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

Posted by Larry T. Nix
Larry T. Nix
Larry T. Nix has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Friday, June 19, 2009 in Public libraries

erastus-swift-willcox.jpg


Wisconsin'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.


Comments

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

Leave your comment

Guest Monday, July 15, 2019

Categories

Popular Tags

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

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo