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The first mention of a music library on the University of Wisconsin campus dates to November 1900, when renovations were made to Assembly/Library Hall (now ) in order to accommodate its occupancy by the School of Music. The remodeling project called for the division of what was then the University Library’s two story room into two distinct floors. The first floor was to house “a waiting area, an office for the School’s director, five piano studios, a rehearsal room, and a room for a music library.” The music library is once again mentioned in the context of a renovation plan, originally proposed in 1916 but not undertaken until 1924. No photos of this library survive.
When School of Music director Charles Mills died in 1937, the faculty passed a resolution to dedicate the Music Library in his memory. The Charles H. Mills Memorial Fund drive was begun and donations were solicited from alumni, friends, and the musical public. The dedication of the Charles H. Mills Memorial Library took place on Sunday, 5 February 1939. A brass plaque commemorating the event was hung in the Mills Memorial Music Library. On 8 December 1939, the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra gave a concert to benefit the Mills Memorial Library fund. The program was conducted by Mills’ successor as School of Music Director, Carl Bricken, and premiered his Symphony No. 2 in F major. Bricken, a noted composer, had won a Pulitzer Prize for an earlier composition.
The first music librarian at the University of Wisconsin was George Hanson, who also served as University Carilloneur. Under Hanson, the transfer of many books from the General Library was effected and an acquisition system established. The Bach Gesellschaft edition, acquired through donations to the Mills Memorial fund, was entered as the first acquisition of the Library. During 1942, the Charles H. Mills Memorial Music Library joined the Music Library Association.
Hanson was called to military service in the fall of 1943 and was replaced by Ruth Haylett Ferguson in the spring of 1944. That same year, the Music Library was mentioned for the first time in the yearbook’s School of Music entry. Ferguson was aware of cataloging problems concerned with music materials and corresponded with a company that sold music cataloging. She attended conferences and was alert to equipment and materials needs. A letter from Ernst Krenek gave information on a “reading machine” (microfilm reader) he had described to her during a September 1946 visit to Madison.
By 1948, the Mills Music Library was considered an official branch of the General (University) Library. A memorandum from that year indicates the holdings of the Music Library to be 2,500 volumes and clearly distinguishes between the branch and office libraries on campus. One important distinction was the requirement that a branch collection be supervised by a librarian, rather than a departmental secretary or graduate assistant.
For the next 21 years, Music Hall housed the Music Library and the School of Music. Because facilities were inadequate, several off-site annexes were established, one of which housed the Listening Facility and record collection. In the fall of 1969, Mills Music Library moved with the School of Music to the new Humanities building. Although the new space did permit the consolidation of the Music Library and the Listening Facility, it was inadequate to provide for growth. Less than three years later, the south basement of Memorial Library was excavated to provide for a new Music Library facility and in the summer of 1974, Mills Music Library moved to its current location, B162 Memorial Library.
In 2007, the reading room and staff areas were remodeled with new furniture, paint and carpeting, affording a warm and comfortable atmosphere.