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Collocated School and Public Libraries: Guidelines for Decision Making

Second Edition — May 1998

Endorsed by the
Council on Library and Network Development

This publication is available from the Division for Libraries and Technology, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, P.O. Box 7841, Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7841, (608) 266-2205. Bulletin No. 98234. It is also available in PDF.

Addenda: Libraries that have formed as combined school and public libraries since the publication.

The table of contents for this publication is listed below, followed by the text of the introduction.


  1. Acknowledgments
  2. Introduction
  3. Sources of Help
  4. Legal Basis
  5. Planning
  1. Missions
  2. Issues to be Considered
  3. Alternatives for Improving Library Services
  4. A Feasibility Checklist
  5. Establishment of a Combined School-Public Library

Appendix A: Combined School-Public Libraries in Wisconsin
Appendix B: Examples of Alternative Methods for Improving Library Service
Appendix C: A Selected Bibliography
Appendix D: Statutory References
Appendix E: A Sample Master Agreement


The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's Division for Libraries and Technology frequently receives requests for information on the legality and desirability of combining school and public libraries. Such libraries are located in a single facility, operating cooperatively to perform the curriculum support functions commonly associated with school library media programs and to provide the broader library service needs of children, young adults, and adults that are commonly the focus of public libraries.

Among the factors accounting for this interest is the pressure on all public institutions to use tax moneys responsibly. There is also broad acceptance in Wisconsin of the concept of community education, which envisions the school as the central institution for the education of all community members and encourages cooperation and coordination among educational agencies. In some instances, school library media centers are being urged to expand their programs as a means to demonstrate to the community more efficient utilization of existing educational facilities.

Although at first blush combining school and public libraries seems a logical and reasonable idea, there are significant obstacles to establishing libraries which are effective both as school libraries and as public libraries. One evidence of this is that there are only a handful of such libraries in Wisconsin or even in the nation. Another is that, although this possibility often arises, most communities reject this idea after study as not being feasible or desirable.

With those caveats, the purpose of this publication is to help communities and school districts determine whether such a combination will be the best way to provide effective school and public library service. The information and checklists found here should guide interested parties in making good decisions. The bibliography also lists selected items which provide additional information for those seeking increased understanding of the issues involved.

Local library personnel and community members may wish to seek technical assistance from their public library system and to contact the Division for Libraries and Community Learning in order to clarify the legal, governance, and funding consequences of a combined program.

A community may want to consider other alternatives to the combined school and public library for improving library service. Technology presents a significant opportunity for libraries of all types to share resources effectively and to gain increased access to information without combining facilities.

If a combined facility appears to be the best way to provide good library services to all concerned, a section of this publication provides guidance on how to implement this concept in the most effective manner and in compliance with legal requirements.


The full text of this publication is available in PDF.


In addition to the six combined school and public libraries listed in the publication above (in Birnamwood, Durand, Florence, Kohler, Laona, and Washington Island), the following combined libraries have been established since the date of publication:

A combined school public library was established in the late 1990s in Denmark as a branch of the Brown County Public Library. The branch operates in the Denmark High School in the same library facility as the school library, having replaced a very small branch library in Denmark. The school library is staffed by a full-time licensed school media specialist, while the public library is staffed by two half-time paraprofessionals.

The success of the arrangement is primarily attributable to a strong initial commitment from both the school and the public library to make it work. However, more recent budget constraints facing both parties threaten the success of the combined library. For example, the library formerly had been open on Saturdays and staffed by one of the public library staff, only because the school agreed to the overtime pay for a custodian to open the building and be available during those hours, but budget constraints for both the county library and the school district forced elimination of Saturday hours.

The Village of Ettrick (in Trempealeau county) operates a public library attached to an elementary school library. The public library was established as a new library in 1999 after the Winding Rivers Library System (WRLS) discontinued their bookmobile service. Part of the WRLS bookmobile collection was provided to Ettrick to form a starting collection for the public library.

The public library has an outside entrance that allows access to the combined libraries at times the school is not open. The public library is directed by a certified public librarian and the school library is staffed by a paraprofessional and a part-time licensed school media specialist (who also staffs other libraries in the district). The public library uses the school library's collection as much of their children's collection (which saves money).

While the public library is part of the WRLS shared system, the school library is not and has a separate computerized circulation system. Many of the materials have two barcodes so they can be checked out on either system.


For questions about this information, contact Shannon Schultz (608) 266-7270