Mission Statement
To enrich the community through access to library services and cultural opportunities.

Photo of Peter Q. White
Library Founder, Peter White


Historical Information
The Peter White Public Library (PWPL) has been serving residents of Marquette, Michigan for over a century. Founded in 1871 by Peter White, it was initially located within the City Hall. White donated $4,000 to establish the library and $1,000 for the purchase of cases and the completion of a room in the new city hall. Over time, the library was housed in different locations, including the First National Bank Building and the Thurber Block on Washington Street. On March 27, 1891, the school district library and Peter White’s private library were combined by a special act of the Michigan Legislature to become the Peter White Public Library. By October 1895, the library had outgrown its space, prompting White to spearhead efforts to construct a new building. Today, PWPL is located on the corner of Front and Ridge Streets in downtown Marquette.

In 1900, John Munro and Mary Beecher Longyear donated the deeds for the lots at the corner of Front and Ridge Streets to the Board of Trustees of the Peter White Public Library. Nathan M. and Mary Breitung Kaufman and Peter and Ellen Hewitt White donated generously to the project. The building opened to the public on September 22, 1904. The cost of the building was $47,000 and the land was valued at $13,000. This magnificent Beaux Arts Classical building of white Bedford, Indiana limestone was designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Patton and Miller. The grayish-white, smooth-cut stone contrasted sharply with the reddish-brown brick and sandstone of other Marquette structures. The 1904 Library Board explained that it chose white stone “so as to furnish a variation to the dark stone which is characteristic of the architecture of Marquette.” Round-arched windows with keystones pierce the walls on the raised first story; the second-story windows are rectangular. An ornamental cornice encircles the red tile hipped roof. Stairs ascend to the projecting main central entrance on North Front Street, which is marked by four giant fluted columns in antis. The Library interior features white marble and weathered oak. Stained glass windows and a skylight produced by Speirling and Linden added to the beauty of the building.

In 1958 an addition designed by Harold S. Starin “modernized” the building on its west end. An entrance to the building from Ridge Street was added at this time. This $300,000 project was funded by a municipal bond issue and the generous contributions of James Pickands Maynard, Frances Quintard Reynolds, and Frances White Shiras.

Celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976 led to the renovation of the North and South Heritage Rooms, Dandelion Cottage Room, Shiras Media Room, Rachel Spear Bell Collection and the second floor gallery area. The restoration was designed by Marquette architect Howard McKie. Four columns distinguish the advancing plane of the Front Street entrance. This entrance was closed to the public in 1982. After repair, it was re-opened for public use in September 1994. A wheelchair lift was also added at this time on the west end of the building adjacent to the Youth Services Area.

During the early 1990’s the long-range planning committee proposed a renovation and expansion project. The Library had filled its nearly 25,000 square feet and had no room for additional equipment or books. The auditorium sat only 82 people. The building’s aging structure could not handle the technology of the 90’s and meet ADA mandates. Increased demand for services, new technology and space had put a serious strain on the Peter White Public Library. The need for major renovation to the antiquated structure and replacement of inefficient heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems had reached a critical level. Serious overcrowding, disruptive noise levels that inhibited productive work and research, and adequate space for nearly every program was at a premium. Finally, full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act had become, perhaps, the most urgent need of all for the expansion project.

To meet its challenges head on and continue meeting the needs of our community for the next fifty years, the Peter White Public Library initiated a Capital Campaign. A proposed building renovation/expansion project would increase the building to approximately 65,000 square feet and provide a 150 seat auditorium. In 1994 the Board of Trustees contracted with Sundberg Carlson and Associates, Inc. and Frye Gillan Molinaro Architects, Ltd. of Chicago to design an architecturally compatible addition to the original 1904 building.
In the fall of 1996, Marquette City residents passed a bond issue for $4.5 million by a 62% margin agreeing to provide half the expansion/renovation funds. A Capital Campaign was begun to raise the remaining $4.5 million from private and corporate donations. Over a five-year period, the Campaign collected foundation grants, challenge grants, pledges and outright donations to total over $4.5 million as it met its 50% project pledge to the city of Marquette.

During February and March 1998, the Library staff and volunteers moved approximately 60% of materials to a temporary library facility in the old Quad II cafeteria located on Northern Michigan University’s campus. The remaining material went into storage while the renovation/expansion project was under construction.

October 22, 2000 was the GRAND OPENING GALA for the expansion / renovation project. People came from near and far to see the project that had begun nearly a decade before. Guest speakers were Bart Stupak, U.S. Representative from Michigan’s 1st District; Christie Pearson Brandau, Michigan’s new State Librarian; Frank Sciotto, Marquette’s own Mayor and Paul Marin, President of the Library’s Board of Trustees. The major benefactors for the project were Cleveland Cliffs Foundation, in Memory of William & Dorothy Tanner and Eugene & Evelyn Elzinga, The Frazier Fund, Inc., Members of the Huron Mountain Club, Violet V. Johnson, The L.G. Kaufman Endowment Fund, The W. K. Kellogg Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, Phyllis M. Reynolds and her family-Joan Miller, Kate Muller, Frances Reynolds and Alice Reynolds, the Shiras Institute Board of Trustees, plus the hundreds of Marquette area residents who believed that we all deserved a library built for the twenty-first century.

Today, the Peter White Library is the largest public library in the fifteen counties of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Service contracts with Chocolay, Ewing, Marquette, Sands, Skandia, Turin, Wells and West Branch Townships have added to the area that is served by PWPL.  Its service population, including the City of Marquette and the nine surrounding contracted townships, has grown to over 36,000 people.  The number of library card holders has increased from approximately 6,500 in 1958 to more than 22,700 today.

You may check out the following list of librarians from 1894 to the present.

Peter White Public Library Timeline: a Rich Heritage

  • 1871: A public library was founded in Marquette City Hall with a donation of $5,000 from Peter White. 1886 Library services were moved to the renovated First National Bank building, owned by Peter White, on the corner of Spring and Front Streets.
  • 1891: The Peter White Public Library was established by a special Act of the Michigan Legislature merging the District School Library and Peter White’s personal library collections.
  • 1892: The Peter White Public Library moved to the Thurber Block on Washington Street, a building deeded to the city from Peter White.
  • 1895: Planning began for construction of a new library facility.
  • 1900: Land at the corner of Ridge and Front Street was donated to the Peter White Public Library Board of Trustees by John M. and Mary Beecher Longyear. 1904: The Peter White Public Library moved to its own place–a white, Bedford, Indiana limestone building.
  • 1958: The Library was expanded to provide space for the Youth Services Department, an auditorium, technical services and stacks.
  • 1976: The second floor of the library was renovated in response to the celebration of the U. S. Bicentennial.
  • 1990: The Long Range Planning Committee made a recommendation to the Library Board of Trustees to begin planning an expansion and renovation of the current facility.
  • 1994: The Board of Trustees contracted with Sundberg Carlson and Associates, Inc.of Marquette and Chicago’s Frye Gillan Molinaro Architects, Ltd. to design an architecturally compatible addition to the original 1904 building.
  • 1996: Marquette City residents passed a $4.5 million bond issue by a 62% margin,  agreeing to provide half the expansion/renovation funds.
  • 1998: The Library staff moved approximately 60% of materials to a temporary library facility in the old Quad II cafeteria located on Northern Michigan University’s campus. The remaining material went into storage while the renovation/expansion project was under construction.
  • 2000: Fall saw staff moving materials into the enlarged building. The facility reopened after thirty (30) months in the temporary quarters and a four-week moving closure. A Grand Opening Gala was held on October 22 to formally open the new building.
  • 2001: Audio-Visual Collection grew to include Digital Video Discs (DVD’s).
  • 2002: January 26 brought the debut concert of the Library’s new 7’9″ Concert Grand Petrof piano. Monies for its purchase were collected by free-will donations at Chamber Concerts sponsored by the Library’s Carroll Paul Memorial Trust Fund, and personal donations to the “piano fund” through a special “Purchase a Part of our Piano” campaign.
    In November 2002, Skandia Township residents passed a library millage of 1-mil and became the eigth township to join PWPL’s service area.
  • 2003: PWPL inherited three major collections: the David Goldsmith Motion Picture Collection; the Ruth and Leslie Black Japanese Collection, and Mary Ann Paulin‘s book collection of author-signed children’s books.
  • 2004: More record breaking statistics! Attendance for FY 2003-2004 was 292,289 for an average daily attendance of 855. Computer usage climbed to 71,250 sign-ups for both Youth and Adult Internet computers. Registered borrowers topped the 20,000 mark at 20,489 card-holders.
    Historical displays changed throughout the year as Staff celebrated the centennial anniversary year of the original PWPL building at 217 N. Front Street. A Centennial Celebration was held September 13-18, 2004 in conjunction with the Marquette County Courthouse. The Courthouse and the original PWPL building both turned 100 years old on September 17th.
  • 2005: During the first six months of the year, Staff prepared for the new circulation software named SIRSI. The system went “live” on June 24th with no major problems.
    Dedication of newly decorated Dandelion Cottage Room took place on May 15, 2005. Major donors were Dorothy Boyer, Marion Longyear Sonderegger and the estate of Mary Ann Paulin. This small conference room houses special children’s collections.
  • 2006: A five-year Strategic Plan is completed and presented to the public in March.
    Staff re-alignment follows suggestion of Strategic Plan: Creation of new positions for Deputy Director, Internet Technology (IT) Coordinator, and Teen Specialist; upgrading of some Youth Services and Circulation Staff positions; and dissolution of Career Resource Center (CRC) Department and reassignment of its staff.
    Two new PWPL records set. Attendance: 303,019 for average daily attendance of 902.   Circulation: 335,008 items.
  • 2007: Wireless technology allows PWPL patrons to access the Internet with their own laptop computers.
  • 2008: The Betsy Clow Memorial Garden, facing Front Street, is completed and dedicated on August 22, 2008.
  • 2010: The Library received a National Medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Medal is awarded to ten libraries or museums in the United States each year.
  • 2015: After over 25 years as Library Director, Pamela Christensen resigned to take on a new post as head of the Superiorland Library Cooperative.
  • 2016: The Board of Trustees selected Andrea Ingmire as the new library director.
  • 2017: The residents of Marquette voted 80% in support of a capital improvement bond. The bond will allow the Library to restore the 1903 historic building, improve efficiency and access, and update furnishings and spaces to meet community needs.