Pioneer Days

Early in its statehood, stagecoaches delivered traveling libraries to Idaho settlements, mining camps, and outposts. The wooden boxes contained volumes for every age and every interest. The "Traveling Library," the precursor to the Idaho Commission for Libraries, was formed by the Columbian Club of Boise in 1899.

The 1901 Idaho Legislative Session created the State Library with an annual operating budget of $3,000. Charged with organizing new libraries and improving existing ones, Idaho took pride in its State Library services. The traveling library brought a civilizing and educational force to 51 settlements — including large towns like Boise, Moscow, and Pocatello and small ones like Preston, St. Anthony, and Salmon. By 1904, 100 communities were receiving books.

Growing New Libraries

By the 1920s, every major city in Idaho and many smaller communities boasted a library. Ten of those were built with Carnegie grants. These grants required local community support, much like private and federal library grants of today. The State Library continued to deposit collections of books throughout the state. In the 30s, continuing education to improve local library services began and continues to be in demand.

In 1957, the Idaho Legislature more than doubled the State Library's budget, allowing the agency to receive federal grants. With these monies, local libraries demonstrated innovative services such as bookmobiles and children's story times. These early grants were the precursors of in excess of $1.3 million in federal funds administered by the State Library in Idaho today.

After the Library Service Act was revamped in 1964, federal dollars went toward library buildings — the final grant was awarded in 1998. In 1973, the Talking Book Library began to serve people whose disabilities made it difficult to use printed materials. Today, special playing machines and recorded books are sent statewide to provide free literature to thousands of patrons.

On to New Frontiers

In the mid-seventies, the State Library ushered in technology by awarding library automation grants. That legacy continues today through the Libraries Linking Idaho Network (LiLI). The network hosts the popular LiLI databases, paid for by state dollars. Plans for LiLI include the development of statewide networking activities.

The State Library strives to reach new frontiers by working with public libraries to offer high tech services. And while high tech may be the wave of the future, equally important is the high touch afforded through many local libraries. Through partnerships, the State Library works to impact lives on the community level, delivering both books and bytes.

Although library books no longer arrive by stagecoach, Idaho citizens still look forward to library services whether they come from a traditional library building or through a computer 24 hours a day. And the State Library is prepared to take Idahoans into tomorrow as it continues to pioneer new frontiers.

New Name for the Idaho State Library

Effective July 1, 2006 the Idaho State Library changed its name to the Idaho Commission for Libraries and the board of trustees were renamed the board of commissioners. "The change in name reflects our mission to assist libraries to build the capacity to better serve their clientele," State Librarian Ann Joslin stated when asked about the name change.


View a short video (8:45) of Idaho State Library History from 1901 to 2000 at https://youtu.be/5KEM-0i2D_g.