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Black Earth Library celebrates 110 years of service


November 8, 2018

Photo contributed

Tim Nelson, Steven Nelson, Judy Maier, and Nels Nelson present a plaque celebrating Black Earth Library's 110th anniversary.

What do Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Louis Lamour, and the Black Earth Library have in common?

They were all "born" in 1908. The Black Earth Library recently celebrated 110 years with a birthday celebration on November 1. The evening saw Teddy Roosevelt (impersonated by Pat Mommaerts) speak about all that was going on worldwide that year. Later, Tim Nelson spoke about his memories of his mother, Margaret Nelson, serving as library director from 1966-1990. Three other Nelson siblings chimed in from time to time during the walk down memory lane.

The year that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, Herman McKenzie began a traveling library, which soon became housed in Ms. Bigelow's drug store in Black Earth. She graciously offered to allow the checking out of books from her drug store from 4-5 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday for the lofty salary of $25 per year. In 1913 a "book shower" was held and the available items for check out grew. 1936 saw a budget of $300 per year for the purchase of books as well as paying a librarian. This did not allow for a permanent source of heat, though, so a stove was borrowed from a Mrs. Miller when weather necessitated it, then returned when spring arrived. In 1940, the library was moved to the Farmer's Store building, and, in 1943, all books could be borrowed for free, instead of "rented" as they had been previously. Later, the library moved to the Masonic Building. The very first library card was issued to Alice Pickering, and in 1957 there were a total of 181 library cards issued.

Thirty-two years after their first budget was initiated the budget increased to $3,300 and a telephone was finally installed in 1968. The next year the library was open five days a week. Nels Nelson recalled a letter his mother wrote to him in 1976 which commented on the book everyone was reading at the time: "Helter Skelter." The Friends of the Library began in 1982 and library fines increased to a penny a day. The first computer arrived in 1985. In 1989, Mrs. Nelson, long time library director, resigned, and the library grew from its former 900 square feet to the 2600 square feet we see today. In 2007, our current library director, Carolyn Shaffer, began her years of service.

Photo contributed

Library Director Margaret Nelson tends to the desk on her 55th birthday on August 16, 1977.

Nels Nelson, son of Margaret Nelson, recalled that "She enjoyed her work so much she didn't care if she got paid or not." He and Tim, plus their siblings Judy Maier and Steve Nelson, presented to the library a plaque that was given to their mother, Mrs. Nelson, in 1990 by then Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson honoring her for her years of service.

Henry Ward Beecher once said, "A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life."

The author Neil Gaiman, who wrote "If There's a Heaven, it's a Library," said "Google can bring you back 10,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one." From the time of the addition of our flag's 46th star, until now, the Black Earth Library has been bringing information and imagination to the lives of this area's residents for 110 years.


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