Wednesday, September 2, 2015

In a County State of Mind

We just finished updating some of the county resources / information on our DPI website, so I've been in a "county state of mind" lately.   Did you know that in 1818 - when Illinois joined the Union - what we now know as Wisconsin was part of the Territory of Michigan?  And at that time, Wisconsin was divided roughly from north to south into two (very large) counties: Brown and Crawford. Statehood finally came in 1848 and by the outbreak of the Civil War, the majority of Wisconsin's 72 counties had already been established.

Map of Wisconsin's 72 Counties
Map of WI counties
Thirty-seven of our counties are named after people (two of which are named after women); the names of 19 counties have connections to Native American cultures, peoples, or languages; seven counties derived their names from geographical or regional markers, the names of six counties came from French culture, and three counties drew upon well-known places for their names.

From a library perspective, the really exciting news is that all 72 Wisconsin counties are members of a regional public library system. As a result, every resident of our great state has tax-supported access to a public library.  Unless you've lived in a state without universal public library access, you may not know what a big deal this is. The very first section of Chapter 43 of our Wisconsin State Statutes (the chapter concerned with public libraries and regional public library systems) underscores this priority: "the legislature recognizes the importance of free access to knowledge, information and diversity of ideas to all residents of this state."

Counties play a vital role in the growth of strong public libraries and strong public library systems. Initial membership in a regional public library system was by county rather than individual public library.  In order to join a library system, each county was required to develop a county library plan. Counties are statutorily required to not only adopt but to maintain a county library plan in order to remain system members.

Our updated County Library Planning, Funding, and Related Issues page will be a useful spot for library directors, public library trustees, county officials, and municipal officers.  On this page you'll find information on library legislation, county funding requirements, county library planning, and the procedure for municipalities to exempt themselves from the county's library tax.

Written by:
Denise Anton Wright, Public Library Development