The history of the Marshfield Public Library runs parallel with the history of the city itself; the city was officially incorporated in 1883, and the first lending library was established in 1881 with a donation of 500 books. John J. Marsh, a Massachusetts resident, made the book donation part of his bid for the naming rights of the burgeoning city. Under the organization of Mrs. W.H. Upham, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union managed the early library collection, which moved from business site to business site.
A permanent location for the library would not come until April 1901 when the library opened in three rooms of the newly built City Hall. During this same year, the name was changed from Marshfield Public Library to the Marshfield Free Library, and Miss H. Della Ellinwood was hired as the first head librarian. The City appropriated $250 for operating costs which, along with personal donations, helped the new library to establish itself and maintain its growing collection. By 1904, the initial 500 volumes had grown to 3,441 volumes, and the library had 1,884 registered patrons.
By the 1930s, the library had outgrown its City Hall location. The collection now included 19,000 volumes to serve the still growing community. A new location was badly needed but funding was proving problematic. Enter Amander Beebee, a library patron who had retired to Marshfield after making his fortune in the lumber business. During his life, Beebee donated more than 1,000 items to the library and established a trust that stated that upon the death of his remaining family, the funds would be given to the library.
On the strength of this trust, the city issued a loan of $270,000 to the Library Board to break ground and build a new facility. This lead to the opening of the library’s first standalone location at 211 East 2nd Street in 1960. The location was diagonally across Maple Avenue from the previous location allowing the library to remain in the same neighborhood. In honor of Beebee’s bequest, the library named a large meeting room in his honor, and the room became the permanent home of a large collection of taxidermied birds from the natural history collection of Marshfield resident John M. Stierle.
When Amander Beebee’s last niece passed away in 1980, the trust was turned over to the library board. In the intervening 20 years, the library had once again outgrown its home. In 1984, $750,000 from the Beebee trust was augmented with more than $200,00 worth of fundraising. Library operations temporarily moved to the basement of Mitten’s, a local appliance and furniture store, while the addition was under construction. By 1985, the library had become such an integral part of the community that the Common Council not only agreed to forgive the original 25-year-old debt from the construction of the 1960 building but also provided an additional $115,000 for the expansion. The newly expanded and remodeled building opened in October 1985, and the Marshfield Public Library name was restored.
Dale Bartkowiak became library director in 1987. During his tenure Bartkowiak would, among other things, facilitate the establishment of the Library Foundation endowment and the Friends of the Marshfield Public Library (FOMPL) group. He also developed and implemented automation plans, resulting in the library being named Wisconsin Library of the Year in 1991. The fully integrated library system with computerized circulation, acquisitions and public access catalog was unveiled in 1992, followed by staff internet connections in 1994, and public internet stations in 1997.
In 1996, with circulation topping 450,000 items, the library broke away from the Wisconsin Valley Library Service and merged with the South Central Library System. This move allowed the library to tap into resources from other Wisconsin libraries, expanded interlibrary loan service, and led to the broadening of the bulk loan lending program, allowing the Marshfield Public Library to supplement the collections of smaller libraries in the area.
As the library celebrated 100 years of service to the community, Lori Belongia was hired as library director. During 2003, heavy rains broke through a section of the roof, damaging parts of the building and collections. The roof was repaired in 2004 but the structure damage emphasized the need for a building capable of handling technological advances.
In 2008, the library received the Governor’s Archival Achievement Award for its Online Genealogy Index database. In 2009, the first self-checkout unit was unveiled launching the library’s circulation into the 21st century. The first e-book service through the library became available in 2014.
Behind the scenes, the design and funding of an entirely new building started in earnest. By July 2015, public funding and corporate and personal donations allowed for ground to be broken for the new facility. The newly built and renamed Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library opened its doors to the public on September 6, 2016. This was followed by the opening of the 2nd Street Community Center in the previous library building in 2019. The two buildings are connected physically and provide a center of activity for the community.
As libraries have grown, so have their functions in the community. In 2019, Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library had 163,285 visitors and circulated 313,285 items to its 28,567 registered patrons. It also handled 12,283 reference transactions, hosted 22,505 uses at 40 public computer stations and 24,641 wifi users, provided electronic resource access to 50,057 users and 373 programs to 9,802 attendees.
Lori Belongia retired in June 2020, handing the torch to new library director, Jill Porter. The library has seen many changes and overcome many obstacles in its history. Through it all, the library has served, and will continue to serve, the Marshfield community for decades to come.