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Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history

8. Education,   pp. 147-164

Page 160

twentieth century, 64 Carnegie libraries were built in Wisconsin. (Wyatt 1986: vol. 3,
Education, 5-1-5-5)
The history of the Janesville Public Library is very similar to the above scenario. The
Janesville Lyceum, organized in 1856, established the first library in the city. It had a reading
room and library collection open to members, but the organization focused mainly on lectures,
debates, and performances. The library was an adjunct to these functions. (Pierce 1984:6-7)
In 1865, the Young Men's Association was formed to establish a library, hold debates and
lectures, and promote intellectual culture. The organization was similar to the Janesville
Lyceum but placed a greater emphasis on establishing a library for its members. By 1871, the
organization had 1,200 books, a collection of periodical literature, and a reading room open in
the evenings for members who paid an annual fee of two dollars. (Pierce 1984:8-10)
Around 1872, the Young Men's Association sought funding for its library from the city. The city
charter did have a provision to support a library from the sale of liquor licenses. But the
release of this money to the organization was opposed by most on the city council, and the
provision was removed in 1873. The Young Men's Association folded in 1882. In 1874, the
Janesville Ladies Temperance Union organized a free library and reading room, but it was
short-lived and probably primarily focused on the temperance issue. (Pierce 1984:10)
In the late 1870s and early 1880s, some Janesville residents began to agitate for a public library.
In 1883, a group of prominent Janesville women organized the Janesville Public Library
Association to further the cause. They initiated a fund drive, and in the spring of 1883, Burr
Robbins, a local circus owner, offered a benefit performance for the library effort. The
association also sold subscriptions. With those proceeds and $757 raised by the circus, they
were able to acquire the 2,500 volumes of the Young Men's Association library as a foundation
for Janesville's free public library. (Pierce 1984:10-17)
Other benefits for the library were held, new books were purchased, and the Ladies
Temperance Union library was acquired. The goal of the Janesville Public Library Association
was to transfer its library to the city, and in April 1883, city voters approved a plan to acquire
and support the library. By the end of 1883, a board of directors of the Janesville Free Public
Library had set up rules, procedures, and committees to operate the facility. (Pierce 1984:17-
The new public library was first located in the upper floors of Bennett's Block (later the Carle
Block, 27-29 W. Milwaukee St.). In 1887, the library moved into a new building erected by
Pliny Norcross at 7-15 S. River St. (not extant). The library was open to all people over 15
years of age; and younger patrons needed parental permission. Use of the library was free to
Janesville residents; other Rock County residents paid a two-dollar annual fee. (Pierce 1984:27-
28, 163-164)
Early collection development at the Janesville Public Library centered around its goal to be an
educational resource in the community. In particular, the library developed a fine reference
and encyclopedia collection. Despite its progressive attitude, the library was restrictive in its
policies and inefficient in its cataloguing. Its shelves were closed, and patrons selected titles
from a printed catalogue. By 1890, a professional librarian was hired to convert this outdated
system to the Dewey Decimal System and establish a card catalogue. (Pierce 1984:3540)
From its early years, the Janesville Public Library cooperated with the public schools to
promote reading and research at the library. It reserved books for student use, used school
reading lists as a guide for purchasing books, visited schools to promote the library, and gave

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