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The Library of Amateur Journalism

The Fossils preserved the Library of Amateur Journalism, the largest collection of amateur journalism publications and memorabilia, for nearly ninety years, and then found a new home for it at the University of Wisconsin. Today it is used by researchers interested in various aspects of amateur journalism, or as a way of studying American life and attitudes as recorded in these personal newspapers.

Origin and Migrations

From 1898 to 1907, Edwin Hadley Smith put tremendous effort into creating a comprehensive collection to preserve the publications of the first generation of amateur journalists, who were active beginning the in 1870s. He added contemporary journals to the collection until his death, at age 74, in 1944.

Smith's collection of over 27,000 amateur papers went on public display November 5, 1908, at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Five years later he had to move it to Columbia University, and then in 1916 he sold it to The Fossils with the hope the organization could provide long-term stability.

The Fossils leased a room in lower Manhattan to house the collection, which was open only to members. The rent became a burden, and in 1935 the collection was transferred to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At that time the Fossils Library (as it was then known) was combined with the National Amateur Press Association Library and renamed the Library of Amateur Journalism (or LAJ).

Thirty years later, the Institute no longer had space for the LAJ and requested its removal. Members of The Fossils and NAPA found a new home at New York University in Manhattan in 1967.

Again, the host organization lost interest. In 1980 The Fossils agreed to send the LAJ to member Martin "Mike" Horvat in Oregon, where he established a private institution, the American Private Press Association. In 1991, the collection of the late Martin and Willametta Keffer, some 137 boxes weighing 6,000 pounds, was added to the LAJ. In 2003, owners of the building holding the LAJ announced its pending demolition. A committee formed by The Fossils came to agreement with the Special Collections department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In late 2004 the collection was loaded into a truck trailer and delivered to Memorial Library.

To learn more LAJ history you can read

Current Home: University of Wisconsin-Madison

The LAJ barely survived at points during its first century. An individual might have the passion to keep it housed and maintained, but an institution could provide additional long-term stability...until changing priorities lead to neglect. The Fossils believes UW is the best fit of all, with professionals to maintain it at an institution that sees the collection as furthering its core mission.

The Fossil has printed reports from scholarly researchers who have used the LAJ:

The Special Collections department has put together a detailed description of the Library of Amateur Journalism (LAJ) Collection. The staff has made progress sorting and inventorying materials. However, with many different projects underway, the department can only assign limited resources to the effort from their ongoing budget.

The Hawes Fund

After the death of prominent amateur journalist Lee Hawes in 2013, his friends sought a way to honor his memory by making a donation to preserve amateur journalism history. UW staff suggested establishing a permanent endowment fund within the UW Foundation. Such a fund generates cash in perpetuity (at an annual rate of about 4.5%) for LAJ support, and it legally binds UW to use the income only for the LAJ.

Beginning in 2014, amateur journalism groups united to raise funds for the Leland M. Hawes, Jr. Memorial Endowment Fund for the Library of Amateur Journalism Collection. In 2016, the initial $10,000 required to establish an endowed fund was met. Additional gifts increase the annual intrest that goes to support the work needed to preserve the LAJ. You can send your tax-deductable donation directly to the University of Wisconsin Foundation. The Foundation provides a variety of convenient ways to do this.

Donate by Check

If you want to send a check, fill out and print the Printable Gift Form (PDF format). On the "I/we want to designate my/our gift to" section be sure to write
            "Leland M. Hawes, Jr. Endowment Fund for the Library of Amateur Journalism"

Send your check and form to
      UW Foundation
      U.S. Bank Lockbox
      Box 78807
      Milwaukee, WI 53278-0807

Donate On-line

The University of Wisconsin Foundation has created a link dedicated to Library of Amateur Journalism donations. The default is to use the gift for the Hawes endowment fund, but you may enter "Current LAJ Work, Not Endowment" in the Gift Note memo line of the web form if you want your gift to be used in that way.

Donate Stock

If you have stock with appreciated value, there could be tax advantages to using it for your donation. To do so contact the Foundation for further instructions.


To make a bequest to support the LAJ in your will, the UW Foundation suggests the following specimen language:

I hereby give, devise and bequeath to the University of Wisconsin Foundation, a non-profit, non-stock Wisconsin corporation with its principal offices in Madison, Wisconsin, the sum of X dollars ($X) to be used to add to the principal of the Leland M. Hawes, Jr. Memorial Endowment Fund for the Library of Amateur Journalism Collection in the Special Collections Department of the University of Wisconsin Library in Madison, Wisconsin.

It is understood and agreed that should the purpose for which this bequest is instituted cease to exist, then the Foundation may devote said bequest for such other uses and purposes as it determines to be in accordance with my original intent in making this gift.