Leicester has a history of library service dating back to 1793. These early libraries were subscription libraries that required a membership. At its regular town meeting on March 4, 1861, the people of Leicester unanimously voted to establish a free public library. The Leicester Public Library consolidated those social libraries, and was opened in the town hall in 1861 with a collection of about 850 volumes.
In 1888 and 1892 two bequests of funds totaling $11,000 were designated for the erection of the library building. Town Father Lory S. Watson donated the land the library stands on. In June of 1893 noted Worcester architect Stephen C. Earle offered his services to design the new library.
Completed in 1896, through the generous donations and endowments of the townspeople, Leicester Public Library is an architectural gem that has served residents for over a century. Built to serve a population of 3,120 citizens and hold 8,400 volumes, the building is a fine example of Classical Revival architecture, recognizable by its solidity and weight, rusticated masonry and strong horizontal lines.
Within a few years, after the Library opened in the town hall, three branch libraries were established in the outlying districts of Rochdale, Cherry Valley and Greenville. These branches remained operational until the advent of a more mobile community. The last branch to close in 1982 was Rochdale at which time all the funding went to the main library for increased hours and an expanded materials budget.
Currently the library has a collection of about 29,000 volumes and serves a population of over 10,000. Unfortunately, the size (10,536 sq.ft.) of the building and limited access to all three levels prevents the collection from growing. Public computers are also limited, 6 in the adult area and 3 in the children's room, due to the age of the building, shortage of electrical outlets and lack of space. According to the Wisconsin Public Library Standards for our population size the library's collection should be 55,000 items.
The library serves 3,000 people a month with over 6,000 registered borrowers and circulates approximately 44,000 items annually. Our public computers average 325 users a month.
The Library is a department of town government, governed by an elected six member board of trustees who are highly committed to the library and its mission. The trustees spearheaded the campaign to make their vision of an expansion/renovation project come to life. They have been aggressively advocating for the library building project.
There is a separate Friends Group who have a 501(c)3 designation. Over the last two years the leaders of the group have been committed to growing their membership and stepping up their fund raising efforts. In 2010 they teamed up with the trustees to launch the Library's first Annual Fund-raising Campaign. In this era of slashed budgets the Library has to rely more on the Friends to offset expenses not included in the town budget.
For more information about the planned renovation/expansion and the associated Capital Campaign, click here.
Newspaper Article about 1895 Building Plans, page 1
Newspaper Article about 1895 Building Plans, page 2
1896 Library Dedication Program
1958 Celebration of National Library Week Program Cover
1958 Celebration of National Library Week Program Inside