Brief Overview


The mission of Northern Waters Library Service 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.

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. January and July meetings are held online through Go-To-Meeting.

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.

Services of Northern Waters include: