© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Library for Bismarck

Ways To Subscribe

According to the Bismarck Historical Society, on this date in 1912 there was something lacking in the city of Bismarck — a public library. The public could borrow from the state library at the Capitol, but the lack of a public library still marked Bismarck as less than modern.

The road to securing a library began in Dumferline, Scotland, where Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835. The Carnegie family emigrated to the United States in 1848. A local businessman offered his library to his employees, which opened a whole world for Carnegie, whose family was working class. In 1881, inspired by his generous employer, Carnegie opened a free library in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. It was the first of many.

In 1873, the women of Bismarck established a reading room at the public school with donated books. In 1893, two local businessmen floated the idea of applying for a Carnegie library. The idea was well-received, but the Panic of 1893 postponed the effort. Other attempts to secure a library were made over the next few years, but they were not successful.

Then the Bismarck Daily Tribune began a campaign for a library. Bismarck was the only community in the state with a population over three thousand with no library. The newspaper called the city “deficient” and said, “Nearly every town in this state, no matter how small, has a library, but Bismarck, the capital city, has none.”

Several women’s organizations banded together to work for a library. Their efforts were endorsed by the influential Commercial Club. They secured a location for a reading room and asked for donations of books. The reading room opened in February, 1916. It was wildly successful, but the citizens of Bismarck still wanted a real public library.

The Commercial Club contacted the Carnegie Foundation hoping to secure funding. In 1916, the Foundation offered $25,000, enough to build a library “complete and ready for occupancy.” The city donated property, and the building was ready by December, 1917. Materials were transferred from the reading room to the new building.

Citizens of Bismarck were proud of their new library, described as one of the most attractive and modern public libraries in North Dakota. The newspaper called it “a live, vital thing, pulsating with energy.”

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Bismarck Historical Society. “It Happened in Bismarck.” http://bismarckhistory.org/it-happened-in-bismarck/ Accessed 3/28/2022.

Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library. “Frontier Days to the 21st Century: A History of the Bismarck Public Library.”

https://www.bismarcklibrary.org/DocumentCenter/View/449/LibHistory?bidId= Accessed 3/28/2022.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Related Content