Wisconsin State Law Library

Serving the Wisconsin Supreme Court and State of Wisconsin

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History

Enjoy highlights from the Wisconsin State Law Library's history. To browse:

Celebrating 175 Years of Service
  1. Click on the timeline below
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  3. Click on individual events to learn more

Wisconsin State Law Library: 1836-

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April 20, 1836
Wisconsin State Law Library established by the same Act of Congress that creates the Territory of Wisconsin

1837
Peter H. Engle, Speaker of the first territorial House of Representatives, goes to Washington and Philadelphia to purchase 1500 books to start the library.

1836-1876
13 people served as librarian

Dec. 22, 1840
First catalog of books compiled by librarian William T. Sterling

1841
Legislation requires the library to be moved to Madison, the newly chosen capital city.

1849
The first official State Librarian appointed. Act provides that the governor shall have control over the library and is authorized and empowered to appoint a librarian for a 1 year term. The librarian was paid $300 quarterly (Laws of 1849, Chapter 2).

1851
Circulation policy allows any member of the legislature or member or attorney to the Supreme Court during session to borrow a maximum of 5 books for no more than 5 days. The librarian is made accountable for any books that become missing or injured.

1852
The 1852 library catalogue rules and regulations states that, a fine of twenty-five cents shall be imposed for every day's detention beyond the time above specified. This would be the equivalent of $8 today!

1866
The library collection becomes law-focused. No books shall hereafter be purchased for the state library, except law books of reference and works on political science and statistics (Laws of 1866, Chapter 119, Section 3).

1875
Non-legal books transferred to State Historical Society

1876
Supreme Court and Attorney General become unofficial trustees of the library.

1876-1906
John Berryman serves as State Librarian

Feb. 26, 1904
During the early morning, a fire breaks out in the State Capitol. University students assist in raising ladders to the windows of the north wing which housed the State Law Library. Volumes are thrown out the windows onto the snow banks below. State Supreme Court Justice R.D.Marshall arrives and organizes the effort. Books are passed hand-to-hand to nearby stores and later, to wagons. It is estimated that 500-600 people volunteered.

Mar. 1904 - Dec. 1910
After the Capitol fire of 1904, the Library is rebuilt; formerly in the North Wing, it is now in the East Wing. Early photographs indicate the library is completed in 1910.

1906-1956
Gilson Glasier, State Law Librarian, serves six days short of 51 years (1906-1956).
Glasier increased library holdings from 30,000 to 125,000 volumes during his administration.

1907
The first card catalog is maintained at the library. Act states that the librarian shall install and maintain in the most scientific and improved manner, a card index and catalog of the books and materials therein contained.

April 20, 1936
The library celebrates its 100th Anniversary.

1956-1967
Edwin Jensen serves as State Librarian

1967-1974
William Knudsen serves as State Librarian

1969
Circulation extends to state officers, members/officers of the legislature (limit of 5 books for no more than 5 days) and to any judge of the United States (upon written request).

1974-1999
Marcia J. Koslov serves as State Law Librarian

Mar. 1976
Circulation extends to licensed Wisconsin attorneys

1977
Board of Trustees abolished; Supreme Court given full authority over Library. Name officially changes from State Library to State Law Library, finally reflecting that it has been a legal collection for over 100 years. (Laws of Wisconsin 1977, Chapter 29, Section 1393). As a result, State Librarian is now State Law Librarian.

1983
Library purchases first computer

1984
Library holdings information is added to OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), an international resource-sharing database.

Nov. 1989 - June 1998
The Library launches the premier issue of the print WSLL Newsletter in November of 1989. There are 15 issues, the last of which was published in June 1998.

1990
Library presents WISOLL, an online catalog which provides complete bibliographic information for all titles held by the library including treatises, looseleafs, government publications, journals, and state materials. Users can dial up to WISOLL at home with a PC, modem, or phone line.

1992
Library adds the Legal Resource Index (LegalTrac) and the SCCA (Supreme Court/Court of Appeals) Bulletin Board is established through a joint effort of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Director of State Courts office and the State Law Library.

1992
The Young Lawyer's Division of the State Bar donates its library collection to WSLL. The collection of books, videotapes and cassettes can be mailed out on request to any State Bar member with good standing.

1992
The library provides a computer terminal in the Reading Room for the use of our patrons. Users may print to an attached printer, run WESTLAW and LEXIS searches if they have their own passwords and download documents to disk. The workstation can search the UW system catalog and Marquette Law Library catalog as well.

1993
Beginning on July 1, the library will be available to judges, Wisconsin attorneys, and legislators for use before and after regular library hours. Extended hours are 6 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

1993
State Law Librarian Marcia J. Koslov states the Internet, a world-wide network, has become increasingly important to the staff, not only for E-Mail communication on topics ranging from copyright to cataloging, but for access to federal information, library catalogs, indexes to journals and national news.

1993
Appendices and briefs submitted to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals will now be scanned into optical discs, replacing the current microfiche conversion process.

1993
CD-Rom player is attached to the patron PC for easy access to the library's growing CD collection.

May 1996
WSLL begins managing Milwaukee County Law Library

1996
On July 1, 1996, the library will be charging fines of $.25 a day on overdue materials.

1998
Circulation by mail service begins to Wisconsin judges and attorneys

1999
WSLL begins managing Dane County Law Library

Mar. 11, 1999
Library launches its first web site

Sept. 1999 - Jan. 2000
Staff move out of the Capitol into various temporary offices around the Square. User services operate from the Dane County Law Library. Staff retrieve books from Capitol on request.

Oct. 12, 1999
Ground-breaking ceremony for the State Justice Center, later renamed Risser Justice Center.

Dec. 1999
Books are moved from Capitol to Library's temporary location at 1 East Main Street.

Jan. 18, 2000
Library opens at 1 East Main Street

2000-2011
Jane Colwin serves as State Law Librarian
Note: from February 2000-June 2003 Jane Colwin and Julie Tessmer serve as interim co-state law librarians.

Feb. 2001
Inaugural issue of web newsletter, WSLL @ Your Service, is published.

Dec. 2001 - Jan. 2002
Books move from 1 East Main Street and storage sites to Risser Justice Center, 120 MLK Jr. Blvd.

Jan. 22, 2002
Library opens in Risser Justice Center

Jan. 2007
Library website received over a half million hits with Legal Topics A-Z being the most popular destination.

May 10, 2009
WSLL unveils its redesigned website with a new address http://wilawlibrary.gov

April 20, 2011
According to a proclamation by Governor Scott Walker, April 20, 2011 is Wisconsin State Law Library Day throughout the State of Wisconsin.

April 20, 2011
April 20 marks the 175th birthday of the Wisconsin State Law Library, the oldest library in the state. On this day 175 years ago (1836), then President Andrew Jackson signed an Act of Congress creating the Territory of Wisconsin, which included all of present day Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and parts of North and South Dakota. The final provision in the act appropriated funds for the purchase of law books to support the new territorial government, and so the Wisconsin State Library, as it was first called, was established.

July 23, 2011
Awarded the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Excellence in Marketing Award for Best Use of Technology. The award recognizes our newsletter, WSLL @ Your Service, and the synchronization of its elements with the library's website.

November 3, 2011
Gilson G. Glasier served as Wisconsin’s state law librarian from 1906 to 1956. During this period the Wisconsin State Law Library (formerly the Wisconsin State Library) grew from 30,000 volumes to 125,000 volumes and was ranked as one of the best law libraries in the country. Glasier was one of the founders of the American Association of Law Libraries and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2010. Source: Hall of Fame announcement.

January 22, 2012
10 years ago the library moved into its current location in the Risser Justice Center.

March 1, 2013
The library takes its CLE training program online.

April 1, 2013
Users on the library's wireless network can now search and download from Westlaw using their own devices.

October 19, 2014
The website is redesigned to use a responsive, mobile-first framework.

April 12, 2015
The county branches are renamed to Milwaukee County Law Library and Dane County Law Library to better help users understand their services, staff, and collection.

October 20, 2016
The Wisconsin State Law Library's downtown Madison location is renamed the David T. Prosser, Jr. State Law Library.

Dane County Law Library

Prior to 1999, Dane county and the City of Madison provided two public agencies in the courthouse for legal research: the Dane County Law Library and the Municipal Reference Service. In 1998, both agencies were in jeopardy of closure due to lack of funding. The Municipal Reference Service collection was relocated to the Madison Public Library. In January 1999, the Dane County Law Library became a branch of the Wisconsin State Law Library through a contractual agreement with the Dane County Clerk of Courts office. In 2003, the library changed its name to the Dane County Legal Resource Center to better reflect its focus on providing a variety of legal information services to both the local legal community and the general public. The library moved into the new Dane County Courthouse in January 2006. In 2015 the library underwent another name change back to Dane County Law Library (DCLL) to help users better understand the services, staff, and collection.

Milwaukee County Law Library

In May 1996 the Milwaukee Legal Resource Center became a branch of the Wisconsin State Law Library through a contractual agreement with Milwaukee County. In July 2014 the library moved into its new space in Room G9 of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. In 2015 the library changed its name to Milwaukee County Law Library (MCLL) to help users better understand the services, staff, and collection.

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