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.

Wisconsin's Oldest Library

Posted by Larry T. Nix
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on Saturday, February 06, 2016 in WLA 125
pc-wi-belmont-72In 1836 when the United States Congress created the Territory of Wisconsin it appropriated $5,000 for a library. This was the origin of the Wisconsin State Library (now the Wisconsin State Law Library) making it Wisconsin's first and oldest library. At the first meeting of the territorial legislature in Belmont, Wisconsin, a resolution was passed creating a committee to select and purchase books for the library. The first librarian was James Clark, publisher of the Belmont Gazette and the territorial printer. It was not until 1851 that additional money ($2,500) was appropriated to expand the library. Initially, the collection was designed to support the territorial legislature and the state legislature and contained " law books, books of reference, and works on political science and statistics". Emphasis on legal materials increased and in 1876 the library became part of the judicial branch of state government. The need for more general library materials by the legislature was met first by the Library of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and later by the Legislative Reference Library of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (now the Legislative Reference Bureau). 
The law library survived the Capitol fire of 1904 due to quick action by University of Wisconsin students and Supreme Court Justice R. D. Marshall. In 1999 the Wisconsin State Law Library moved out of its home in the Capitol due to a major renovation of the building. In 2011 the library celebrated its 175th anniversary. A history of the State Law Library is located on its website. The postcard above shows Wisconsin's first capitol in Belmont, Wisconsin. 
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