Archive for the ‘Library History’ Category


More about our door!

October 11, 2012

Artist Kent Parks painting of our library door…prior to its last move!

Beautifully painted by local artist Kent Parks in 2005, the watercolor to your left depicts the library’s entry from 1983 to 2010.  The library now owns this painting and you can see it hanging in the hall on the way to the FCCU Community Room.  Come and see it in person!  It’s not to be missed!

From 1916 to 1983, the library’s entrance was situated at an angle at the corner of East Milwaukee and Merchants Avenues.

Due to the historic nature of the grand terra cotta pieces which include the columns and the carved stone naming the Dwight Foster Pvblic Library, the entrance has actually been preserved and moved twice.

In 1983 the entrance was moved down Merchants Avenue to approximately where the painting is now hanging.   The ledge to the right was the entrance floor from 1983 until 2010.

As a part of the library’s 2010 renovation, the entry was moved further down Merchants Avenue to offer a grade level entrance which was considered essential to making the library accessible to all.

For the second time, the terra cotta  was painstakingly disassembled, labeled, cleaned, stored, and finally reassembled at the current entrance location.

Generous donations to the capital campaign made it possible to preserve this important historical feature.  As a result, the terra cotta still stands today serving to welcome all who enter nearly 100 years after its original construction.


Putting the pieces back together

August 29, 2010

Jason from Masonry Restoration at work rebuilding a pillar

I’ve learned a great deal throughout this project including what “terra cotta” means.    And the word “corbel” (which I only knew as a brand of brandy before…albeit with a different spelling!)  And the way the “v” in the word “pvblic” was commonplace during a few years in architectural history.  I also now know that moving the pillars from the old entry to the new entry is painstaking word.  I’ve seen how much care the crew from Masonry Restoration has taken with the terra cotta.  *Thank you* to them for their expert efforts to preserve our important library history. 

Piece by piece they took it down, labeled it, removed it, stored it, and put it back together. The work is almost completed now.  I can’t tell you what a delight it was to see it today.  (Click on the photo to get a closer look).  

Almost finished!



Existing conditions

July 24, 2010

I’ve learned a new vocabulary with this building project.  The phrase “existing conditions” is used quite often.  It generally means something negative.  In my life before the building project, “existing conditions” might have been a way to describe the fact that it was sunny today.  In my life since the building project, it means they found rotted wood due to failed EIFS (synthetic stucco system).  Or charred wood behind the walls from the fire in 1945.  

The library was damaged by fire on January 22, 1945. The fire started in the kitchen and damaged some 23,000 volumes by smoke and 501 books which had been in the kitchen were destroyed. Six truckloads of debris were removed. The library was temporarily closed and the circulation library was moved to the former wartime Ration Office in the Municipal Building. The library remained closed until June 16, 1945. During this time, the kitchen and a closet were combined into a kitchen-storeroom.

Today, after the removal of the walls, you can still see the evidence via charred wood; it even smells faintly of smoke. 

Here is a photo of the wood rot from the failed EIFS used in 1983.  Joe Daniels Construction Company has finished replacing and rectifying the problem areas.  We are very glad to have discovered this “existing condition” even though it was unexpected.  It would be far worse to have a continued degradation of the structural integrity of your building. 

Even though we’ve found any number of “existing conditions” , we are still on time and on budget.   Unexpected does not mean unplanned for.   We were fully anticipating that we would have some surprises to discover and our project budget reflects that.  This is an old building with a rich past;  that makes for a complicated project.

Kudos to Uihlein-Wilson Architects for their design, planning and project oversight as well as Joe Daniels Construction Company for their responses to “existing conditions” and their demonstrated commitment to quality construction.  Together they are working hard to ensure that our community will have a structurally sound and utterly beautiful library.


So noiseless it got lost

June 25, 2010

Not too long ago, a construction worker on our library’s construction project handed me a typewriter that has spent the last 50 years or so in oblivion.  When I asked him where he found it, he wasn’t sure because someone else on the crew made the discovery and didn’t necessarily think it important enough to document the *exact* location.   (Who knows, maybe he was a young guy and had never actually seen a typewriter in real life!)  Anyway, it was found in the library’s furnace room, in the depths of the basement.   I have no idea where it was hiding because I personally cleaned out that room, peering into the corners and into every nook and cranny.  Or so I thought.

So quiet it was lost for 50 years!

Dirty but fully intact, this beautiful black Noiseless Remington typewriter is vintage 1930s according to the research I did.   Amazingly enough, the ribbon still has some ink.  The design of this typewriter is utterly fascinating.   Only a few strike keys were actually used to account for all the letters of the alphabet as well as all of the numbers. The clever design utilized multiple striking positions for a single key.  It’s just a lovely piece of history for so many reasons.

I asked the former director, Mary Gates, about the typewriter.  Mary begin her tenure here as the library director in 1974 and she had never seen it.  But she did say that she’s sure that her predecessor, Irene Metke, probably purchased it shortly after her arrival in 1936.   Mrs. Metke was the director of the Dwight Foster Public Library from 1936 to 1973.  She was well known for her love of typing catalog cards.  Seriously.

So I dug up an old catalog card and stuck it in the platen just like old times.  Perhaps that card was originally typed in this very typewriter.  We’ll be finding a place to display this in the historic area of our new library.   So I’m actually really glad it’s noiseless.


100 years ago today

May 6, 2010

Yes, exactly 100 year ago today the Daily Jefferson County Union ran a story that is amazingly fitting for today, May 6, 2010.

Melissa Wagner of the Daily Jefferson County Union found it while researching archives for the newspaper’s “Memory Lane” feature.  She kindly shared it with me.  It ran in the Daily Union newspaper on May 6, 1910.   I think it’s so heartening that the citizens were in search of a first-class building, well located.  I had to smile when I read that donors had until the next day to commit their support.  It appears they were overly ambitious in their capital campaign deadline and had to extend it a bit.  The library’s history book indicates they had to work fairly hard (for longer than one day) to raise funds to help augment the eventual gift from Henry Southwell.  It actually took six more years to get the library built (in the building that we know today) at the corner of East Milwaukee and Merchants Avenues.  One hundred years later, we want the very same thing for Fort Atkinson.  That’s what we’ve worked so hard to ensure.  May our descendants, 100 years from now, still have a first-class library building, well located.

Here is the exact text:

An unexpected opportunity to secure a valuable location for a Public Library for the City of Fort Atkinson, together with a building which will meet the needs of the Library for some years to come was presented to the Library Board. A Committee was appointed to interview the people of Fort Atkinson and ascertain if a sufficient amount could be raised to purchase the property. The Committee met with favorable responded when soliciting for funds; the contributions already promised insure the success of the undertaking, and that Fort Atkinson is to have, some day, a first-class Library Building, well located. There still remains a few hundred dollars to be secured, and in order that all who have a desire to aid in this work may have the opportunity to give as much or as little as it may be their pleasure to donate for this laudable and public spirited undertaking this announcement is made and those who wish to assist are requested to inform any member of the Library Board or the Librarian not later than Saturday, May 7th, if possible.  Members of the Library Board are: Mrs. C.A. Caswell, A.J. Glover, Rev. A.F. Nicolaus, Prof. J.A. Hagemann, Mrs. J.F. Schreiner, Mrs.D.A. Bullock, A.C. Price, Mrs. C.W. Ferris, J.N. Hager and A.M. Webb. The Librarian is Sue Nichols.


The more things change, the more they stay the same

April 17, 2010
I’ve always loved that saying.  Maybe I love it because it’s helped me feel less afraid of the future.  Change can be very scary.   Holding onto memories of the past helps you remember why you are trying that new thing or provides comfort in case of anxiety.   As we worked through the process of designing our library, we had many discussions about how to keep the most beautiful spaces.  We dug through old photo albums to see how things looked years ago, before any of us were born.  When we talked about the area between the 1916 and 1931 structures we realized we had an opportunity to recreate something similar to what there before.  We decided to put doors back in place providing the best opportunity to keep the reading areas in the 1916 library as quiet as possible, creating an area for quiet contemplation.   We’ve planned double doors at all three doorways.  When I was at the library this week, I saw they’d removed my office as well as the entire circulation desk that spanned both rooms.  You can now see exactly where the three sets of double doors will go.   I see this as a  nod to history, a way to highlight a stunning architecture feature, and a practical solution to reducing noise.  Take a look at the photo and imagine how beautiful it will be!

Obviously, there's a reason I'm a librarian and not an architect!


Planning the library of the future….crystal ball not required

July 17, 2009

When I was a children’s librarian, sometimes around Halloween I dressed as a fortune teller (calling myself Esmerelda) and used a crystal ball to help me “reveal” fortunes to children.

What a fun event for me.  I think the kids enjoyed it too because the surprise on their faces indicated pure delight as the blank fortune-cookie-sized paper magically transformed with words of good fortune…right before their very eyes.  (I can’t tell you how I did it.  You never know when I’ll be asked to resurrect Esmerelda.)

Over the years, I’ve wished that one could actually use a crystal ball to help plan the future.  It would be much easier to just know exactly what new technologies we can expect over the next 20 years.  We’ve had a great deal of change in our world over the last two decades and the pace of innovation doesn’t seem to be slowing down.  Our library facility needs to expertly respond to changes both tomorrow…and for a good long while.  It’s important to take responsibility for proper planning.

I’ve come to realize that planning never really stops.  If you think about it, our planning for this expansion and renovation began as a part of our building project in 1983.  At that time, the architect designed unfinished spaces and called for utilization of them within 20 years.   Perhaps the architects had a crystal ball when they predicted that because they were remarkably accurate in estimating when we would run out of space.

But many things have changed since then.  Materials certainly are getting smaller.  Miniaturization, digitization, and electronic access are not only the trend, they are the future.

So why do we need to expand?

A well written blog post by Jamie LaRue entitled Imagine the post Kindle public library discusses the reasons very succinctly and accurately.  LaRue’s view is that libraries will always need space for children’s collections, technology, meeting rooms,  servers, displays, and librarians…key people in making sense of it all.

I’d also emphasize that libraries have always been about access to content.  The library is able to provide for the many what many would not be able to provide for themselves.   The format is almost beside the point.  It’s about equitable access to content.  Libraries don’t just bridge the digital divide.  They fill it.

Sometimes access involves physical space, sometimes it doesn’t.  But computers take space just as books do.   Tables take space.  Kindles take space.  And so do people.

Our library building and renovation project is built upon a foundation of self-examination.   We have studied carefully our service needs and our building.  We have done that in the context of our community.   I’m pretty sure I know how to use spreadsheet software better than my crystal ball at this point.

We have looked forward as well, factoring in the changes we anticipate and building in flexibility to accommodate the (as yet) unknown.  Our plan allows for growth in certain collection areas but not all of them.  We are not planning for growth,  for example, in the non-fiction or reference book collections.  We have looked at a whole range of needs including meeting room and seating space, better work-flow, easier way finding, greatly improved accessibility, incorporation of technology for both public and staff, and general (and very critical) infrastructure upgrades.   We plan to capture those unfinished spaces and make them functional.

The actual design is being refined and finalized throughout the summer.    I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the plan is progressing.    Based on a solid understanding of our environment, fundamental commitment to the delivery of excellent library services, and the knowledge that operational flexibility is key…we are planning for our future.   As we’ve been working, we’ve taken stock of what we have and all realize how lucky we are.  We’ve got an unbelievable foundation with historic architectural details that are worthy of  preserving and rediscovering.   It is going to be both a beautiful and functional building!

No one really knows where our world will be in even five years.  But I think it’s safe to say that this library will be right here, providing content to our community and fostering personal growth for our citizens in the best way we know how.

We don’t need a crystal ball to see that.

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