Archive for March, 2009


The problems with disappearing ink

March 24, 2009

Last Tuesday evening, the Fort Atkinson city council approved the contract for services related to the library’s expansion project with Uihlein Wilson Architects.

We are very excited to enter this next chapter and will work diligently to ensure that we move forward in the most thoughtful manner possible.  More about that as the design process unfolds.

I wanted to take a moment to publicly thank James Debilzen, reporter for the Daily Jefferson County Union…as well as all the staff and the Daily Union itself.  James wrote the story about the library’s building project that appeared on the front page of the newspaper the day after the city council meeting.   James not only wrote about what transpired at the meeting, but he also did his research regarding the history of our project which allowed him to write an informative, detailed, and accurate story.

James and I joke about the fact that when he first started work at the Daily Union he was told by staff that he’d have to cover the library’s building project…just like the five reporters before him.

Okay, so we’ve been at this project for quite awhile!

All this time, in fact for its entire history, the Daily Union has had a presence everywhere in the community.  They report on what matters to us.   They ask questions and share information. They hold folks accountable and, more often then not, bring people together.

I’ve been privileged to know most of their staff over the years.  I have yet to find a reporter who wasn’t interested in and passionate about telling our very own local stories.  The Dwight Foster Public Library, the treasure trove of stories, is more than a little thankful that we have an official storyteller among us.

There is enormous value in having a local newspaper.  As “the information place” our library needs the Daily Union to help us provide information to the community.  As a depository for local history, we would not have consistency and depth without them.  The newspaper provides a great community service.  Ventura County (California) sheriff Bob Brooks penned an editorial  in the Ventura County Star that thoughtfully details the many ways in which a local newspaper matters to citizens.

So what can you do?

You can subscribe.  You can advertise.  You can support the advertisers by spending your money with them.

At the library, we’ve made the decision to subscribe to several copies, one for daily reading and one for archival purposes.  We also purchase all of the newspapers on microfilm so that we have a permanent historical record.   We advertise our jobs openings in their classifieds.  As an individual, I support them with a personal subscription, have given it as a gift for others, and read the ads so I can frequent the advertisers in town.

As the world of publishing continues to change and some newspapers across America are ceasing publication, I think it’s vital that we make an effort to support and preserve what matters.  Web sources absolutely have a place at our information table.  A strength of the web is its speed and fluidity.  But that is also a fundamental weakness.  As a librarian, I’m not a fan of the unverified, undocumented or uninformed.  I’m also no fan of copyright infringement, plagiarism, or disappearing information caused by someone else pulling the plug on what’s accessible.  Whenever I think of the “here today, gone tomorrow” possibilities of web information I am reminded of that old childhood prank where you splash someone in specially prepared disappearing ink and…

…discover later (thankfully) it has magically vanished!

But I digress.  All of these troubling activities are happening on the web already.   That isn’t to say there aren’t worthwhile and valuable Intermet resources available (with unparalleled connectivity options) as well as entrepreneurial opportunities with enormous possibility.  What I am trying to convey is that I think as a society we must understand (in a way that spurs action) that worthy content costs money to create, produce, and preserve.

I sincerely hope newspapers will stop disappearing.  We need them to help us not only make sense of our world in the here and now but also to record it (with accountability and permanence) for later.  Newspapers…like libraries…are central to democracy.  They matter.   The Daily Union really matters.

The  disappearing ink thing wasn’t all that funny when I was 12.  It’s a lot less funny now.


Sometimes the less said, the better

March 17, 2009

Fort Atkinson’s famous poet, Lorine Niedecker, is known for her spare writing style.  She “condensed” her words into ideas that hinted at meanings on multiple levels.  Many consider her one of the most brilliant poets to ever have lived.

When I was a high school student, shelving books here at the library, I was soon introduced to Niedecker’s books of poetry as well as her personal library.  I think the introduction went something like this:  “Here are Lorine’s books.  She’s our famous poet.  Make sure you keep them in order.  Don’t let anyone check any of them out.  They are VERY VALUABLE.”

Immediately I knew that of all the books here those were our most precious.  I was 16 years old at the time and I grew up in Fort Atkinson, but  I had never heard of her before.  It was a complete surprise to me to discover the treasure trove right here in this very building.

Over the years, the people who appreciate (and revere) Lorine have done a marvelous job of spreading the word about her work, talent, and life here on Blackhawk Island.  An upcoming event, Here on Earth with Jean Feraca, on Wisconsin Public Radio, is an example of a unique way her poetry can be shared.

Lorine used to work here at the Dwight Foster Public Library.   She also worked at the Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital and Hoard’s Dairyman.  I’ve been told that she wanted the library to have her personal collection because she understood what a library means to a community.  We are, after all, the place of words.

As we move forward with our building expansion, we are keenly aware of Lorine’s place in both our library’s history as well as our community’s.  We are “at the table” (thanks to Amy Lutzke) with all things Lorine and remain proud of her significant (and everlasting) contribution to the body of poetry.  We are excited to be able to incorporate her gifts to the world into our expanded library.

Tune in to Jean Feraca’s show (more info about date/time if you follow that link to the program.)  Come in and check out a book of Lorine’s poetry.  Drive out to see her cabin.  See the room at the Hoard Historical Museum. Read about Lorine’s fascinating life.  See the film.  Also, you won’t want to miss the story about Lorine in today’s Daily Jefferson County Union.

Sometimes the less said, the better.  Other times it’s important to spread the good word.

Lorine in the cabin on Blackhawk Island

Lorine in the cabin on Blackhawk Island


Embracing our “V”niqueness

March 10, 2009

For nearly one hundred years, people entering the library here in Fort Atkinson have been admiring the columns and stonework at the entryway of the Dwight Foster Public Library.

The name of the library, beautifully cut in the stone, makes an elegant statement.  It reads:  DWIGHT FOSTER PVBLIC LIBRARY.

So why does it say PVBLIC instead of PUBLIC?  What’s that all about?

I’ve been asked about that many times over the years.   People have suggested different reasons that the engraving above the front doors uses a “V” rather than a “U.”  One thought is that it was easier to carve straight lines than curved ones.  That seems plausible.   But then what about the letter “C”?  That’s a curved letter if ever I saw one.

The best explanation I’ve found is at the Henderson County Public Library website.  They are a Pvblic Library too.

Here is what it says:

According to the World Book encyclopedia, U was adopted from the Greek letter Y. The Romans dropped the bottom stroke and wrote the letter as V. This was used for both the consonant sound V and the vowel sound U. Some time around 900 A.D. people began to use V at the beginning of a word and U in the middle of a word. It was during the time between 1400 A.D. and 1600 A.D. that U became the letter commonly used for the vowel sound.

There was a Renaissance of the Classical style of architecture in the United States from 1890-1940. William R. Ware, the founder of M.I.T.’s School of Architecture, taught a style that he called American Vignola. (Vignola was an Italian architect who codified the standards for Classical Architecture in his work Rules of the Five Orders of Architecture)…

In the early 1900s, it was common for educated men to be taught both Greek and Latin. Therefore the people involved with the design of this building and many others during this American Renaissance more than likely would have known the Classic Roman alphabet used the symbol V for both U and V.

We are not the only library to be a “pvblic” library.  Pictures have been found of several other libraries where a V is substituted for a U. While their architectural style does not always match our Classical columns, domes and pediments, most of them were built during this time of American Vignola. So it is accurate to say that we were built during a time when architects and builders were embracing Classic themes. Therefore it is very likely that the engraving reads “Henderson Pvblic Library” because it was in accordance to what was popular in the architectural world at the time our library was built….

The oldest portion of our library was built in 1916.  So the timing is exactly right for this explanation.  And it makes sense that it was, indeed, an architectural statement…a “design thing.”   Henry E. Southwell of Chicago, son-in-law of Dwight Foster, who donated the funds to build a new library had only two stipulations attached to his gift.  One was that the library be of  “good design” and the other was that it be named in honor of Dwight Foster.

We’re happy to report, all these years later, that our library is still named Dwight Foster…and remains committed to the “good design” stipulation.

So DWIGHT FOSTER PVBLIC LIBRARY it is…and shall remain.  We’re good with embracing our “V”niqueness.

What's up with this "V" here?

Lazy stonecutter? Poor speller? Or good designer?

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