,790 (second bequest)

former Mayor S.U. Pinney


$15,000 for a branch library in the 6th ward

Carnegie Foundation


Officially certified facsimile of the Declaration of Independence showing the certificate of Secretary of State John Hay attesting to its genuineness and one facsimile of the Magna Carta of King John for the new 6th Ward Branch.

Andrew Carnegie


Piano for the 6th ward branch library

Wisconsin Music Company



Wildflower, a bronze sculpture

Professor and Mrs. Moses Slaughter


Single largest endowment given to the city library at the time: $34,000

Charles Hathaway


Subscription to "Events", a magazine of current events

B'nai Brith


10 book projectors for the "bedridden"

Lion's Club


Single copy of Feelings and Emotions,the Mooseheart Symposium

Madison Women of the Moose, Chapter 291


Record album of speeches made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Communications Workers of America


Books on Judaica

Workmen's Club


$150 to purchase books for the new Monroe Street Branch

Ten Madison Brownie and Girl Scout troops


$1500 for relocating the sculpture, Wildflower, into the new library

Robert Taylor


Mural for Children's Room of the new library

Artist Aaron Bohrod


$365 for a new library building

local trade unions


$279 for purchase of books and a globe for the Children’s Room

Lincoln School PTA


$500 for materials for the visually handicapped

American Association of University Women, Madison branch


$25 for the purchase of phonograph records

Euterpe Club ("Euturpe" from Greek Mythology is the muse of lyric poetry and music)


A set of books on personal finance and business selected by the library

Savings and Loan Associations of Madison


$50 in memory of Mrs. Joseph Gale

Walrus Club of Madison


$1,500 for the new library

Mr. Norman Bassett


$160 for the purchase of books about dogs

Badger Kennel Club


A Jacques Cousteau film

Madison builders and realtors Rodney Kruenen, Harvey Lund, James Lund, and James Gallagher


$248 for the purchase of nature books

Friends and colleagues of former City Librarian Helen E. Farr


$3,800 for large print materials

Laura Linden


$1,000 for large print materials

Attic Angels



Lincoln Elementary School 3rd Graders


$250,000 to name the new branch library for Alicia Ashman

Terrance and Judith Paul

While traveling abroad in Florence, Italy, Judge Silas. U. Pinney purchased a bust of Daniel Webster. He brought it back to Madison and told his wife that if the library ever got a home of its own, he would present it the bust. When the library got that home in the new Carnegie building in 1906, Mrs. Pinney complied with the wishes of her deceased husband and gave the library the bust.