History of the Library

The library’s beginnings were about 1897 when Dr. George M. MacGregor, a physician and Superintendent of schools, put a bookcase in the post office and moved some school library books there for public use. The books were locked up except for certain hours on Saturday which was known as “circulation day.” The meager stock of books was augmented by an appeal to the public for reading material; in this way, additional volumes and used magazines were added.

A library board of directors was formed in 1902 with Dr. MacGregor as president and his wife, Charlotte, as an unpaid librarian. Other board members were pioneer professionals and merchants who were interested in the cultural aspects of this growing community. In short order, $300 was raised for establishment of a library, $200 of which was appropriated for the annual maintenance of it. Miss Cornelia Marvin, state Library Commission organizer, came to the December, 1902 board meeting to give help and advice. Three dusty rooms in the back of the old city building were decided on for the fledgling library; with much work at renovation, suitable accommodations were made. The first librarian was Charlotte MacGregor who was paid $20 for the period from December, 1903 to July, 1904. One day a week was circulation day and the janitor was allowed 25 cents for cleaning. Subsequent librarians were Irma Hebard, Nellie Lee, Grace Allen, Jennie Lovejoy and Amy Humphrey. Salaries had climbed from $40.00 a year to $288 by 1911, but often there was no 25 cents for a janitor so there is a history of board members doing the work.

In 1912, Mabel Farrington became librarian and stayed at the post until 1935. Throughout those years, she carried in the firewood that heated the rooms in the winter, built the fire and on cold days sat bundled behind the desk with her feet on a warm soapstone. Her dedication to the library resulted in a circulation increase from 1000 books a year when she began to nearly 2000 a month by 1921. As the city and its budget grew, Miss Farrington and the board members worked hard to make sure the library had a proportional share. The vision of Mabel Farrington and the board always was for ever larger quarters and inventory. This was realized in a small way in 1930 when the jail was moved from the city building to the new pump house on East Main Street, and the library expanded into the vacated space. The hope for a new library was realized because of the depression; in 1935, Federal money became available for W.P.A. projects and the City of Mondovi received a grant for a new city building contingent on the inclusion of new library facilities. After 23 years of hard work and expectations, Miss Farrington’s dream began to take shape. But she did not live to see the culmination of her work. Several months before the completion of the building, she was in a car accident while on vacation and died of the injuries. The present library was dedicated with many thanks to her and all the others who worked to make it possible.

Over the years, the City of Mondovi has been the major contributor to the library, financing 74% of the budget in 1936 and continuing at about that pace down through the years. If not for late return fines of $50 -$70 per year, the city treasury would have been the only source of revenue most years in that era. Expenditures were frugal and consistent from year to year, with small increases annually. Mrs. Whitman’s salary grew to $770 for Mrs. Solberg in 1949. Less than $100 a year usually was paid out for new books. In 1949, that had risen to $355, not a very large increase considering the post war economy. And the yearly cost for cleaning had shot up from $9.50 in 1936 to a whopping $27.85 by the end of the ’40’s. In addition, a charge of $189 listed under “building stuff” was paid.

Six librarians served over those 15 years: Almeda Farrington, Frances Whitman, Evelyn Stai (1937 – 1941), Bonnie Ward (1942), Margaret McLaughlin (1944 – 1947), and Iva Solberg (1948 – 1950).

That time span saw an increasing appetite for novels and other works of fiction. Margaret Mitchell fascinated the reading public with “Gone with the Wind”, historical fiction about the Civil War.  John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” focused attention on social injustice. Adult reader choices are reflected by a 1949 statistic: within the adult books portion of the total collection, 15% used were non-fiction and 34% were fiction. With the depression slowly grinding away and finally giving way to the pain of war, Americans all over were diverting their attentions with long books, often read under a bare light bulb or kerosene lamp. But diversions were about to take another form which would have a significant effect on libraries, the one in Mondovi included.

By 1949, the budget had risen from $1,086 to $1,600, and there were 8,138 books on the shelves, used by 2,000 patrons who borrowed 6,200 volumes. Instead of ten books a year, readers read six. The vast improvement in radio technology was helping “Fibber McGee and Molly”, “The Shadow” and Jack Benny take over family living rooms. Faster, more comfortable automobiles and good roads took folks who would have been reading a book to the stores that stayed open evenings. People were enthralled with new gadgets, and just over the horizon was the faint glow of the bright, alluring enemy of library usage, Hollywood movies and television.

During those two decades, Mrs. Wright steadily added books and other materials and politely persevered in cajoling the city council to include small extras in the annual appropriation. Her budget in 1967 supported the council’s decision to air condition the library and asked for one round table and ten chairs. Mrs. Wright cited the council and city clerk for “continued cooperation in helping develop and maintain one of the better municipal libraries in this part of Wisconsin”; that request signed by Rev. Harold Haugland, W.H. Hehli and Charlotte Quarberg brought home the appropriation.

Decline in readership was noted with the advent of radio. Patron borrowing had plummeted to six each per year by 1949. TV’s were flooding into households during the 50’s. But, in 1958, 998 patrons had borrowed 16,576 volumes: 16 apiece. Adults were reading 55% fiction and juveniles 81% fiction. Readers were tempted with 594 new volumes. Readership reached a zenith in 1960 when patrons took out 25 items each.

The dedication of librarians is reflected by their wages. Mrs. Wright worked 15 years before her salary topped a dollar an hour. In 1965, she was paid $1800 for 1,664 hours; in 1969, she received $1.62 an hour. The library was usually open 18 hours a week in the winter and 15 hours in the summer; the librarian worked 32 hours.

Historically, the library expands and improves at a very even rate without abrupt changes. The appropriation from the city budget has since 1902 been increased modestly year by year; with each raise, came additional books, furniture and salaries. Fines in the 60’s seem to keep pace with phone bill, and occasional gifts made other purchases possible.

Mrs. Wright left in 1970. Hazel Halvorson worked as interim until Mrs. Mary C. Tanner was hired.

Librarians were not the only ones who brought continuity to the library operation. Since the inception of the library, the library has benefited from the long term, intense interest of library board members. Over the decades the roster of board members reveals names of persons who stayed on for many years. In 1975, the board members were: John Herpst, Mrs. Newell Erickson, Mrs. William Lover, Mrs. Jon Lee, Rev. Norman Ruthenbeck, Mrs. Randall Morey and Mrs. Gene Kramschuster.

The final quarter of the twentieth century of Mondovi Library history is a picture of rapid technological change. The first 75 years saw the introduction of such improvements as electricity, the hectograph, the typewriter, movie cameras and projectors, and the ball point pen. Dazzling as these changes were, present day inventions make them look mundane.

But these changes have not changed the mission, service and usage of the library itself.  When asking people associated with the library what the most significant changes in the last 25 years have been, answers vary. Rachel Morey, who has been involved with the library for over thirty years, points to computerization. An Apple computer came in 1985 while Sue Gun was librarian; Sue noted that the computer did much of the record keeping so she had more time to help library users. John Herpst, school superintendent and board member, said that the transfer of some fiscal controls from the library to the city bookkeeping was an important change.

Patti Berglund, librarian since 1995, including the centennial of the library, did not name any specific change as having the greatest significance. Mrs. Berglund, pictured at the left, has been a proponent of utilizing the Winding Rivers Library System. Using that program, the library puts a wide range of library materials in the hands of the library users: books, videos, books on tape, and research materials are included in loan materials. Mrs. Berglund has also worked to bring county funds to the library to help pay for services rendered to our out of town clients.

Another important addition to the library has been the establishment of The Friends of the Library organization for fund raising for the library and for service projects. Friends use bake sales, book sales, Scrip sales, and membership dues to raise funds. Books for the sale come from library discards and donations. Scrip is a fund raiser involving a purchase and gift certificate program where certificates, purchased at a small percentage discount form the vendor, are sold through United Bank for profit. The Friends have also presented guest speaker programs from the Wisconsin Humanities Council. The Friends was established in 1999 and had about thirty-five members, including some family and business members at the end of the century. Friends also began publishing  a library newsletter.

Microfilm was added to the library which allows area resident to research local history. Mondovi newspapers from 1876 to the present are microfilmed and available to the general public. Users can read the paper on the machine and then print individual pages. Mrs. Berglund noted that people doing family research are not the only users; young people come in and peruse past issues for entertainment by reading materials from “back in the 80’s”.

Modern entertainment and information offerings did not have a totally adverse effect on readership at the library, like some feared, but fueled an appetite for books and other materials. Patrons often come in now with specific authors and books that they heard about in the media. Young adults often select fiction for reading, but many children pick non-fiction. School students use the library less often for research; probably due to school library offerings.   In 2003, the library had 23,000 items on inventory; fiction and non-fiction were balanced. Five newspapers and about 50 magazines were available.

Cindy Brantner/Krett, has been helping in the library since 1994. She started as a volunteer and became a part-time paid staff.

In 2002, the centennial of the library was celebrated.  The library was featured in newspaper articles and in the Friends of the Library newsletter. Library history was shared in Jim Alf’s newsletter articles, which are used in this website history, and through the Mondovi Historical Society’s shared information and pictures. A centennial celebration, prepared by the Friends of the Library, included lunch and guest speakers along with photo shows of the library.

In 2003, the library computer system was updated with a grant from the Gates Foundation. The grant provided computers and software to
update the library with some of the latest technology.

In 2000, the card catalog at the library was automated and computerized for patron access in the library.   Early in 2000, a library webpage was included through the Winding Rivers Library System; the webpage contains basic information about the library and library activities.

Further, in 2007, the library went on-line with the card catalog and book orders through the Winding River Library System; this allows library access to patrons from anywhere that has internet available.  Also in 2007, the Mondovi Lion’s Club donated a low vision reader which permits magnification of  most written materials for vision impaired patrons.

In 2010, the directorship of the library changed when Patti Berglund retired and her position was filled by Arin Wilken.

In 2014, Winding Rivers upgraded the catalog and checkout system to Encore, which will give users a more powerful search tool and user friendly access. Library patrons can access the library catalog from any computer with an internet connection and can request items to be sent to Mondovi from any other library in the Winding Rivers Library System! The consortium has opened so many doors for the library and it’s patrons.

The library has outgrown it’s current space, unfortunately, and now is working on establishing a building project.

Arin Wilken was director until mid 2018, when he moved to Green Bay, WI for other opportunities. Not long after, the position was filled by Katelyn Noack who helped the library update the collection and move forward in the library expansion until she resigned in the spring of 2022. After a brief stint with no library director, Jonathan Lebakken filled the position starting in December of 2022 and is still the current director at this time.