In 1903, the Baraboo Public Library opened at 230 4th Avenue. Previous to 1903, the library was housed in a room at the City Building. The library was chartered by the State of Wisconsin in 1895.
The 6,000 sq. ft. building was designed by Louis Claude of the Madison firm, Claude and Starck. Louis spent his youth at his parents' home at Devil's Lake, giving special meaning to his selection as the architect. A $15,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie made the construction possible. Karl Isenberg, a local contractor, was the builder. Architecturally, the building is of the neo-classical style with an exterior of brick and limestone. The roof is of clay tile. Interior features of note are the red oak woodwork and a frieze in the east reading room, originally the children's room, that is a copy of Cantoria by Donatello. There are two fireplaces, one upstairs and one downstairs.
At the opening of the library, the collection numbered 5,000 books. Story hours for children were begun in 1908. The library has been in continuous operation since 1903 except for a 3-month closing in 1936 following a fire that damaged the west and central areas of the main floor. The fire began in a basement room being loaned to a WPA sewing project.
From 1941 to 1945 library service was extended to some 13,000 construction and plant workers who came to establish Badger Ordnance Works. Following the closing of the plant in 1945, Badger Village was converted to housing for married veterans returning to study at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. They, too, sought library service from Baraboo Public Library.
In 1963 the Sauk County Library was established and Baraboo became the Sauk County Resource Library, a role it still fulfills. As such, library service was officially extended to the whole county. A countywide cooperative system, with headquarters in the basement of the Baraboo library, provided the impetus to new growth for the library.
In 1975, under the first available Wisconsin State aid for library systems, Dane and Sauk Counties formed the South Central Library System. Later Green and Columbia Counties joined, and in 1996, Portage, Wood and Adams Counties all became part of the South Central Library System.
The first major space change occurred in 1969 when the children's library was moved to the basement. More remodeling in 1975 provided a new checkout desk, new reference shelving, and an AV Room in the basement. In 1982, Baraboo undertook a major remodeling and addition project, increasing the library's space from 6,000 sq. ft. to 15,000 sq. ft., providing handicapped accessibility with an elevator, upgrading the library's energy efficiency. The cost of the project was $718,000 with funding provided by the City of Baraboo and $100,000 of Library Trust Funds. Architects for the project were Strang Partners of Madison, Wisconsin. Special care was taken to preserve the architectural integrity of the building. In 1981 the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Exterior remodeling in 1996-97 replaced the front steps, added concrete benches and planters, new lighting and landscaping.
The library entered the computer age in 1985 with the installation of an automated circulation system and online catalog, in cooperation with a consortium of South Central system libraries. An updated system was installed in 1994, operated by LINK, the name of the new cooperative venture encompassing 24 libraries. LINK expanded to in-library public access computers and dial-in access from home soon after. Library patrons now have electronic access to over 2,000,000 volumes. Patrons may place holds and the items are delivered to system libraries five days a week. In 1997 staff and public Internet access was introduced.
Although a vital member of the South Central Library System, the library is an independent municipal library governed by a library board appointed by the mayor with the approval of the City Council. The administrator of the library is the Library Director, who functions under the direction of the board.