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Wisconsin Library Law: Chapter 43 of the Wisconsin Statutes

In its legislative findings and declaration of policy, the Wisconsin 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 public, school, special, and academic libraries in providing that access; the major educational, cultural, and economic asset that is 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 and the effective use of technology.

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. These laws are found in Chapter 43 of the Wisconsin Statutes. All public libraries legally established in Wisconsin must be in compliance with Chapter 43 in order to receive the benefits of federal and state aid, bill for adjacent county payments, and be a member of a regional library system, among others.

Chapter 43: Libraries

Administrative Rules for Wisconsin Public Libraries: Chapter PI 6

This chapter of the Wisconsin Administrative Code sets forth requirements of certification that public library directors must hold. It also sets requirements for public library systems and determines reimbursement rates for the costs of providing interlibrary borrowing services.

Chapter PI 6: Public Libraries

Open Meetings Law

Library trustees and directors should be aware that Wisconsin Open Meetings Law is designed to support the principle that "the public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of government business". To this end, all meetings of all state and local government bodies must be publicly held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public unless otherwise expressly provided by law. Chapter 19 of the Wisconsin Statutes pertains to the general duties of public officials. The Open Meetings Law is covered by Wis. Stat. secs. 19.81-19.98, with statutory exemptions that may allow for a closed session in sec. 19.85.

The Wisconsin Attorney General's office has developed a Wisconsin Open Meetings Law Compliance Guide, which provides an overview of the law and compiles information provided by the Wisconsin Department of Justice in response to inquiries submitted over the course of several decades.

Any library board member who knowingly attends a meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Law will be required to forfeit, without reimbursement from the library or municipality, not less than $25 and as much as $300 per violation. In addition, a court may void board actions taken in an illegal closed session. A board member is not legally liable if he or she voted against those actions that the board took which caused the violation. Therefore, it is recommended that a board member who believes the purpose stated for the motion to close a meeting is not legally sufficient should vote against the motion. In addition, board members should confirm that proper notice has been given for each board meeting.

Questions about the open meetings law can be directed to your municipal attorney or County Corporation Counsel, the Wisconsin Department of Justice Office of Open Government, or Benjamin Miller at DPI.

Public Records Law

Wisconsin Public Records Law provides that records of state and local government are available to the public. The identity of the requester or the reason why the requester wants particular records generally do not matter for purposes of the public records law. Records are presumed to be open to inspection and copying, but there are some exceptions. Requirements of the public records law apply to records that exist at the time a public records request is made. The public records law does not require authorities to provide the requested information if no responsive record exists, and generally does not require authorities to create new records in order to fulfill public records requests. The Public Records Law is covered by Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31–19.39, and disclosure rules specific to Wisconsin's public libraries are found in s. 43.30.

The Wisconsin Attorney General's office has developed a Wisconsin Public Records Law Compliance Guide, which provides definitions of key terms used in the Public Records Law, as well as procedural requirements of authorities and details on responding to a records request.

Questions about the open meetings law can be directed to your municipal attorney or County Corporation Counsel, the Wisconsin Department of Justice Office of Open Government, or Benjamin Miller at DPI.

Records Retention for Wisconsin Public Libraries and Library Systems

According to the Wisconsin Public Records Board, records are a basic tool for transacting business on behalf of the Wisconsin Government at the state, county, and municipal levels. They are also the foundation for government accountability. 

General Records Schedules (GRSs) are a collection of Records Disposition Authorizations for similar records. These schedules provide consistency in records maintenance, retention, and disposition across all units of government. The Public Records Board is responsible for maintaining, amending, and renewing all GRSs. Because public libraries are governmental units and are, therefore, responsible for the retention of the public records they keep, all public libraries are required to have an adopted records retention schedule. The Wisconsin Public Records Board has approved a General Records Schedule specifically written for Wisconsin's Public Libraries and Public Library Systems. The General Records Schedule (GRS) establishes the timeframe for the disposal of records that are no longer required for administrative, financial, or legal purposes. Adopting this schedule enables a public library entity to dispose of designated records without prior approval from the Wisconsin Historical Society. 

Public library boards are advised to adopt this schedule by approving and submitting the Notification of Adoption form to the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Public Records Board. The Wisconsin Public Records Board meets quarterly, so approval may take some time. When a library has received notification of approval from the Public Records Board, they should inform DPI by emailing

Additional information and assistance with records management is also available from the following sources: the DOA Records Management Section can share additional information on records management, the Public Records Board’s Executive Secretary can offer technical assistance including interpretation of schedules, and the Wisconsin Historical Society can assist with records management, particularly in identifying the small percentage of records that have historical value.