Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center is a program of the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation promoting understanding and appreciation of the history of libraries and librarianship in Wisconsin.

Origin of Wisconsin's Public Library Law (WLA 125)

Posted by Larry Nix
Larry Nix
Larry Nix has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 in WLA 125
erastus-swift-willcoxWisconsin's original public library law was introduced as Assembly Bill no. 87, 1872 on January 26, 1872 by Assemblyman Alexander Graham of Janesville, Wisconsin. It was approved by the Governor on March 22, 1872. The  Graham Bill was remarkably similar to a bill introduced in the Illinois Legislature on March 23, 1871 and signed into law on March 7, 1872.  So similar, in fact, that there is little doubt that Wisconsin's public library law was based on the one in Illinois.  A key provision is almost identical: "Every library and reading-room established under this act, shall be forever free to the use of the inhabitants of the city or village where located, always subject to such reasonable rules and regulations as the library board may find necessary to adopt and publish ...".
Erastus Swift Willcox (pictured above), while librarian of the Peoria Mercantile Library, a forerunner of the Peoria Public Library, conceived the public library law that was substantially enacted by both Illinois and Wisconsin in 1872 and which was a model for a number of other states. Although New Hampshire adopted a state public library law in 1849, a solid case has been made that Willcox's public library law was the first comprehensive state public library law. Willcox realized that the fees charged by mercantile libraries and other membership libraries were not only inadequate for funding library service but that they were significant barriers to library use by the general public. Little is known of Alexander Graham's motivation for introducing the Wisconsin law or the specifics of how he became aware of the Illinois bill. He was, however, a member of the Janesville Young Men's Association, a membership library which experienced some of the same challenges as those of the Peoria Mercantile Library. A major motivating factor in the passage of the Illinois law was the movement to create a public library for the City of Chicago. The City of Chicago passed an ordinance under the new act creating the Chicago Public Library on April 1, 1872. The Black River Falls Public Library was the first public library created under Wisconsin's public library law of 1872.
Originally posted on June 19, 2009


No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment

Leave your comment

Guest Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Popular Tags

Parcel post T. B. Scott Free Public Library National Bookmobile Day Anniversaries Wisconsin Library Heritage Center People State Law Library Cooperative Children's Book Center Jane K. Billings Milwaukee Public Library Campaign Library people Postcards Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries WLA 125 Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians Lutie Stearns Peter G. Hamon Madison Public Library Campaing for Wisconsin Libraries Appleton Public Library I Love Libraries Hall of Fame 2015 Carl Spitzweg Inform Wisconsin Matthew S. Dudgeon Wisconsin Rapids Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends WWI Library War Service Library Buildings 21 Ice Storm Hall of Fame 2008 Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library Gertrude Thurow Beaver Dam Public Library Clarence Brown Lester Wisconsin Literary Travel Guide Charles Bunge campaign World War I Council on Library and Network Development J. D. Witter Brown County Library Delia Ovitz Campaign state historical society WLA 125 Hall Hall of Fame 2013 Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries 22 Anniversaries Wisconsin Library Bulletin Events & Meetings UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies campaign Dorothea M. Krause Bernard Schwab library legislation cam Gerald A. Somers Amer Academic Libraries Pinback buttons Richard E. Krug Black River Falls Middleton Public Library Events John Miller Chancellor library memorabilia 14 Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Academic Librarians Beloit Public Library American Library Association Library people UW-Milwaukee Libraries trav 28 Special libraries Brown Deer Public Library Lutie Eugenia Stearns ca Publications 27 Hall of Fame 2012 Wisconsin State Normal School-Milwaukee Hall of Fame 2015 Black River Falls Public Library WHCLIS S. Janice Kee William J. Wilson Wilbur Lyle Eberhart Soughton Public Library Historical Register James Duane Doty Hall of Fame 2016 Elroy Public Library Centennial Uncategorized caly film 23 Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services campa James Huff Stout Pewaukee Public Library Frank Avery Hutchins Milwaukee Art Museum Klaus Linderfelt Ruth Ann Montgomery Hall of Fame 2009 Wayne A. Wiegand Library celebrations Library Trustees archives caly film Irene W. Newman Dianne McAfee Hopkins Campaign Sarah Janice Kee WLA 125 WLA 125 Library People Bookmobiles 20 Brown Deer Public Library bed and breakfast Hall of Fame 2011 Suring Area Public Library Woman's Congress membership libraries Portage Public Library Public libraries Zona Gale Marketing-Publicity Increase A. Lapham 10 Hartford Public Library bookworm School of Library and Information Studies McMillan Memorial Library CCBC caly film Eager Free Public Library anniversaries Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Edward Asahel Birge Superior Carnegie Libraries Library Buidlings Jerome P. Daniels Katharine MacDonald Jones National Library Week Wisconsin Historical Society Milwaukee Public Library Oshkosh Public Library campaign 24 Marjorie Sornson Malmberg Hall of Fame 2012 Postcards COLAND Nolan I. Neds Association of Library Trustees Advocates and Friends Clinton Public Library Events & Meetings American Library Association Library War Service Cornelia Marving Pierce Hall of Fame 2014 Capitol Fire 1904 background presentations Wisconsin State Law Library Library Systems Carnegie libraries Library History 11 buil Hall of Fame 2015 WAAL Cam Digital Collections Gilbert H. Doane Postcards Eratus Swift Wilcox library exhibit Hall of Fame 2015 Orrilla Blackshear Rusk County Community Library Public library systems Evansville Wisconsin Public libraries UW-Madison school of library and information studies Exhibits Wisconsin Free Library Commission White House Conference on Library and Information Services Hall of Fame 2015 hall of Tower Hill Wisconsin Library e Hall of Fame 2012 Ripon Public Library books-by-mail DeForest Area Public Library Larry T. Nix traveling libraries Manitowoc Public Library Meter mail slogans Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Library Artifacts Wisconsin Free Library Commission Wisconsin Library Association Hall fo Fame 2012 Buttons Postcards School libraries library education Hall of Fame 2010

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo