| The Milwaukee Public Library dates to
1878 when the State Legislature on Feb. 7 authorized the City to establish
a public library. But the library can trace its lineage back further,
to 1847 and the organization of the Young Men's Association, a subscription
library which collected dues from its members. The group rented space
for its library in a number of locations over the years and expanded
into sponsoring a lecture series with such important speakers as Horace
Mann, Horace Greeley and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When it was established in 1878, the new public library took over
the association's rented quarters and the group's collection of 10,000
volumes, many of them in German. After several moves and several fires,
the library moved into a new, block-long limestone building at what
is now 814 W. Wisconsin Ave. In 1898 it was known as Mozart's Grove,
because it had been the site of summer concerts. A national competition
was held to pick a design for a building to house both the public library
and the public museum. Seventy-four entries were received, including
an entry from Frank Lloyd Wright. The winning design was submitted
by Ferry & Clas of Milwaukee. The winning design was for
a building one block long and designed in a combination of French and
Italian renaissance styles known as Neo-renaissance. The
building was designed in a U-shape to provide a common entrance for
the library and museum but to keep the facilities separate.Construction
costs for the monumental building, now listed on the National Register
of Historic Places, were $780,000.
opened on Oct. 3, 1898. It shared the building with the Milwaukee Public Museum until the museum completed
its move to its own building on West Wells Street in the mid-1960s.
In 1957, an addition to the Central Library building was opened on
the Wells Street side. It includes four fireproof levels of shelving
below ground level.
Over the years the library system expanded by establishing book depositories
at several locations, including grocery stores, then eventually in
rented store buildings. June 16, 1910, the South Division branch was
opened in its own impressive building at what is now 931 W. Madison
St. In the 1960s the library system began a program to replace the
storefront libraries and the outdated South branch and build new large
buildings throughout the city. Today there are 12 neighborhood libraries
(branches) each of which serves a population of about 50,000.
The Milwaukee Public Library is a department of the City of Milwaukee,
like the Health Department or the Fire Department. The City Librarian,
who is the department head, is appointed by the Mayor and
sits on the Mayor's cabinet.
"The general management, regulation and control of the library
shall be vested in a Board of Trustees...," reads the bylaws of
the Board. There are 12 members of the Board
of Trustees. Five citizen
members and three alderpersons are appointed by the mayor, and one
alderperson by the president of the Common Council. Also serving are
the superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools and the president
of the Board of School Directors, or their designees, and a representative
of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, appointed by the County
Executive. The board meets monthly, usually at the Central Library.
The Milwaukee Public Library is a member of the Milwaukee
County Federated Library System, as are the other 14 public libraries
in the County. Financed by state funds, the federated system coordinates
specific joint services, such as the computer system which stores
bibliographic information on books and other materials, records circulation
transactions and keeps information on library card users.