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.

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Wisconsin’s First Public Library (WLA 125)

Posted by Larry T. Nix
Larry T. Nix
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on Friday, January 29, 2016
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The first public library established under Wisconsin’s 1872 public library law was the Black River Falls Public Library which was established in the fall of 1872.  This library met the three criteria for being defined as a public library under Wisconsin law: 1) it was established by a governmental unit (the Village of Black River Falls); 2) it was free to the users of the library; and it was supported by public taxation. The newly established public library was preceded by an association or membership library established in 1868 that was supported by fees that were paid by members. The Black River Falls Public Library was housed in a number of locations in its early years. In 1882 the library was moved to Mrs. P. H. Howell’s dress making and millinery shop when she became librarian. The photograph above shows the library at this location. Black River Falls was one of sixty Wisconsin communities that received a grant from Andrew Carnegie. It received its grant on March 11, 1914 for $10,000.  The Carnegie building which is now houses a historical museum is shown in the photograph below.  The library moved into a new building where it is now housed in 1995.


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