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Guide to the La Crosse County, Wisconsin, La Crosse County Library System Records, 1905-1980 La Crosse Series 019

Guide to the La Crosse County, Wisconsin, La Crosse County Library System Records, 1905-1980

La Crosse Series 019

Summary Information

Records of the La Crosse County Library System. The County Library materials (1921-1980) include a list of board members (1923-1948), a history (1963), and reports of the Traveling Library and the County Library (1905-1935). The bulk of this collection includes meeting minutes dating from 1921-1980. All materials in this collection are photocopies from the originals.
Collection Title
La Crosse County, Wisconsin, La Crosse County Library System Records
Date of Materials
La Crosse County (Wis.). La Crosse County Library System.
Call Number
La Crosse Series 019
0.6 cubic feet
Physical Description
2 archives boxes
Language of Materials
La Crosse Public Library Archives

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], La Crosse County, Wisconsin, La Crosse County Library System Records, La Crosse Series 019, La Crosse Public Library Archives, La Crosse, WI

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Historical Note

In 1898, Mrs. Frank Tiffany, a member of the Fortnightly Club (a women’s literary club in La Crosse devoted to the study of American literature), was instrumental in starting a traveling library system in La Crosse County. Each member of the club donated five books from their personal libraries to help begin the traveling libraries. Initially, there was no expense to the county and the traveling libraries were supported entirely by the club. Three library stations were established in the town of Campbell; the first station was located in the home of Mrs. W.J. Dawson. The goal was to provide books to members of La Crosse County who lived outside of the city of La Crosse. The Fortnightly Club disbanded in 1901, and the Twentieth Century Club took over the county library work that same year. By 1904, there were six traveling libraries in the county.

In November 1904, Miss L.E. Stearns from the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, Mary Alice Smith from the La Crosse Public Library, and Mrs. Tiffany along with other women from the Twentieth Century Club appeared before the La Crosse County Board and requested that a traveling library system be established. On November 18, 1904, the county board unanimously elected five individuals to serve on the board of directors of the newly formed La Crosse County Library Traveling Library Association (later known as the La Crosse County Library Board). Those individuals were Mary L. Dawson, Emma T. Mitchell, George McMillan, County Superintendent B. F. Oltman, and County Judge John Brindley.

The La Crosse County Board also appropriated $500, on November 26, 1904, to be used to establish a county system of traveling libraries. The Board received the six traveling libraries donated by the Twentieth Century club as well as 11 English libraries and one small collection of Norwegian books bringing the total to 17 traveling libraries. The traveling libraries were under the supervision of the librarians at the La Crosse Public Library. On Nov. 26, 1904, Mary Smith was appointed supervising librarian. Initially, no salary was offered, but in 1909, a salary of $50 per year was granted. Library stations were located throughout the county in homes, stores, and schools.

After La Crosse Public Library director, Mary Smith, resigned in 1915, Lilly Borreson took her place and completely reorganized the traveling libraries. Children’s books were added to the traveling collections, old books were weeded, and an effort was made to house the collections in area schools rather than in homes.

In 1923, when the tasks of Miss Borreson’s combined duties at the city and county libraries were too great, she resigned from her duties to the county, and was replaced by her assistant, Mrs. Emma Smith. Mrs. Smith became the first county library director. During the fall of 1923, the La Crosse County Library was formed with 1,500 books, which were placed in the lower part of the county courthouse. Books were rotated through the stations to provide users a varied selection of reading material. Stations were maintained in communities throughout the county including Bangor, Onalaska, West Salem, Holmen, Mindoro, Rockland, Campbell, Shelby, and New Amsterdam. The county library also supplemented the collections of school libraries in La Crosse County. Later, the courthouse library was moved across the street to the courthouse annex at 411 Vine Street.

When the La Crosse County Board of Supervisors recommended razing the annex in 1955, the County Board’s Building and Grounds Committee recommended moving the county library to West Salem. The County Library Board opposed this recommendation and the library was moved to 515 West Avenue. The library again moved to a new location, in the basement of the La Crosse County Courthouse, in April 1965.

In 1965, four branches existed, located in Bangor, Onalaska, West Salem and the town of Shelby. The branches were located in quarters supplied by the communities and kept regular hours. The county supplied the materials and staff for their operation. The branch in Shelby closed in 1966. Stations also operated in smaller communities, including Holmen, Burns Corners, French Island and Mindoro.

These were housed in area businesses and, in some cases, private homes. Many of the smaller stations were gradually phased out leaving the five branches that are still in operation as of 2003: Bangor, Campbell, Holmen, Onalaska and West Salem.

As early as the 1970s, the city and the county began to explore the possibility of merging their two library systems in an effort to save money and avoid duplication of services. The La Crosse County Board Administration Committee studied their options in 1973 and determined that there would be no benefit in merging the two systems. The La Crosse County Board again explored the issue in 1974. In 1976, James White, the new director of the La Crosse Public Library, proposed that the La Crosse Public Library take over the administration of the county library system and close the county library in the courthouse basement. The proposal failed. In 1978, James White suggested that the county library contract with the Winding Rivers Library System for administrative services. A La Crosse County Library Study Committee and a League of Women Voters Library Report studied this option in 1982. Ultimately the county retained control of the county library system.

Meanwhile, the county library system continued to experience other changes. By 1978, the Onalaska branch had outgrown its quarters at 300 Main Street and moved to 230 Main Street, the site of the old post office. The branch was known as the Floyde Sias Branch of the La Crosse County Library, and was named for an Onalaska native who had been a strong supporter of the library system.

On September 1, 1985, the La Crosse County Library was evicted from its courthouse location to make room for a new courtroom. The main county library was temporarily moved to the gymnasium of the county-owned Lakeview Health Center in West Salem. The move was to be temporary until a new, larger library could be built in Onalaska. After the move to Lakeview, library usage at the main branch dropped dramatically. West Salem residents continued to use the West Salem branch, and other La Crosse county residents found the location at Lakeview inconvenient. An agreement was unable to be reached between county officials and Onalaska leaders regarding the relocation of the county library to Onalaska.

The Holmen Area Civic and Commerce Association raised nearly $42,000 for equipment to be used if the county library would agree to move to Holmen. So in September 1988, the La Crosse County Library relocated to Holmen.

Holmen’s collection was combined with that of the main county library and the two libraries shared space in a recently renovated building at 103 State Street that had formerly housed a grocery store. Holmen’s library had previously been housed in a single room of the Village Municipal building.

The La Crosse County Library’s other branch libraries continued to experience growth. The Campbell Branch Library was moved to the town hall in 1975 and was enlarged to 810 square feet. Onalaska built a new facility in 1989 at 741 Oak Ave.

In 1991, the John Bosshard Memorial Library was built in Bangor, which replaced the previous location in the Village Hall. Bosshard died and donated land for the library. Cash memorials were used for the building fund.

On December 18, 2000, the Hazel Brown Leicht Memorial Library opened in West Salem. Philip Gelatt, CEO of Northern Engraving Corporation, donated three acres of land to the village in memory of his grandmother, an educator and La Crosse County school superintendent. Donations and money from the village of West Salem funded the building of the new 7500 square foot facility. Previously the West Salem branch had been located in the West Salem Community Center.

In 2002, after the retirement of longtime director Marcia Matheson, the city of La Crosse and the county of La Crosse began to again explore the prospect of merging their two library systems. One possibility included having the county contract with the city for administrative services. Another included having the city or the county take over operations for the other. Talks came to a halt when county leaders objected to tax imbalances between the city and the county. County leaders also expressed concern about the service that rural areas would receive.

As of 2003, the La Crosse County Library owns approximately 134,496 books and 7,400 audio-visual items among its five branches. Internet access is available at each of the branches as well. The Holmen, Onalaska and West Salem branches use filtering software. Holmen and Onalaska get their access from the local school districts, which use filters. The Bangor and Campbell branches do not use filters because they do not receive federal assistance for Internet access.

County Library Directors
1923-1931 Emma Smith
1931-1959 Edna Schaller
1959-1963 Leila Showers
1963-1976 Chester Oien
1976-1983 Mary Adams
1983-2001 Marcia Matheson
2002- Chris McArdle Rojo

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Scope and Contents

The bulk of the materials include minutes from the La Crosse County Library Board (1921-1980). The photocopied minute books prior to 1973 also include some newspaper clippings, annual reports, correspondence, budgets and circulation figures.

Other materials include a list of board members from 1923-1948, and a brief history of the La Crosse County Library (1963). The reports of the Traveling Library System and county library (1905-1935) also include brief historical accounts of the La Crosse County Traveling Library System, the Campbell Library Club, and the La Crosse County Library.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

La Crosse Public Library Archives 1997-2002

800 Main St.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, 54601
(608) 789-7136

Access to Materials

Materials in this collection are available for patron use.

Acquisitions Information

(Accession no. 1997.009) Transferred by Marcia Matheson, Director of the La Crosse County Library System, 1997

Processing Information

Processed by Anita Taylor Doering, 1997; updated by Christine Stolz, 2002

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Related Materials

Related Materials

(Clipping file)
 La Crosse--County--Library
(Clipping file)
 La Crosse--Organizations--Twentieth Century Club
(Ephemera file)
 La Crosse--County--Library
(Ephemera file)
 La Crosse--Organizations--Twentieth Century Club
(Annual reports)
 La Crosse County Library
(Misc. MSS box 13 / folder 3)
 Women's Fortnightly Club Yearbook, 1898
(351.77571 L119)
 Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors of La Crosse County, Wisconsin for the year [...]
(020.624 R116H 2001)
 History of Fauver Hill Study Club, Formerly Campbell Library Association
(021.65 W584C 1976)
 A Consideration of the Merger of the La Crosse County Library and the La Crosse Public Library
(La Crosse Series 008)
 La Crosse, Wisconsin, La Crosse Public Library Records
(La Crosse Series 014)
 Winding Rivers Library System Records

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • La Crosse County (Wis.). La Crosse County Library System.


  • Libraries--Wisconsin--La Crosse County
  • Public records--Wisconsin--La Crosse County
  • Regional library systems--Wisconsin

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Collection Inventory

Box Folder

Board members, 1923-1948 

1 1

History, 1963 

1 2
Box Box Folder

Minutes, 1921-1980 

2 1 4-8
Box Folder

Reports of traveling library and county library, 1905-1935 

1 3