Archive for the ‘Other libraries’ Category


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?


What’s so special about Andrew Carnegie?

December 5, 2008

I’ve asked myself this question over the years.

Andrew Carnegie was a really important person in the history of libraries in our country. However, he didn’t actually donate to build Fort Atkinson’s library.

According to our history books, Carnegie was asked but denied the request (citing the fact that we already had a library building). So when the citizens wanted to replace the house which served as a library with an actual library building, they had to rely on other benefactors, including the generous descendants of Dwight Foster.

Andrew Carnegie’s contributions for the good of public libraries in America were beyond significant. His gifts profoundly improved the library experience for thousands of communities. He donated to many Wisconsin libraries, including Jefferson. You can read about that (and more) at the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center.

Carnegie had a number of quotations that I admire. One is, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” He was certainly an example of someone who lived his philosophy, giving away almost 90 percent of his fortune before he died.

There is an interesting piece about Carnegie on the National Park Service’s web site (Carnegie Facts). It indicates that by the time of his death, Carnegie had given gifts to various charities totaling nearly $350 million. I’m unsure what the present value of that amount of money would be. I’m not going to do the math on that (I’ve got other math problems taking priority). Anyway, I think it’s sufficient to say it’s a whole bunch of money.

Andrew Carnegie was a wise and complex man who believed in libraries as the place where you “teach people how to fish.” I happen to think that this is one of the highest purposes of libraries. And a task for which we are inherently well-equipped.

Napoleon Hill, motivational author, discusses his meeting with Andrew Carnegie in the video you can see below. Fascinating!


Revolution in the stacks

June 10, 2008

There’s no question our world is changing.  In terms of what these societal and technological changes mean for libraries it is interesting to note what other libraries are doing to respond to the trends.  An interesting article entitled: Revolution in the stacks can be found in the June 2008 Governing Magazine. 

From offering music recording studios to providing a coffee shop experience there are many examples of innovative library services.  The article even discusses the merits of throwing out the Dewey Decimal system.

Now I have to admit, I’m not sure I agree with dumping Dewey!

I’m all for change, but the benefits of a system superior to the Dewey Decimal system would have to be demonstrated before I’d make that change.  (Okay, so maybe I’ve got one or two sacred cows.)

As we get set to plan our community library building we realize it is driven by the services we wish to provide today, tomorrow, and well into the future.  Thinking about the possibilities is just as important as thinking about the history.



May 16, 2008

Originally uploaded by davidking


Here is the parking garage at the Kansas City Public Library. In this case the designers were thinking outside of the box…but definitely inside the book! I don’t think the library board members and I will be taking a field trip here because you can actually get the idea pretty well from the photo; but it would sure be fun to have a conversation about which books would be selected, wouldn’t it? (If you click on the photo, it enlarges and you can see the titles better!)


Book Sculpture

May 16, 2008

Book Sculpture

Originally uploaded by gwENvision

Kansas City Public Library really has some really nifty artistic representations of books. I’m not thinking I’ll move there (it’s way too much fun here), but wouldn’t it be a treat to see this? I wonder if they let you touch it?!

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