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Governance and Administration

Wisconsin Public Library Ecosystem

Wisconsin’s libraries play a very important role in our society. Our state legislature recognizes the importance of free access to knowledge, information, and diversity of ideas by all residents of this state; the critical role played by libraries in providing that access; the major assets represented in the collective knowledge and information resources of the state's libraries; the importance of public libraries to the democratic process; and that the most effective use of library resources in this state can occur only through interlibrary cooperation among all types of libraries. The legislature declares that it is the policy of this state to provide laws for the development and improvement of public libraries, school libraries and interlibrary cooperation among all types of libraries.

Working together, the Wisconsin public library ecosystem includes organizations at the state, regional, and local levels, who strive to provide excellent and equitable library service to all Wisconsin residents.

At the State Level: DPI, COLAND, and WLA

The State Superintendent, the elected leader of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, promotes, assists, and plans the development and improvement of school and public library services; plans and coordinates library services to groups with special needs; accepts and disburses federal grants and state aid; oversees the development of our statewide ILL program, and disseminates information regarding continuing education activities for librarians, trustees, support staff, and others.

The Division for Libraries & Technology, which acts as Wisconsin’s State Library Agency, oversees statutory compliance of Wisconsin’s public libraries and library systems, pursuant to Chapter 43. The Division also maintains a resources for libraries and lifelong learning service, provides consulting in a wide variety of areas, and administers state and federal aid to library systems. The Division is led by an Assistant State Superintendent, who is appointed by the State Superintendent and serves as the State Librarian.

Council on Library and Network Development, a governor-appointed council, advises the State Superintendent and the Division on the policies, activities, budget, and overall direction of the state’s programs for public and school libraries and network services.

Wisconsin Library Association is our state’s professional association for library workers of all types. The Association has a number of specialized divisions, including the Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries (WAPL), Wisconsin Library Trustees & Friends (WLTF), and a special committee for Library Development and Legislation (LD&L).

At the Regional Level: Public Library Systems

The public library system structure in Wisconsin is quite unique. Public library systems are built around counties, and public libraries within those counties join by agreement. Member libraries must maintain their eligibility in order to participate in the system, by having an appropriately certified director who works at least 10 hours per week in the library while it is open, in a library open to the public at least 20 hours per week on average, and the library must spend at least $2,500 on materials for its collection.

Library systems provide many services to member libraries. Such services include technology and resource sharing planning, referral or routing of reference and interlibrary loan requests, electronic delivery of information and physical delivery of library materials, training for member library staff and trustees, consultant services, inclusive services support, and backup reference, information, and interlibrary loan services from the system resource library.

At the Local Level: Public Libraries

Local libraries are the hearts of their communities. Any municipality in Wisconsin may establish, equip, and maintain a public library, as provided for under Chapter 43. A local library established under Chapter 43 is a department of local government, such as a municipality, a group of municipalities, a county, or a tribal government.

Every public library shall be free for the use of the inhabitants of the municipality by which it is established and maintained, and a library’s membership in a library system requires that the same services shall be offered to all residents of the system area, which is why residents can use their home library cards at libraries in other communities and borrow materials from libraries all across Wisconsin. This is a great benefit to residents.

Local libraries are overseen by a local library board, whose trustees are appointed by the mayor, village president, or by the town, county, or tribal chair. Library trustees must meet certain residency requirements to be appointed to the library board. Library boards have exclusive control of the expenditure of all monies collected, donated, or appropriated for the library, and have exclusive charge, control, and custody of all lands, buildings, and property established by the municipality for library purposes. The board also oversees the administration of the library, by setting library policies and hiring a qualified library director who administers the daily operation of the library. Natural partners in the local library ecosystem include the school district’s school media specialist, educators, administrators, and the school board. Directors and boards of other libraries, both within the public library system and across the state, can be excellent resources. Other organizations in the local ecosystem include the library’s Friends group, library foundation, community organizations, local businesses, municipal staff, library users, and residents at large.

For more information on roles and responsibilities at the local level, click the For Library Directors icon below and refer to the "Who Runs the Library?" section.