Idaho State Library History from 1901 to 2000. (8:45)

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 1930s, 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 storytimes. These early grants were the precursors of the more than $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-1970’s, the State Library ushered in technology by awarding library automation grants. In 1998, the Libraries Linking Idaho (LiLI) network debuted. And today’s state library complements its traditional services and programs with more high-tech offerings and solutions for Idaho’s library community.

Whether its books or bytes, a library building or handheld device, Idahoans enjoy a wide range of library services in the ways that work best for them — today and tomorrow.

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 was renamed the board of commissioners.