At a recent postcard show I came across a postcard (shown here) depicting the Brumback Library in Van Wert, Ohio. The caption on the back of the card indicated that it was "the first county library in the United States" and that it was dedicated in 1901. I couldn't let a claim like that go without looking into it further. Besides, having worked in and with several county libraries, I was interested in finding out more about their history. The Brumback Library's claim to be the "pioneer county library" is backed up by the book The County Library: The Pioneer County Library (The Brumback Library of Van Wert County, Ohio) And the County Library Movement in the United States by Saida Brumback Antrim and Ernest Irving Antrim (Pioneer Press, 1914). Those writing the book, however, had a definite bias because of close ties to the Brumback Library. When the claim of being first was first made, it was challenged by the Cincinnati (Ohio) Public Library which said that it had been providing library service to Hamilton County at an earlier date. The Washington County Free Library in Haggerstown, Maryland was also in contention for the honor of being the first county library. The claims and counter claims of being the first county library played out in the in the April, 1901 issue of Library Journal and the May, 1901 issue of Public Libraries.
Wyoming Territory passed a county library law in 1886. The Laramie County Public Library in Cheyenne dates its founding as August, 1886, and can thus claim to be the first countywide public library in the United States. It will be celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. I have a previous post on the work of Mabel Wilkinson in organizing county library service in Wyoming. A comprehensive effort to establish county libraries as a model for public library development came from California starting in 1909. I have a previous post on that effort.