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Milwaukee Public Library – Central Library

Photo TourVideo Tour360VR Tour

The Milwaukee Public Library’s Central Library opened in 1898 as a shared space with the Milwaukee Public Museum.

The Milwaukee Public Library was founded in 1878. After several moves, the Central Library was built in response to the need for more spacious quarters. It opened its doors to the public on October 3, 1898 as a shared space with the Milwaukee Public Museum. The architectural firm of Ferry and Clas won a nationwide design competition and built a Neo-Renaissance style U-shaped building. The original structure is a combination of French and Italian Renaissance styles built of Bedford limestone. Much of the intricate outside carving was done by craftsmen standing on scaffolding. Interior materials include mahogany and oak hardwoods, brass, Sienna marble, plaster, stucco, tesserae tile and scagliola. Several additions help make up the block-long building that stands today. The most recent addition to the building was completed in 1957 and added two stories above and four levels below ground. The most recent added feature to the building’s exterior is a green roof with solar panels. Central Library has been designated a landmark by the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Learn more about Historic Central Library here.

The Milwaukee Public Library is in the process of reopening all locations to the public. Central Library’s hours are: Monday–Friday: 10 AM – 6 PM and Saturday: 9 AM – 5 PM.

While MPL will not offer guided tours for the 2020 Doors Open event, during open hours the public may enter at the Wells Street entrance to Central Library where the sculpture A Beam of Sun to Shake the Sky by Richard Taylor is located. Proceed by stairs or elevator to the 2nd floor, and go to the Central Library Art Gallery, near the Rare Books Room where the exhibit Milwaukee Scenes can be seen. The paintings on view are drawn from the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum and show people and places of Milwaukee from the early to the late 1900s. Many of the scenes reflect Milwaukee’s nickname “The City of Neighborhoods”. From Joseph Friebert’s Sixth Ward Baseball to Gerrit Sinclair’s Tenement, Milwaukee Third Ward, the speak to contrasting and complementary aspects of the city and its characteristics and, together, form a larger vision of Milwaukee. Also viewable are the grand staircase, and selected images from the Milwaukee Public Library’s set of Audubon prints. Due to the limited service model, perennial favorites such as the Dome Tour, Wisconsin Avenue Rotunda, and Green Roof are not available this year.

Self-Guided Outdoor Tour: Doors Open attendees are also invited to walk the Poetry Path. The Poetry Path is a creation of Field Work MKE: Exploring the Ways We Know Our World, a Poetry and Science Collaboration. This partnership of the Milwaukee Public Library and Milwaukee Public Museum was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by Poets House, a national poetry organization. The Poetry Path leads participants around Central Library and Milwaukee Public Museum, and is aimed at deepening the public’s connection to the natural world and providing an opportunity for greater understanding of the natural sciences. For more fun, view or download the Poetry Path Bingo card!

Stay Connected with your Milwaukee Public Library for updates on library access and services available in your neighborhood at www.mpl.org/stayconnected, and participate in online programming. Daily online programming is offered on a variety of topics from storytelling to home improvement to meditation. Go to www.mpl.org/services/events/ for details. Thanks to Scott Paulus for interior and exterior photos of Central Library, Ilona Gonzalez for the photo of the sculpture at Wells Street, and TourdeForce 360VR for the panoramic Green Roof image.

Watch Celebrating Central: A Brief History on October 2nd, 5:30pm

The Milwaukee Public Library’s Historic Downtown Central Library is approaching its 125th anniversary. It has survived growth, additions, remodels and even pandemics as it continues to modernize to meet the Milwaukee areas’ needs and support the other branch locations. Join us to see some 19th, 20th and 21st century images of the changes to public and staff spaces including some rarely seen areas.

Register for this program After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Visit www.mpl.org/ada for information on ADA program accommodation requests.

Water Passport – Green Roof 

See the 360 Virtual Reality tour below! The Milwaukee Public Library has 33,000 square feet of green roof above the Business and Periodicals Room. The green roof is engineered with moisture barriers and insulating features to reduce heating and cooling costs, minimize the urban heat island effect and protect the library underneath. The prime advantage of a green roof is its ability to absorb rainwater.  Reducing storm water runoff  lessens the load on MMSD sewers, lowers the risk of flooding and basement back-ups and reduces combined sewer overflows into Lake Michigan. The roof is planted with chives and Karl Forester Reed Grass and 12 varieties of sedum. Scheduled tours are available twice a week from mid-April through the end of October and on advance request.

A green roof uses a watertight membrane, protective layers, insulation, filter, soil and vegetation to create a roof system. The soil is inorganic material that retains water. The foliage includes mostly succulent plants able to withstand draught and hold moisture.  Sun and shade varieties of sedum are the primary plants.

The roof provides both short- and long-term benefits for Milwaukee residents. In the short-term, replacing 30,000 square feet of traditional non-porous roof with a vegetative system will reduce polluted storm water runoff, lessen heat reflected into the atmosphere and improve air quality.  Long-term, Milwaukee will benefit from reduced costs for water treatment systems and infrastructure.  The roof should also last at least twice as long as a conventional roof.

MPL’s green roof project also includes photovoltaic cells that convert solar energy into direct current electricity.  The electricity is metered, converted to a/c and sent out to the grid. The solar electric panels generate about 36,000 kilowatt hours per year. The library receives credit for the electricity it contributes to the grid.


Video Tour


360° VR Tour