Library History

By , April 8, 2010

Horizon:  Another Step Forward for the Alma Public Library

by Marie Lange Marquardt

Establishing a library, nursing it and growing it has always been a struggle, especially for a small rural city such as Alma, Wisconsin.   But the underlying desire by this community to have a central depository of information, self-education, entertainment and free expression has always made that struggle fruitful.

Alma Public Library joined the Horizon Shared System in May 2007:  a next step up after automating the library in the year 2000.  It took one year to re-barcode the entire library so that our new barcodes could be read at any library in the Winding River’s System…so we are now part of a 31-library catalog.

So many new services for the public are gained by this automation, especially the ability to request books from the comfort of your own home computer and have them delivered to your library.  This was such a large stepping stone to take and I hope the public takes the opportunity to thank its Library Board and City Council for approving the funding for the new system.

Here are some frequently asked questions:

Can I order library stuff from my home computer? The answer is definitely Yes! Your librarian will give you an address to bookmark as one of your favorites on your Internet.  You can sign in with your library card number and a PIN number and browse around the Horizon Catalog.

How do I get Started? Your library will check your patron record to make sure your address, email and phone number are correct and let you know your PIN number.  Your librarians can show you how easy it is to sign in.

How big is this Horizon System? We have access to 31 libraries in the Winding Rivers System.  That’s a lot of books, tapes, DVDs, music to choose from.

How Fast can I get a best-seller? Before Horizon, you may have to wait three weeks for Alma’s copies of James Patterson or Sandra Brown to return to the New Book Shelf.   You might not be lucky enough to get the book before another patron checks it out.  Now, in the shared Horizon system, you join the waiting list among the 31 libraries.  It is first come, first serve.  The list narrows down quickly and you may receive the book sooner than you think! (Certainly sooner that the six weeks you may have waited before)

From a previous article:    I decided to look back at some of its stepping stones.  So from the city clerk’s vault I retrieved the archival records of the library.

The first thing I found was the packet of information celebrating the library’s 50th anniversary in 1989.   What a milestone that must have been!  The library had just expanded to a large, bright room adjacent to the City Hall with 8,500 volumes, modern equipment, cassettes, tapes, TV, VCR, all under the direction of librarian Linda Torgerson.  One special speaker for the open house was Gladys Stohr who had continually served on the library board for the entire 50 years.  This was an impressive stepping stone, full of hard work and service, but it was not the first.

Another set of the articles told how the library officially became “public” back in 1965 when it moved into the city

building (formerly the teacher’s college and which is now the Alma Museum).  With a spacious room, paneled walls, new carpet, a collection of 4,200 books and Miss Alice Johnson as the librarian, the public library was launched.  I can only imagine all the planning efforts, legalities, decisions, money and manpower it must have taken to accomplish this.  How happy that open house celebration must have been!  The archives were full of story hours, names of children who had won coloring contests, summer reading participants over the years, volunteers.  There were articles on Christmas parties, open houses, and Brownie Girl Scout ceremonies at the library.

I began to realize what a public library really means.  It, by its very nature, becomes the mirror of its community.  Not having a library in the community would be like not having one of your eyes, or ears, or arms.  If it is the reflection of the community, then it also becomes its springboard for growth.

But I believe its growing pains had its origins further back.

I retrieved the old 1939 ledgers and meeting minutes again from the city vault and found names inscribed there such as Mohr, Brevick, Harrison, Bachhuber,  Anstensen, Drew, Kelly, McCabe, and of course Gladys Stohr.  These first participants in an official library association were concerned with paying $6.00 a month to lease space in the Schreiber building; worried about overflow of donated books on the shelves, electing officers, sending notices to the Buffalo

Journal, and assigning responsibilities.  Eventually Miss Ottilia Neumeister was hired as librarian in 1943.  It seems that for only twenty-five cents a year you could join the Alma Free Library association and have a vote in how it was run.

So this was the official beginning.  But I am told that there is more to the story.  It goes back to my original thought that this library was born out of determination to keep the mind active and growing.  Before any library was actually established, individuals in the community saw the benefit of trading, loaning and borrowing texts from one another: neighbor to neighbor, home to home.  This sharing of information has to be the fundamental cornerstone for where we are today in the library of the twenty-first century.

As this little library moves into automation, privacy issues, Internet filtering, freedom to have access to diversified materials, censorship issues and funding problems, I believe it is important to draw strength and direction from our strong community roots.  Believe me, according to their meeting notes, the original custodians of the library struggled with many of these same questions.

I am now encouraged as librarian to merge the best of the past with the best promise for the future.  After our 2007 milestone, it will be interesting to see who will be in the next generation to serve this honorable community tradition.

© 2010 Marie Marquardt, Alma Public Library

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