As in most cities, Milwaukee has a wealth of sources for uncovering its history. In addition to the collections at Milwaukee Public Library and the Milwaukee County Historical Society, there are two fine universities with libraries and other sources, too.
One of the most pleasurable in which to work is the Legislative Reference Bureau, tucked away in the basement of City Hall, next to the mouth of the tunnel that runs under Market Street and connects to the Zeidler Municipal Building.
It's an unassuming space – or, it would be if there wasn't a floor-to-ceiling glass wall displaying Milwaukee books, like the world's best local-interest bookshop.
There are just a couple worktables in the main entrance, where the librarian on duty sits. That's because though folks come in to do research, a lot of work is transacted over the phone, via email or behind the scenes for municipal departments.
To quote the bureau's own brochure, "LRB research analysts attend all Common Council and Common Council standing committee meeting to assist the Council and other city departments in formulating city ordinances and policy. In addition to drafting city ordinances and resolutions, research analysts also research and write report for the Common Council dealing with governmental concerns."
The LRB also conducts surveys on municipal issues, provides budget analysis for the Council and, yes, allows the public to make use of its knowledge and its stacks of materials chronicling the history of our fair city, from census reports to newspaper clippings to city directories, books, city code histories, database services and more.
I stopped in today to say thanks to the bureau for displaying my book in its window, to make a donation of a Milwaukee book it didn't yet have in its collection and to spend a few minutes paging through a couple volumes of Milwaukee School Board proceedings to get a sense of what can be found at LRB.
While I was there, a woman at another table was working her way through a cart load of Milwaukee City Directories, searching for I don't know what. The librarian at the desk – Library Manager Eileen Lipinski, who was among the friendliest and most cheerful I've ever encountered – took a call from someone seeking clarification on city ordinances regarding Segways on city thoroughfares.
If you have a question you'd like – or you need – answered, you can call the LRB at (414) 286-8818 or email askLRB@milwaukee.gov. It's your LRB, check it out sometime.
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