The Wisconsin Library Association held its first convention in 1891 in Madison, Wisconsin. The first academic librarian elected president of the Wisconsin Library Association was Walter M. Smith in 1908. Academic librarians were active in the WLA during the first half of the twentieth century. However, it was not until 1954 that the College and University Section of WLA was founded. At the meeting in Milwaukee in 1954, fifty-six members in attendance adopted the following objectives for the College and University Section:

  1. To afford an opportunity for persons interested in the problems of college and university libraries to meet for discussion and exchange of ideas.
  2. To aid college and university librarians of the state of Wisconsin in keeping in touch with developments in their field.

Interestingly enough, at the 1954 meeting, the program consisted of a panel discussion on "How Can We Teach Undergraduates How to Use the Library?" Dr. Lester Asheim was the moderator, and members of the Wisconsin academic library community were on the panel.

Until the early 1960's, the main function of the College and Universities Section was planning its programs for the annual Wisconsin Library Association Conference and its workshops for the spring meetings. After that time, it began to reach out for a more constructive role and instituted a Planning Committee on Statewide Library Cooperation in 1960, which, as its work progressed, joined with the Reference Section in producing a Directory of Library Resources in Wisconsin. This directory was published and distributed in 1964. Since 1960, efforts have been made to take action in the sharing of resources among libraries.

In 1972, the name Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians (WAAL) was approved. The Association flourished in the 1970's. A newsletter to share ideas on library instruction was begun. In 1978, WAAL began sponsoring two meetings a year; in spring and in fall. National speakers were brought in for meetings and spoke on issues which attracted large audiences of academic as well as school and public librarians. Interest was sparked and the exchange of professional ideas was encouraged by the programs chosen for conferences.

Committee involvement was broadened with the addition of two committees in areas of vital interest to academic librarians - the Publication and Professional Development Committee in 1978 and the Automation Committee in 1979. During 1979-80, the Membership Committee initiated the concept of a "WAAL contact person" in each academic library. This idea has continued to the present with the purpose being to encourage active membership in the association and to be a liaison between each library and WAAL.

In 1981, the first Directory of Academic Libraries and Librarians was published. In addition to a current roster of WAAL members, the directory contained a listing of all academic libraries in Wisconsin and their staff members. A highly-used and popular reference tool, the directory has become an annual publication. In 1982, the WAAL Membership Handbook was published for the first time, and the following year the handbook was incorporated with the directory into one volume. Other WAAL publications were the 1984 WAAL Conference Proceedings, Minimum Library Use Skills (1984 and 1989), and Microcomputer Software Directory (1984 and 1985). A WAAL/ACRL newsletter was begun in 1984 and has continued to the present. Partially funded by ACRL, the newsletter began as a quarterly and is now published three times a year. Also in 1986, ACRL funding was granted for a bibliography of publications by WAAL members to celebrate the role of Wisconsin academic librarians in the profession and in the state.

WAAL Leadership Conferences began in 1984, to strengthen personal leadership skills and promote the participation of new leaders within WAAL. They have been held at 3-4 year intervals since then.

The year 1986 found the Publications and Professional Development Committee separating into two committees because of the many duties connected with Publications. It was also decided that WAAL did not need to continue its Automation Committee since WLA had formed a new Automation Section.

A Bibliographic Instruction (BI) Clearinghouse was given start-up funding by ACRL in 1987. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Library and Information Science offered to house the collection. An ad hoc committee worked for three years to get the project off the ground, including publishing a catalog of holdings. In 1989 the project was turned over to the School.

WAAL experienced great success with a jointly sponsored five-state conference held in La Crosse in April 1988. The conference was supported by an ACRL grant which was used to partially offset conference expenses. Academic librarians from South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota joined WAAL to learn about new technologies, to share ideas and discuss library developments, to make new contacts, and to renew networking relationships. Outstanding programs and speakers included the newly appointed Librarian of Congress, James Billington, and ACRL President Joanne Euster. Our neighboring states were duly impressed with WAAL's conference planning skills and inspired by the camaraderie of the group. A total of 446 librarians attended the conference, including a record high of 243 from WAAL.

Profits from the five-state conference were used to sponsor two ACRL continuing education courses in Wisconsin. In addition, four SLIS students from Milwaukee and Madison were given grants to attend the annual WAAL spring conference, and WAAL mentors accompanied them throughout the conference to help them get acquainted.

The mentoring project proved to be a good way of educating students about the role of the professional association in continuing education. WAAL sponsored 4 SLIS students to the 1990 WLA conference and funded student grants to attend the WLA Centennial Conference in 1991. In 1995, student assistants employed in academic libraries were offered the opportunity to apply for scholarships to the WAAL conference. Funding was provided through an ACRL grant. WAAL determined to continue to fund the project out of WAAL revenue in 1996.

At the 1990 Spring conference, WAAL celebrated its 35th anniversary. H. Vale Deale was recognized with a leadership award for his role in forwarding the College and University Library Section and serving as its first chair. Members who had been in the association for 25 years or more were also honored for their continued service.

The year 1990 saw the dissolution of one committee and the creation of two new committees. The Library User Education Committee ceased to exist, having been superceded by a new WLA section called Library User Education. The Directory Committee was formally made a standing committee of WAAL. A new Ad Hoc Committee on WAAL Archives was created to preserve and protect the Association history.

In 1990, one of WAAL's professional development projects was a successful ACRL grant proposal for a staff exchange. In a competition process, four WAAL members were selected to spend several days at another institution to learn about a new specialty, or to study their own specialty in a new setting. The project was administered by the Professional Development Committee.

In 1994, the WAAL by-laws were changed to extend the term of member-at-large from one to two years.

Effective with the 1995 WAAL conference, the conference schedule changed from a Wednesday - Friday format to Thursday - Saturday. This was done in order to save on speaker costs. This schedule format was revised to a weekday format beginning with the 1999 WAAL conference.

In 1996, Kathy Schmidt of UW-La Crosse set up a Web page for WAAL. The web page provides current information on WAAL as well as links to Wisconsin academic web/gopher sites.

WAAL members continue to support and strengthen the organization with their ideas and participation. WAAL's future, as well as its history, is bright.