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Medford Free Public Library

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1916, Hans T. Liebert. 104 E. Perkins St.

Middle-class women commonly led the way in establishing libraries in many communities in Wisconsin and elsewhere. In 1902, the Medford Women’s Club joined with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) to organize a lending library, housed in the WCTU’s Temperance Hall in hopes that good books would offer men sober recreation, away from saloons. By 1913, those quarters were too small to accommodate the collection, so the library board applied to the Andrew Carnegie Foundation for a grant to construct a modern library. The Medford Women’s Alliance raised funds to furnish the library and purchase books. Liebert designed the building following the foundation’s strict guidelines, developed by Carnegie’s secretary, James Bertram. After 1908, every Carnegie library had to adopt one of Bertram’s six plans. Bertram insisted on symmetry, simplicity, and an efficient layout. The ideal Carnegie library consisted of a one-story rectangle with a small vestibule leading directly into a large reading room, edged by bookcases. A central circulation desk could divide the reading room into sections for children and adults. In the basement, a lecture hall provided space for lyceum talks and community meetings. Bertram’s influence was most evident inside. His open plans transformed library design by emphasizing egalitarian ideals. Gone were the small rooms that had once articulated a sense of domesticity, the segregated ladies’ reading rooms, the closed stacks, and other physical boundaries that subordinated patrons to library staff. Instead, patrons found spacious areas where they could browse and pluck the books they wanted directly from the shelves.

Bertram allowed communities to express their individuality in the design of the exterior, providing that the architectural detailing was not extravagant. Most library architects chose symmetrical, classically based designs. In Wisconsin, however, many communities opted for the low, horizontal lines of the Prairie Style. Here the low-hipped roof hovers above the brown brick walls, an effect created by the broad, stuccoed frieze banding the building. The fenestration extends into this frieze, rendering the band almost transparent. Below the stringcourse defining the frieze, a dagger motif formed of brick and tile adds Arts and Crafts ornamentation.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.



Marsha Weisiger et al., "Medford Free Public Library", [Medford, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 315-316.

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