History of Sparta Free Library

(from the Grand Opening program September 17-24, 1982)

The existence of Sparta’s library capsules American History, its roots reaching back to Civil War days when a gentleman could buy a $5 share of stock in the “Young Men’s Library Association” (and make a security deposit when borrowing a book!).

Then, on May 7, 1874, by Village Council resolution, Sparta became the first Wisconsin community to take advantage of a newly passed statute enabling villages and cities to establish free public libraries.

For a quarter of a century Sparta’s library operated out of back rooms of dental offices and second floors of store buildings.

In 1902, thanks to a $12,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie and a promise from the village council to meet operating costs, the south section of the present building was erected. The Library had a home of its own.

It had been progressive from the start. Children’s books were introduces to the collection in 1899, the librarian was sent to Madison for “continuing education” in 1902 and there has been a children’s story hour since 1912. But after 80 years of service the neoclassical structure felt the pinch of age and progress.

In 1982, after undergoing a half-million dollar restoration and expansion project, funded by the City, and a $60,000 furnishings effort, funded through individual , corporate and township contributions, the Sparta Free Library felt it could increase and improve services to the community.

A street level entrance and elevator in the new north wing made the facilities available  to the elderly and handicapped. The Children’s Library had been enlarged; collection space was enlarged to accommodate the needs of the period with room to grow; rooms were added including an audiovisual room, multipurpose community room and a small public meeting room. The original building has been preserved and now meets safety and energy saving requirements.

The Sparta Free Library has become “bigger than books — a community home for the arts.”

The community generously contributed to replacing windows.