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Demco History

During the past year, researchers explored Demco's 100-year history of serving librarians and educators, and they uncovered the lasting principle that has guided and defined the company through every twist and turn of the past century.

From the beginning in 1905 right through the moment you read this, Demco's goal has been to: make work easier for librarians and educators, to support the mission of librarians and educators in providing access and uplift to the American people, and to handle the demands of supplying libraries with quality products at a good price.

Democrat Printing Company
in Madison, Wisconsin


Portland, Oregon, book wagon along
with a teacher and her class, ca 1925.

Because of the Great Depression that began in 1929, Bassett didn't have long to think about how to make things easier for librarians and educators. The need for economies to survive the Depression helped him make the decision to pay postage, and look for savings and gifts to share with librarians and educators. He even enlisted Ernest Hemingway in the cause. More about that in a moment.

Our service ideal began in 1905 when the Library Department of the Democrat Printing Company in Madison, Wisconsin was conceived as a servant to libraries and to the mission of libraries. In its 100 years of changes and growth, the company has willingly embraced this role and its history is inextricably bound to the history of libraries.

The Library Department of the Democrat Printing Company began serving librarians and educators the same year that librarian Mary Lemist Titcomb put a library on wheels, not just as a delivery wagon but as a genuine step in service outreach. It was the time of growth for libraries with funding from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Libraries needed the basics, and so the company's very earliest products were printed items, book supports, jacket covers, book trucks—support for access and circulation.

In 1925, the company became Demco Library Supplies, and the owner, Norman Bassett, began an exhaustive correspondence with librarians to find out their needs. The result was a number of how-to-books and guides written by and for librarians. Products began to increase, including: new mending materials, cleaners, standardized catalog cards, the Demco electric eraser, the “Read and Rest Book Bracket,” and much more. New services included book mending workshops, product locater services, library research services, and workshops on self-charging systems.

When the Depression hit, products were added that offered savings and Demco began publication of a free journal for librarians called the Demcourier. It offered a “news and notes” section where librarians traded information and career updates. Demco offered free items, reduced prices, and articles that responded to requests from librarians and educators.

This Is Where Hemingway Comes into the Picture.
In 1932 Demco launched an auction fundraiser (repeated in 1938) for the Wisconsin Library Association Scholarship Fund. The company persuaded prominent authors like Booth Tarkington, Sinclair Lewis, Edgar Lee Masters, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Ernest Hemingway to donate signed first editions. They complied, much to everyone's surprise. And Hemingway added an uncharacteristically funny inscription to his donated first edition of Farewell to Arms.

In 1938 Demco articulated its long-standing company “Aims and Ideals,” which continue to stand behind the service commitment of present-day Demco coworkers:

  1. To make every product the highest quality obtainable in conformity with library needs.
  2. Always be truthful about our products.
  3. To be constantly on the lookout for new ideas of improving old methods and products.
  4. Be on the constant lookout for new products and ideas.
  5. Quick delivery.
  6. To be sincere, frank and helpful in all library problems irrespective of profit or non-profit to Demco.

Demco Library Supplies continued to serve more and more of the needs librarians expressed as the dizzying events of World War II, post-war scientific expansion, and the Cold War created decades of ups and downs on the bumpy road to the present. As libraries evolved, Demco evolved with them.

John Wall

Putting People First
In 1968, John Wall became company president and in 1978 he became the owner and Demco Library Supplies became Demco, which to this day remains a family-owned enterprise. Under Wall's guidance the company began a long, successful period of growth, just as libraries became more and more a community necessity, school libraries rapidly grew in numbers, and library services expanded to embrace new media.

Since 1978, the company has intensified the focus on thoughtful, responsive, and consistently superior service to librarians and educators by applying the same consideration to company coworkers. John Wall most clearly articulated the company's life-long mode of putting people first:

“I've learned that people in general, at all levels, usually want to, and will, do the right thing and measure up individually and collectively to trust and a high level of expectation when they are knowledgeable about the group's objectives and the results of their and their coworkers' efforts. In our company, we share, we listen, we trust, and we respect each individual in every interaction. And we encourage the sharing of fun as we do so.”

Current Demco Headquarters,
Madison, Wisconsin

A Look at Today
Today the company has grown from four people in the Library Department of the Democrat Printing Company in 1905 to over 250 coworkers in 2008, with offices in Madison, Wisconsin. The catalog of products has grown from twelve pages to over one thousand. The company added new services, including a turnkey space management service that includes both design and supply for the many different kinds of libraries that exist today.

Demco can now help libraries create inviting environments for the changing demands of library patrons. We can do this because in response to requests, the company added Demco Library Interiors in 2003, which offers librarians and educators all the interior design help they need from measurement to installation.

A Look at the Future
Clearly libraries are changing…but they have been changing since they began. They are also staying very much the same as they change. After all, libraries have been a primary community resource in the U.S. since they were first conceived as a way to promote and preserve democracy. But change is always unpredictable. Demco is prepared and looks with enthusiasm toward the many new roles the company can play in helping libraries continue to respond to their communities.

A Lasting Invitation
SELECTION, SATISFACTION, SERVICE - Experience the Best!“Making it easier for librarians and educators” …now we can call it a century-old tradition.

In keeping with our tradition, we invite you to contact us for whatever you need. One of us will personally answer your call, take your order, answer your questions, or solve your problem. Serving you is what we do best, and we have a hundred years of practice at doing it better than anyone else!



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