Digging into the Past - The LPL Archives Celebrates 40 Years of Service

Posted by Scott on November 25, 2020

(written by Anita Taylor Doering, Archives Staff)



The original Archives reading room, 1988


Almost 100 years after the La Crosse Public Library opened its doors in November 1888, the Archives and Local History program began to serve the public in December of 1980.  Adding the program became possible in conjunction with a building expansion project and it had strong public support from the La Crosse Area Genealogical Society and private donations from Charles Gelatt.  Since that time, the Library has undergone another addition in 1996 and the Archives stacks and public areas were increased in size.


The Archives’ original compact storage area, 1995.  Yes, that IS an IBM Selectric typewriter!


In 1981 a professional archivist was hired to begin processing collections and establish policy and procedures.  The Archives’ collections were developed to provide specialized reference service and materials to researchers and the general public interested in local history and genealogy.  At first, the collections consisted of local history and genealogy books pulled from the general stacks along with a few manuscript collections stored in the basement.  A strong relationship with the local historical society developed, so that they transferred manuscript materials to the Archives for processing and public access.


A sampling of the Archives’ closed stack area


Today the Archives & Local History Area consists not only of archival and book materials, but includes newspaper clipping files, microfilm and microfiche, local and genealogical publications, maps, local annual reports, ephemera, and photographs. 

The Library is committed to preserving and making available historical local records to the public.  We have worked extensively with the City Clerk’s Office, Park Department, and Public Works and the city’s Engineering Department to obtain their historical records.  These materials help us answer questions from the public as well as city hall. 


Volunteers from the La Crosse Area Genealogical Society help record information from tombstones in Oak Grove Cemetery, 2020


Financial gifts and grants have been an important part of the growth of the collection.  The Friends of the La Crosse Public Library as well as the La Crosse Area Genealogical Society have supported the program with materials, equipment, and volunteers.  Since 1998, we have added donations from the public online through our genealogy databases on the web which have reached out to people all across the United States and beyond which can be accessed through our website http://archives.lacrosselibrary.org/


A La Crosse middle school visits the Archives as a part of a National History Day tour, 2017


The staff prepares a weekly column “The Way it Was” featuring an historical photograph in the La Crosse Tribune, and we write blogs like this narrative that we hope readers find to be of interest.  Until the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world in March 2020, school tours, National History Day projects and UW-L public history classes also keep us busy, as well as other community organizations and programs.  Many of those encounters and programming are now being done via teleconferencing.  The Dark La Crosse Show had to be put on hiatus this year as well.

Your donations of time, talents and treasures are always welcome!  Volunteers help us with indexing projects and The LPLA could not exist without donations of photographs, papers, documents and the like to help grow the collection.  Financial donations help us provide conservation and preservation to our materials as these are not covered in our operating budget.  Email or call us for more info: archives@lacrosselibrary.org or phone (608) 789-7136.