by Mary Ellen Ducklow …August 1997
slight grammatical editing Aug 2007
There it stood in the 1930's, in the classic, pillared building beside the old Y on South Oneida Street, across from Soldiers' Square.
There it was, through those tall doors that led to the lobby and its front-facing circulation desk presided over by smiling ladies with glasses sometimes askew on their nose when they were "busy." Off to the left, the children's room welcomed hordes of kids ... Just like today, its reading room was presided over by a golden oak mantle and fireplace that made you think about curling up with the land of Oz or King Arthur and his court.
A whole generation of kids remembered the children's librarian, then referred to by their mothers as "dear" Miss Marcy: Marceline Grignon of the well-known family of builders and century-long occupants of the Grignon Mansion in Kaukauna.
The library, in short, is part of every Appletonian's life ... and the lives of thousands of other patrons state-wide who, in the new high-tech information age, can contact its web site ... the first one established by a public library in the State of Wisconsin.
It goes beyond offering the latest in the Hardy Boys series or the newest Danielle Steele.
And it celebrates its 100th birthday anniversary on September 11 with a reception hosted by the Appleton Library Foundation and the Centennial Board Committee who will invite the public to 'look back.' Hosts and hostesses will greet nostalgic visitors in 1890s period costume: the ladies with late Victorian piled-up hair, fans, and long rustling skirts; the gentlemen reflecting the gallantry of another time.
Flags will fly at the entrance and a huge banner in the foyer will introduce the centennial logo, predictably a black-and-white open book with big letters proclaiming "100 Years."
Centennial visitors will be invited to become a part of the Appleton Public Library's history; they'll be asked to inscribe a special personal memory of the library in a centennial scrapbook which, the library assumes, will be perused happily by patrons another century hence.
It all began in 1887 with a devotee of books, a cerebral and gracious lady, Elizabeth Jones, wife of prominent Appletonian George Jones and "father" of today's Jones Park. Elizabeth and her friends established the city's first reading room. Books were important to her and she wanted to share the joy of "a book in hand" with "everybody."
At her own expense, Elizabeth Jones rented rooms over Pardee's Grocery Store at the corner of College Avenue and Morrison Street. Undoubtedly, few friends dared say "no" when Elizabeth and her cohorts solicited book donations.
Inspired ... or prodded by the ladies in their lives .. the Young Men's Free Reading Room group was formed to further the effort. Not surprisingly, George Jones was president of that association. Ultimately, that group ...just a year later ... turned over its collection to the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA).
The new little library moved around a lot. In 1894, fire destroyed the early reading room. No place to go ... until the Fall of 1896. A group of citizens (headed by Dr. J. Lummis and including Mrs. J. S. Reeve, A. M. Smith, and Elizabeth Jones) opened another reading room on Oneida Street. Money was short; that facility offered only newspapers and periodicals.
That wasn't good enough for the aficionados; they organized a 'book social' at which their friends were treated to refreshments in exchange for a book donation. The Y added 400 or 500 volumes salvaged from the fire, and town book-o-philes continued to contribute.
But money was an on-going problem, so the little venture closed on May 1, 1897. The Free Library Association offered to donate its collection to the City of Appleton on condition that the city organize a library under existing state law.
After some hesitation, the city council said, in effect, "Okay", and opened city council quarters on the second floor of the Peterson-Rehbein Meat Market at 106 West College Avenue, offering space there, too, for a library reading room and book room.
That official confirmation took place on August 4, 1897. The Rev. Adolphus A. Drown was placed in charge ... the first librarian. Since the city hadn't allocated funds to support the fledgling library, the old association raised $940.55 and urged citizens to donate a book each. Before long, the city got the message and approved a half-mil tax to support the library.
The first library board, headed by ...not surprisingly ... George W. Jones, also included the Rev. W. J. Fitzmaurice, vice president; Dr. J.T. Reeve, secretary; F. S. Bradford, W. E. Barron, Henry Kreiss, Gustave Keller, F. J. Harwood and Carrie E. Morgan, ex officio member.
The rest of the story is history, culminating late in the 20thCentury with the 82,000 square foot edifice that now welcomes hundreds of visitors every day at the north end of the block bounded by Washington, Franklin, North Oneida and North Appleton Streets -- the site that had been occupied for generations by "old" Lincoln grade school, the red stone Romanesque style building remembered by a few surviving Lincoln-ites. That was the building, of course, which subsequently became City Hall.
But there were lots of steps in between.
That long history, starting with the quarters over the meat market, turns up statistics which offer startling contrasts with the present. Opening on September 1, 1897, the first publicly owned little institution within a few months, was circulating some 60 books a day. Today, in a typical month, between 70,000 and 80,000 materials are checked out.
Progress is, of course predicated on people; in the history of the Appleton library, that's abundantly clear, from the ladies who hatched the idea in the first place to the present. Significantly, of the 11 librarians who have guided the institution's life, seven were women. It's "Marian the Librarian" all over again. Present director Terry Dawson (himself a native Appletonian and Appleton High School graduate) cites, with professional respect and admiration, the first female librarian in that list who followed the Rev. Mr. Drown as Miss Agnes Lucy Dwight who served from 1898 to 1919. Ms. Dwight "trained" as a librarian at the Library School of the Armour Institute of Technology. She was a pro.
In Appleton, traditionally, women in high places have not been unusual; Miss Morgan, who served on that first small library board, was one of the first female school superintendents in the state, and obviously a "first" in Appleton. The present Harris Street school building which had started life as Appleton High School in the 19-teens became, of course, the Carrie E. Morgan building in her honor.
Thus it isn't surprising that, over the years, the eleven librarians included those seven ladies.
Who were the ladies who knew the Dewey Decimal System by heart and called you when your name came up on the reserve list for "Gone With the Wind?" Ruth McCullough succeeded Miss Dwight, serving from 1913 to 1920; Florence Day, 1920 to 1934; Nancy B. Thomas, 1934-1944; Doris M. Call, 1944-1946; Margie Sornson Malmberg, 1946-1949; Edith Ann Rechygl, 1949-1961.
Gordon Bebeau succeeded the long line of women librarians, serving from 1961-1979; Jerome Pennington was in charge from 1980 to 1996; and Dawson has been in the director's office since last year.
Bebeau held the longest tenure, but pioneer Miss Dwight was not far behind. An aged Post-Crescent clipping -- typical of its time in tiny, microscopic print -- is the oldest surviving story of the library's early history ... written by her. It runs column after column, and it's a treasured memento, endlessly photo-copied.
Appleton loved its library, doubling and re-doubling its circulation year after year, along with the burgeoning of the collection. Those factors inevitably dictated the next step: finding more space. Example: by the end of the year, the collection numbered 3,500 items and the circulation totaled more than 21,958 items [1898?].
Again, the YMCA stepped in, offering to deed to the city land just north of its building ... the Tudor-style "old" Y on the northwest corner of South Oneida and West Lawrence Streets, facing Soldiers' Square. (It's unlikely that many present-day Appletonians remember that once that was "Market Square," before entrepreneur and philanthropist A.W. Priest, then Owen of the historic Hearthstone Mansion, commissioned and gave to the city the sculpture of the Civil War soldier that graces its west end.)
The Y's condition was that the city build a public library edifice within 18 months.
The predictable squabble over funding and location ensured .. so what else is new when it comes to locating a municipal facility? City hall, library, high school, elementary school, performing arts center, parking ramp...
After the text-book round of court injunctions and lawsuits, Appleton built its first municipal building since its official birth in 1857: the classically designed, imposing edifice at 121 South Oneida Street. The library occupied the spacious first floor; city hall, the second. [Dedicated March 28, 1900]
Scores of present-day "seniors" remember running up the broadsteps, after parking their bikes, bursting into the wide, airy lobby dominated by the circulation desk, library card in hand, ready to check out the latest Nancy Drew tome or an Augusta Huill Seaman young girl mystery ... or maybe to use the World Book to write a "theme" (probably copied verbatim). The reference ladies always were patiently helpful; Miss Mary De Jonge was among them, infinitely helpful when it came to sniffing out the origin of ancient Cyprus.
Eventually, becoming cramped for space, city hall had to uproot itself, this time to old Lincoln School, site of the present modern library at Franklin and Appleton Streets, on the north end of the block bounded on the south by Washington and the west by Oneida. The post-war expansion of elementary school buildings made possible the closing of the K through 6 edifice. (Veteran Post-Crescent city hall reporters remember plodding up the stairs on the west or east ends of the building to the second floor office of Mayor John Goodland, lounging behind his immense polished desk with no papers on it, along with the know-all Miss Evelyn, switchboard operator on the main floor, and beloved City Clerk Eddie Sager holding forth in the first floor southeast corner. Actually his domain included part of the old kindergarten space.)
The upheavals for the library weren't over, even with the second floor space next to the Y. More renovation was required in 1954 to conform to state codes, and presently new library services evolved ... a teen room, a micro-film collection, a record collection and a highly touted circulating collection of art prints. (You could have a Cezanne look-alike to hang over the sofa 'til you got affluent enough to buy 'real' art.)
Twenty years later the space crunch was worse than ever as the book collection continued to grow. New standards of community service had to be met ... inter-library connections, the looming of the computer age and increased demands for service.
A new building? Again, the oft-repeated question: where? A suggestion: why not move into the recently vacated old AAL building at the corner of West College and North Superior Street? The Aid Association for Lutherans was newly at home in its spacious and sprawling quarters on North Ballard Road. The idea made sense ... except to the folks who couldn't imagine beginning their days downtown without stopping for coffee at old Walgreen's... the reporters starting their daily beats, the contract bridge addicts endlessly replaying last night's "boards" competitions.
A city-wide referendum knocked down the AAL site proposal, backed by, among others, FOAL, the supportive Friends of the Appleton Library. Voters approved construction of a new building ... the present one ... at a cost of roughly four million dollars. Address: 225 North Oneida Street, in the former Lincoln School/City Hall location.
Down with the old, up with the new. City Hall moved to the southeast corner of the same block, former home of the old Wisconsin-Michigan Power Company ... soon, of course to become green space and additional parking for the new library.
Off went city hall again, this time to spacious and ultra-modern facilities in the old Prange building, now, grandly, City Center.
Obviously, the fates of city hall and library are forever linked in Appleton history.
On June 1, 1981, Mayor Dorothy Johnson dedicated the new building on a bright noon hour, visitors standing and watching and eager to get in.
Mayor Johnson's remarks were a challenge and a promise. "I dedicate this building to those who seek truth, to those who seek value and knowledge, and to those who are edified by the world of ideas."
People oooh'd and ahhh' d at the imposing, almost unbelievably welcoming entrance, the beautiful and, in town, unparalleled atrium. Two stories high, the trees and plants continue the outside for a refreshing, even inspiring, pathway into those ideas and bits of knowledge Mayor Johnson predicated.
The new structure more than tripled the previous space, upped from 20,000 to 70,000 square feet. In the first few months, daily visitors ranged up to 3,000. A commodious community room on the lower level accommodated ...and still does ... the now traditional "book 'n bite" sessions, along with book reviews, appearances by local and "away" writers, as well as being available as community groups' meeting space.
Old technology was scuttled and the new dominated ... a new on-line circulation system, compact discs, videos, CD-ROMS, and internet connection. (But you can still call up the reference desk and find out who won the National League pennant in 1971 and who the first mayor of Appleton was and where do you find out about what movies won Academy Awards in 1955.)
Further renovation, completed in 1995, added 17 percent more space, better access for persons with disabilities, 20 percent more seating space, doubled children's program space, and added small group study rooms.
But the sense, the feel of the old libraries remain, patrons say. Case in point: dozens of feet of shelf space are reserved for the murder mystery addicts; the sci-fi fans (who number among them director Dawson himself, who admits he has a personal collection of about 2,000). The ladies who are given to romance novels are accommodated, as always. Moreover, you probably can still pick up the aforementioned "Gone With the Wind," Sensation of the late 1930's; its original retail price, by the way, was $3.95.
Dedicated since Day 1 to community service, APL continues to offer other than "just" books, offerring reference services, community outreach, children's programs, and more.
The institution always has been in the forefront of Wisconsin Public Libraries in the area of the new and different. As far back as1904 Sunday hours were added to accommodate workers whose only free time was on that day. A year later, assembling bibliographies was innovated for clubs and other organizations. (Libraries are educators, of course; book life isn't all the Barbara Cartland romance movement.) Teachers were encouraged early on to share lesson plans with the library so that the library could be "ready."
Way back in 1905 librarians went into classrooms at old Ryan High School to teach students how to use library facilities and services.
Hooking up its first phones in 1920 linked APL not only to its fact-hunting patrons, but offered a link to the Milwaukee and UW-Madison libraries as well. In that year, library staffers spent 406 hours answering 583 reference questions. (They must have been tough ones.) By 1946, 646 were answered in just a month. Today reference and children's librarians answer a mind-boggling 179,500 reference queries. That's roughly a question for every minute the building's open.
The litany of services going back a hundred years is overwhelming and responsive to community, and even national, needs. War-time book drives for armed service personnel were conducted; small rotating book collections were assembled for large employers and drug stores in nearby small towns; neighborhood "branches" in junior high buildings were available; book services were set up for hospital patients.
Those were the service techniques of the past; they're different now. They've grown up; but the outreach effort is the same: service to the home-bound, the blind. Add to these the book reviews, the film festivals, classes in Internet use, the library newsletter "Fine Print" and you've just scratched the surface.
The children's department was organized in 1921; a staff was hired; kid-size furniture was purchased and placed invitingly in that old children's room facing a sunny south in the long-ago South Oneida Street building. Children's story hours have been a part of library life since 1918. A new high tech service for youngsters was offered in 1945 when the Saturday morning story hour was broadcast over radio station WHBY.
The family, school and day care providers' relationships continue and grow; in the centennial summer just past, 4,053 kids were enrolled in the vacation time reading program appropriately titled "Zap Into the Past."
The supporting organization FOAL (Friends of the Appleton Library) backs the library and its services every step of the way. Organized in 1975, it was a powerhouse in 1979, paving the way for the referendum vote that resulted in the new library building. Note: Never throw an old book away; FOAL conducts a mammoth book sale yearly by way of additional support.
And then there's the Appleton Library Foundation, born in 1989, to offer an "edge of excellence" possible only beyond public funding. Its achievements? Proceeds from the endowment fund have funded speakers and programs plus improvement in collections and technology. Its special campaign in 1996 funded purchase of the old city hall building across the parking lot and development into the soon-to-be-completed green space and additional parking.The foundation then deeded it back to the city.
Dawson, who has been on the library staff since 1978, earned his master's degree in library science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He, staff, and board operate with an annual budget of about two and a half million dollars.
The total library staff numbers about 100 persons, or a full time equivalent of about 50 full-time positions. Barbara Kelly is assistant director; interestingly, her academic field is biology, with an emphasis on plants. (Clearly she keeps a weather eye on the atrium grove of trees, among a long list of other non-botanical responsibilities.)
Other department heads are Michael Nitz, technical services; Margaret Shriver, reference and information services; Margaret Ernst, circulation; Cecilia Wiltzius, community services; and Carol DeJardin, children's department.
Members of the library's current foundation board are Robert Bodoh, John S. Bubolz, Joyce Bytof, Don Churchill, Kathleen Dugan, William Hodgkiss, Rue Johnson, Ralph O. Kennedy II, and Thomas O. Route.
Presently Patricia Warrick is president of the Friends of the Appleton Library; Robert Spahn treasurer and Gretchen Wilcox, secretary. Chairmen of FOAL's various committees are Eloise Blair, Alice Melchoir, Marian Leisering, Lorraine Hauch, Gail Barwiss, Rosemary Cummings and Gordon Bebeau. At large directors are Margaret Rossmmeisl and Rosalie Peerenboom.
There are volumes more in the APL Centennial story. In 1897, the card data-log was an innovation covering only the materials within its four small walls. Today, the boundaries of the knowledge within its walls are virtually endless. APL belongs to the Outagamie/Waupaca Library System (OWLS), and has, as well, an on-line catalog of a million plus items in the collections of about 30 libraries.There's a huge periodical index, too. In short, all you have to do is ask.
In 1995, APL established the first public library web site in the state; today it handles some 25,000 "hits" a month. It's a "virtual"library, as well as a walk-in one.
And the children always are a top priority ... not counting the edict back in the early days when they were "discouraged" from coming in on Sunday afternoons. Times change.
The present library board of directors includes the Rev. Willis L. Bloedow, president; Peter Ducklow, vice president; Terry Bergen, Terry Bergman, Ronald Dunlap, Eloise Loebach, Ald. Deborah Matz, Lee Parker and Kathleen Schuessler.
So there it is: The Appleton Public Library, a hundred years old and never younger, with its collective eye on an ever better future.
The centennial celebration logo will greet guests at the celebration reception with its design of an open book emblazened thereon with the words "100 Years."
Appleton says "Happy Birthday Library!"
Send a Question or Comment to Appleton Public Library.