Brief Overview


The mission of Northern Waters Library Service (brochure PDF) is to provide access to quality public library services through its member libraries.


Residents of and visitors to the Northern Waters Library Service area have convenient access to quality library services that enrich the communities of Northern Wisconsin.

Services Include:

  • Circulation reports monthly and assistance with annual reports 
  • Consulting services include planning, policies, budgeting, grant-writing, bookkeeping, collection development, services to special populations, children's services, legal issues affecting libraries, hiring library staff, certification issues, website support, technology, Integrated Library System services (cataloging, circulation, public catalog)
  • Continuing education opportunities relevant to the practice of sound librarianship
  • Cooperative cataloging for the regional and state online catalogs shared by member libraries
  • Delivery service, which provides a quick, efficient and cost-effective method to move shared resources among libraries 
  • Digital Media Support - NWLS is a member of the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC) digital media service and provides support and training.
  • E-rate and TEACH support for telecommunications discounts
  • Grants for developing local collections and for member library collections and service enhancements
  • Inter-library loan and reference/referral service - A contract with Superior Public Library makes their services and resources available to all member libraries.
  • Mail-A-Book service for residents of the NWLS service area lacking access to a local public library.
  • The Merlin shared resources network, which facilitates resource sharing among member libraries with integrated software for cataloging, circulation and a public online catalog
  • News updates related to library issues, events and training opportunities
  • Technology infrastructure that meets the demands on libraries in their role as providers of a range of public access computing services and as members of the Merlin shared resources network.
  • Technology training, support and consultation

What is a Library System?

Northern Waters Library Service is one of Wisconsin's seventeen regional public library systems. Library system services include:

  • Ensuring that residents have access to public library service
  • Promoting and coordinating resource sharing among libraries
  • Providing technical and financial support to improve the quality of public library service 
  • Providing training and continuing education for library staff 
  • Coordinating cooperative library technology projects

Systems are organized under Chapter 43 of the Wisconsin Statutes, which outlines the services they provide and lists the requirements for membership in a library system. Public library system funding from the state enables the systems to carry out the service requirements and the state's commitment to preserve and improve local public libraries. System programs, grants and services are vital in providing the effective and responsive local libraries.

Northern Waters, founded in 1964, is one of Wisconsin’s oldest public library systems. It serves Ashland, Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Iron, Sawyer, Vilas and Washburn counties.

As outlined below, most library system services are provided to member libraries rather than directly to patrons. Member libraries are independently governed and funded, but they contract for services with a library system.

Board of Trustees

The NWLS trustees are appointed by the eight participating county boards. Trustees (county board supervisors or citizens designees) can serve unlimited three-year terms. Each county is represented by one to five trustees, based on county population. The board also includes a representative from the Resource Library and an NWLS member library liaison. Trustees meet six times each year (Jan., March, May, July, Sept., and Nov.) on the third Saturday of every month but November when it meets the second Saturday. All meetings are open to the public and most are held at NWLS.