History of the Library

Columbus Public Library in 1912

Columbus Public Library in 1912

1887 First Library

The Columbus community formed a library association on January 20, 1877, with the donation of 54 books from former Governor and Columbus City resident James Lewis. It was located in two rooms located over the former Griswold building and current Sharrow Drug Store. at 100 S. Ludington Street. The library moved to the front two corner rooms of City Hall in 1887, at which time the library was a subscription library.

Columbus Library Association was formed in 1910.

In 1910 The Columbus Women's Civic Club solicited the Carnegie Foundation for a $10,000 grant for a library. On October 14, 1910 the city purchased 2 lots at James st and Dickason Blvd. The Women's Club raised additional money to furnish the library.

1912 Carnegie Library

The library was designed by master architects Louis W. Claude and Edward F. Starck in 1912. It achieved statewide architectural significance as one of the most original designs of a firm noted for its distinctive libraries. The library's one-story Prairie School design , built of stucco, wood and brick, belongs in the general class of their Prairie works but the design is also strongly influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement.

The library was dedicated on November 1, 1912 for the contracted cost of $9,888.10 and has been in continual use since its opening.

There have been many uses for the basement over the years. During World War II Red Cross classes in First Aid and Home Nursing met, and in the 1950's. The Women's Club furnished the basement to use as a dining room and kitchen. They continued to hold their meetings at the library until they disbanded in September 2002. The Youth Center met there. It was also used as the Senior Citizen Center for a few years in the 1970's and a pre-school in later years before being converted into a children's room and meeting room in 1990.

1990 Renovation

The architectural firm of Noble Rose Architects was hired to keep the library historically accurate. It was renovated to include a new children's area, improved lighting, a relocated circulation desk, a meeting room with kitchen, handicapped accessible entrance, and elevator.

Money from the city and donations from the community paid for the renovation.

Swartout Property

The library board purchased the Swarthout property next door at 239 W. James Street in 1999 for future expansion. The house on the property was sold and moved in February 2002. A parking lot was installed on the site in fall of 2013.

Century Birthday

In 2012 the library celebrated its 135th anniversary since its founding and 100 years in the present building.

Modern Renovations

In May 2013, the library building’s interior was updated including new carpet, wall color and signage to help modernize and brighten up the space. Seating and computer stations were added to the main floor and a Teen Lounge was created. Downstairs in the children’s department bight walls and colorful wall murals were added, shelving was reorganized and the checkout desk and staff area was remodeled to help make the space more welcoming.

A parking lot was added in the former Swartout site in the fall of 2013. Thanks to Lorna and Jim Will for the $10,000 donation that made it possible for people to park off the main road.

A Wi-Fi garden and outdoor sitting area was added between the library building and parking lot area in the spring of 2014.

Addition of the Library Annex

The City of Columbus purchased the property next to the parking lot at 251 West James Street in the fall of 2016. The purchase was made possible with a $100,000 anonymous donation from a Columbus community member. The structure on the property, now called the Library Annex, had its Grand Opening in Fall of 2017.

The Library Annex is home to several of the library’s community partners including the Columbus Literacy Council and the Columbus Historical Society. It is the home for the Friends of the Library Book Store. The second floor is rented to local artists and makers as studio space.

“Best Small Library in America” finalist 2017

Columbus, Wisconsin may be a small town, but the Columbus Public Library was given a big honor in 2017 by being named a finalist for the Library Journal’s “Best Small Library in America.” The award showcases exemplary work of smaller libraries across the country, serving populations of 25,000 or less.

The Columbus Library’s nomination for this award was evaluated on its innovation in developing services and programs, success in educating patrons in technology and technology services, creatively addressing literacy for all patrons including early literacy and school readiness, and its support and collaboration with other community partners. One reviewer “sees ‘something infectiously organic’ about the Columbus library’s approach to community engagement.” Yay, us!

Awards and Honors

The library was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register of Historic Places on November 15, 1990.

Certificate of Appreciation on March 29, 1992 from the Columbus Historic Landmarks and Preservation Committee in recognition of the effort that had been made to maintain the building in keeping with its historic appearance.

The library was awarded South Central Library System Library of the Year on September 8, 2000. The library shared this award with American Family Insurance corporate library as winner of the special library category. Columbus Public Library received the award for innovative library service.

The Wisconsin State Legislature presented the Columbus Public Library on January 20, 2002 with a citation for 125 years of library service and commitment to the community.

The 2008 Chester Pismo Snavely Memorial Award for a Nifty Activity was presented to Peggy Kindschi and the staff of Columbus Public Library for their response to June flooding in that community.

In 2015 the library was awarded the "Giddy Up Award" from the South Central Library System Foundation for the library's strong partnership with the Columbus Senior Center, Columbus Recreation Department, the Columbus area public schools, and the Columbus Community Hospital.