The Butte Public Library had its origin in a gift of $10,000 from Charles X. Larabee in November of 1890. Larabee, the former owner of the Mountain View Mine, placed conditions on the gift: an equal sum be subscribed by Butte’s citizens; and the city of Butte should agree to meet all other expenses and properly support the library. There had been talk about creating a public library as early as 1882, and Trustees were named in 1887. After Larabee’s anonymous challenge, funds were collected by mine crews, who challenged each other in committing funds, enabling Butte’s citizens to raise the second $10,000 by the summer of 1891. In April 1892 Butte’s City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the creation of a library tax. 

Prior to 1890, the Trustees operated a small lending library of 1000 volumes in a spare room of the Silver Bow County Courthouse. Renovations to the building caused the District Court to take the library’s rooms, and the need for an independent building became apparent. 

While the building was under construction, librarian John F. Davies worked diligently to acquire books, especially through auctions and at reduced rates. Local papers excitedly published updates, reporting everything from the number and types of books being purchased, categorized, and cataloged, to the type of brick used in its construction. The building was completed and stocked with nearly 16,000 volumes when it formally opened in February 1894. 

The Butte Free Public Library has founded to serve all classes of people, from small children to the advanced in age; miners, shopkeepers, and professors. The services of the Butte Free Library were not entirely free, however. In the beginning, a deposit of $5 was required to secure a library card to take books home. Patrons could read books, periodicals, and newspapers in the reading room for free at any time. In 1903, the deposit was reduced to $2. Patrons selected books from the card catalog and surrendered the card to a librarian, who retrieved the volume from the stacks. It wasn’t until Librarian Davies implemented the “open shelf” system in 1914 that patrons were allowed to browse the shelves. That year, a children’s branch was opened on the first floor of the courthouse. Story Hour occurred there every Saturday afternoon, and often at the Columbia Gardens, an amusement park located in the hills east of town. 

In 1936, the Butte miner reported that “surviving fire, depression and various ups and downs since its establishment, Butte free public library [had] become one of the most popular social and educational centers in the Mining City.” The original building constructed at the corner of Broadway and Dakota Streets suffered two fires, one in 1905 and another in 1960. In 1989, the library had outgrown its original location and was moved up the street to its present location of Broadway and Idaho Streets. In October of 1991, volunteers formed a book brigade to move 5,000 books hand-to-hand, shelf-to-shelf, from the old site to the new site. It reportedly took about 18 minutes for a book to move through the line to its new home. The library has remained at its present location for thirty years, and continues to offer Story Hour to children, as well as many other community programs.