Outreach
(1906-1924)

Beginning in 1906, the trustees made several operational changes that helped the library move into the twentieth century.

They abolished the old locked cases and allowed borrowers to browse among the open shelves; they discontinued the system of bondsmen; and they no longer required the librarian to pay from her own salary for any extra help she asked the Board to authorize.

There were also other changes in the librarian's status. The trustees persuaded the Common Council to have the city marshall sweep the library rooms once a week, and the librarians no longer performed janitorial duties.

Most important was that the Wisconsin Free Library Commission had by now succeeded in establishing a School of Library Science in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin, and the Scott library was able to reach its goal of obtaining graduate librarians. The idea died that "all the librarian has to do is stand at the desk and check out books." She was now given the right even to do the book selection.

The Board also discovered the importance of the third force that influenced the library's development: strong civic support.

The first two decades of the new century saw national, state, and local federations of women's clubs reach their highest level of effectiveness. Even before the nineteenth amendment gave them the right to vote, women learned that by uniting their efforts they could bring about civic reforms and improvements. In 1906, several women's clubs in Grand Rapids organized themselves as a unit of the Wisconsin State Federation, and from then on, this local chapter became one of the library's strongest supporters.

To aid the library, various member clubs (Beacon Lights, The Historical and Literary Club, Travel Class, the Women's Club) gave Book Showers and had Library Benefits at the Ideal Theater, but the most effective help came when the Federation as a whole gave public support to various library projects.

Such projects, in this period, can only be called "outreach," for their aim was to bring the resources of the T. B. Scott Free Public Library and the resources of the J. D. Witter Free Traveling Libraries to every community in South Wood County. One way of doing this was by establishing branch libraries to circulate books from the Scott library's collection.

From the time that Grand Rapids and Centralia had become one city (in 1900), the Scott library trustees had tried to establish a branch on the West Side. Two attempts failed through lack of interest. In 1919 however, people living in that part of the city circulated a petition asking for such a facility. The City Council refused to provide space in the city hall, but the Federation and Mr. Isaac Witter underwrote the first year's costs for a branch library in the old Bank of Grand Rapids building. In 1924, this library was moved to a prominent corner space in the River Block on West Grand Avenue.

The T. B. Scott library also served as a good neighbor by establishing a book station in Nekoosa. From its beginning in 1912, Nekoosa club women helped handle the 125 books loaned by the Scott library, but every Thursday, the Rapids' librarian perched her hat on her high pompadour and boarded a little streetcar that bumped and rattled its way to Nekoosa.

At the Denis Drug Store, she gave supervision to the project. By 1913, the circulation had reached sixty to seventy books a week, and the number of borrowers had reached 115. The Nekoosa City Council then voted financial support, and the little library was ready to be taken under the sheltering wing of the Free Library Commission. The Scott library books could then be withdrawn, but they had served a good purpose.

Another outreach program was that of the T.B. Scott library's service to city and rural schools. Although the Wisconsin Constitution of 1848 mandated that a certain part of a school's budget must be spent for a school library, this was not always done; school boards were exempt from the rule if public libraries stepped in to provide books for children.

In Grand Rapids, the library board, as early as 1905, voted to establish a collection of books, to the value of fifty dollars, in each West Side second and third grade room. Later, the school teachers, both city and rural, were given special privileges that allowed them to borrow boxes of books to circulate in classrooms. Included in the Scott librarian's Annual Reports were the figures on these books' circulation listed exactly as if each school room were a branch of the main library.

Providing general-interest books was only one of the Scott library's outreach services to the schools. From 1900 on, each succeeding librarian felt the responsibility of providing the reference materials needed in the city's high school courses. Yearly, the school principal simply submitted a list of the books required for each course. And the materials were not all that the public library offered. School superintendents regularly requested that the T.B. Scott librarian work on a set schedule at the schools, instructing the teachers in library methods.

Only very occasionally did a trustee raise these questions: In doing the work of a school library, are we helping young people learn to use and enjoy the public library? Are we helping them to establish the habit of using the public library - a habit that will continue past school days? Are we paying for materials and services which the school budget should rightfully provide? No one answered such questions.

Another outreach program was the operation of the J. D. Witter Free Traveling Libraries by the staff of the T. B. Scott library.

By 1905, the librarian and her one assistant were responsible for thirty-three of these libraries which circulated books from all type of sites in South Wood County: from schools, homes, banks, post offices, and stores. Local teachers, housewives, clerks, and storekeepers did their best to keep track of the books. In 1910, the indefatigable Miss Lutie Stearns of the Free Library Commission visited every Wood County book station she could reach, by horse-and-buggy or train, to help set up record-keeping systems.

Some of the localities which, at one time or another, had "stations" were Babcock, Biron, Cranmoor, South Grand Rapids, Daly, Four-mile Creek, Lindsey, Meadow Valley (in Juneau County), Pittsville, Port Edwards, Nekoosa, Burmeister, Rudolph, Saratoga, Arpin, Altdorf, Auburndale, Elliot's and Sherry. By 1924 there were forty-nine Witter libraries with a yearly circulation of 7,212.

Statistics, however, cannot measure what those pretty, new books meant to children in little one-room country schools or to families isolated by almost impassable roads during long Wisconsin winters. A book from one of the Witter libraries might be the only secular book in the house. Many school children taught their parents to read English by using the simple children's stories that they had brought from school. Many new immigrants to Wood County read and reread the loved books, written in Polish or German, that were included in the boxes.

No place seemed too big or too small to merit the attention of the T. B. Scott library's trustees and librarian. With almost a missionary zeal, they sent book boxes with the Boy Scouts who camped at Waupaca; they sent old books and magazines to lumber camps in the north woods. The days of the locked cases were far behind.

All through the years, this outreach program continued. The Scott library helped both the Arpin and Vesper libraries get established by giving the requested professional advice and by loaning book collections and even furniture. Even now, long after these libraries and the one at Pittsville officially became independent municipal libraries, they continue to supplement their collections with books from the public library in Wisconsin Rapids.

When the John Alexander South Wood County YMCA began operation, its board of directors asked the T. B. Scott library for the loan of books for the summer program. Three-hundred books were boxed and sent each summer, and one-hundred books were changed each week so that the collection remained attractive. The Scott library worked with the YMCA personnel to establish methods of checking the books.

A book collection was established at the hospital, and annually about seven-thousand books circulated during the years when long stays were routine and TV was unknown. Library assistants made weekly trips to the hospital to change the book collection.

But, such outreach programs were not the only services begun during these years. The Federation strongly backed the idea of library services for children, and in 1907 an area formerly occupied by a business school was made into a children's room near the adult reading room. Together with the local Normal School, the Federation also bought a stereoscope and a set of stereographic slides for the library. Unknowingly, they helped the library take the first step beyond print materials and toward the audio-visual collections of latter years.

Of even greater help, however, were the gifts of magazine subscriptions given to the library by the Federation's member clubs. In addition to such scholarly periodicals as Atlantic Monthly, Scribner's, and Harper's Monthly, the library could now offer the popular Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Popular Mechanics, and for the children, the loved St. Nicholas.

During World War I, the library staff conducted city-wide drives to collect books that could be sent to military installations. Incidentally, in 1918, the library also demonstrated its patriotism by removing all German literature from the shelves. This, alas, was an expensive gesture, for within five years after the war, the library was forced by popular demand to subscribe to the German Libraries circulated by the Free Library Commission.

The years following World War I brought changes. A minor one: in 1920 the city's name was changed, and the library became the T. B. Scott Public Library of Wisconsin Rapids. The term Grand Rapids now designated only the township of that name.

There were changes, too, in borrowers' reading habits.

While many still sought out the best sellers produced by Harold Bell Wright and Gene Stratton Porter, others were trying out the works of post war writers. If they were outraged by Sinclair Lewis' Main Street and shocked by Ernest Hemingway's Farewell to Arms, they found Edna Ferber's prize-winning So Big a total satisfaction. Since reading mysteries was considered a low brow vice, few readers dared shout their joy when, in 1920 Hercule Poirot made his first appearance in The Mysterious Affair at Styles thus beginning a seventy year (and counting) publishing miracle.

Of greater significance than these changes were those that affected the whole area. Farm families, in their Model Ts, now drove to the Rapids over surfaced, all-weather roads. No longer dependent on the traveling libraries, they sought out the T. B. Scott library and became borrowers. The library welcomed them with open arms; in fact, a 1926 ad in the Rapids newspaper consisted of the Board's invitation to out-of-city visitors to use both the main library and the branch as places to rest or meet friends after shopping.

But the increased membership and use by the county residents created a problem that was to plague the Scott Library (and most other city-supported libraries) for years to come. Who was to bear the cost of serving county residents? Carefully kept records showed that in 1922, out-of-city residents accounted for one-third of the yearly book circulation. In 1923, the library trustees began a serious study of the matter of county financial support to pay for this library use.

Seeking to be totally fair, they compiled statistics that covered only the costs of circulating books (staff; book purchase, processing, repairs, etc.); they did not include the costs of building maintenance, for these would exist no matter what membership there might be.

Alter conferring with the trustees of the Marshfield library and receiving their full cooperation, the Scott library trustees approached the Wood County Board of Supervisors with their figures and with the request that the county assume financial responsibility for the county residents' use of the library.

Eventually the County Board began making appropriations of five-hundred and then one-thousand dollars to both the Wisconsin Rapids library and the Marshfield library. Since these sums in no way covered the cost of county use, they were more in the nature of gifts than an acceptance of responsibility.

Another result of the increased membership of the 1920s was that the space allotted to the library became overcrowded, and the Board began a campaign to take over the whole building (the former city hall).

In any discussion of the Scott library's early building problems, it is important to know that the trustees had been well aware of the tremendous opportunity offered, in the 1890s and early 1900s, by grants made to libraries by Mr. Andrew Carnegie. His widespread philanthropy was directed toward financing library buildings, and in 1902 the Scott library trustees had appointed Mr. E. P. Arpin "to intercede with Mr. Carnegie for the erection of a library at this place."

The Carnegie requirements, however, were that (1) a city must agree to make an annual appropriation for library purposes that equalled one-tenth of the Carnegie grant; and (2) the city must provide the building site.

When the Library Board urged the Common Council to accept these terms, it had been turned down. This was in spite of the fact that sixty-three Wisconsin cities were gratefully accepting the grants and were erecting well designed buildings that were planned for library use. Backed by the Federation, the Board of Trustees tried once again, in 1909, to get a Carnegie library, but again the Common Council rejected the idea. The trustees and the Federation then made an effort to get better space for the library in the old building.

Eventually, in 1924, the city appropriated five-thousand dollars to remodel the building, and the library gained the entire first floor. The upper-floor rooms were to be used by various women's organizations, by the Boy Scouts and others. It now seemed as if the library's housing problems had been solved.

They had not.

Continue with Chapter 3.