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, April 23, 2019


Popular Tags

Library people Cornelia Marving Pierce National Library Week Campaign Charles Bunge Historical Register Events John Miller Chancellor Pinback buttons State Law Library Exhibits Library e James Huff Stout Bob Bochfer Woman's Congress Manitowoc Public Library Larry T. Nix Hall of Fame 2016 Jerome P. Daniels Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Portage Public Library Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries library memorabilia Marketing-Publicity Hartford Public Library Bernard Schwab campa Wisconsin State Normal School-Milwaukee Public libraries Brown Deer Public Library Hall of Fame 2008 UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies UW-Milwaukee Libraries state historical society Campaign Anniversaries Wilbur Lyle Eberhart Black River Falls Public Library WLA 125 Clarence Brown Lester Beloit Public Library Hall of Fame 2015 Gerald A. Somers archives Cooperative Children's Book Center caly film membership libraries Milwaukee Art Museum library education Meter mail slogans Special libraries Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library anniversaries Association of Library Trustees Advocates and Friends 24 Hall of Fame 2015 School libraries 21 Pewaukee Public Library T. B. Scott Free Public Library Brown Deer Public Library Middleton Public Library Jane K. Billings Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians Library History Postcards Hall fo Fame 2012 Cam Public libraries WLA 125 books-by-mail 22 23 Library people Postcards Frank Avery Hutchins 10 McMillan Memorial Library Wisconsin Historical Society Parcel post Wisconsin Free Library Commission Public library systems bookworm Hall of Fame 2017 Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Tower Hill Wisconsin Amer UW-Madison school of library and information studies Wisconsin Library Heritage Center Hall of Fame 2011 Wisconsin Library Association Brown County Library J. D. Witter Events & Meetings American Library Association Library War Service 20 Library Systems traveling libraries Inform Wisconsin hall of People Elroy Public Library Soughton Public Library World War I Academic Libraries Appleton Public Library Milwaukee Public Library ca William J. Wilson caly film Publications Lowell W. Wilson Ruby Roeder Irene W. Newman Beaver Dam Public Library Hall of Fame 2009 Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries 14 Matthew S. Dudgeon Dorothea M. Krause Library Artifacts Wisconsin Literary Travel Guide Library Trustees Hall of Fame 2012 Wisconsin Rapids Bookmobiles National Bookmobile Day Evansville Wisconsin Hall of Fame 2015 Wisconsin State Law Library Lutie Eugenia Stearns Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Events & Meetings Black River Falls cam Increase A. Lapham WWI Library War Service DeForest Area Public Library Robert Bocher Milwaukee Public Library White House Conference on Library and Information Services S. Janice Kee 28 COLAND Buttons campaign Anniversaries Postcards Campaign Library Buidlings Madison Public Library Katharine MacDonald Jones Wayne A. Wiegand Capitol Fire 1904 Suring Area Public Library Hall of Fame 2015 WLA 125 Orrilla Blackshear background James Duane Doty Ripon Public Library Hall of Fame 2015 Edward Asahel Birge Hall of Fame 2018 Campaing for Wisconsin Libraries Klaus Linderfelt Marjorie Sornson Malmberg 27 Carnegie libraries Gilbert H. Doane Delia Ovitz Wisconsin Free Library Commission Ruth Ann Montgomery Ice Storm Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services 11 Lutie Stearns Peter G. Hamon WLA 125 Lucy E. Smith Morris Nolan I. Neds John J. Jax Digital Collections WAAL Hall of Fame 2014 Library People Sandra Friedman Dolnick Dianne McAfee Hopkins Library Buildings campaign Oshkosh Public Library Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs CCBC Hall of Fame 2010 Zona Gale Hall of Fame 2018 Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends Hall of Fame 2012 Superior Carnegie Libraries caly film Wisconsin Library Bulletin Eager Free Public Library bed and breakfast Uncategorized buil Carl Spitzweg School of Library and Information Studies I Love Libraries campaign Hall of Fame 2013 trav presentations Hall American Library Association Sarah Janice Kee Rusk County Community Library Hall of Fame 2012 Library celebrations Eratus Swift Wilcox WHCLIS Council on Library and Network Development library legislation Clinton Public Library library exhibit Louise S. Robbins Gertrude Thurow Academic Librarians Helen Adams Postcards Centennial Richard E. Krug

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo