Very early records state that the first library association was started in 1867, which included a debating club. In 1880 the books were distributed from the L. O. Hamre building until it burned in 1893. The collection was lost in the fire. The true concept of a village public library got its early start in 1898 when a few forward thinking citizens organized themselves into the Preston Browning Round Table. Commonly referred to as the Browning Club.
It was the Browning Club’s effort that really put the push on the development of a public library in Preston. The members deplored the fact that there was no library in Preston. They assessed themselves $1.50 each to buy volumes for a library.
On March 2, 1908 the Browning Club brought a request before the village council for some financial help, which ended up in the amount of $150 for six months of support. The next spring a tax levy for one year was approved. With this support, an official library was now formed with 327 volumes. The location of the Preston Browning Public Library was in the Fillmore County Bank, now the site of Trout City Brewing one door north of the Fillmore County Journal. Miss Florence Kiehle was hired as the first librarian at $8.00 a month. In 1910 the library was moved to the upper level of the Weiser Block, now Fit Express.
The Browning Club stirred the following action that appears on the village books: “Resolved in the mayor’s office on June 12, 1909, pursuant to call that in consideration that Andrew Carnegie will contribute the sum of $8,000 for the construction the library building, the council of said village will procure a suitable site therefore in said village and levy an annual tax of 10 percent, or $800 for the care and custody of said building and the procuring of suitable and proper books, and that the authorities of said village will properly maintain said building open for the use of the citizens and for the library to be perpetually maintained therein”.
The groundwork had been laid for a Carnegie Library in Preston. With many letters back and forth between the village and the Carnegie people, plans and minor changes were ironed out and the construction of the Library and Town Hall were underway. By the summer of 1912 the building was finished – The Preston Public Library had a permanent home.
So in the summer of 1912 the Preston Public Library opened with fanfare and a collection of 327 volumes donated by the Browning Club. $8,000 of a Carnegie grant money and village money to equal $13,500 was expended to build a library and town hall. Interest in the library grew and the number of volumes quickly swelled to 811. Mamie Reed was the librarian. This was a town library used by the citizens of a village that had a population of 1193 (1910 census). The library was also used by the school which was located a few blocks to the east.
In 1968 the Preston City Council decided on extensive update having modernistic lighting, a new desk and carpeting installed along with renovating and painting of the rooms. An adult reading area was designated with the addition of a table and chairs. Gifts from the Browning Club, Tuesday Study Club along with memorials were used for furnishings and addition of books. This was the first update since the library was built and part of the 60th year celebration. To complete the project the exterior was remodeled with metal and wood accents installed along with an addition of a canopy over the entrance steps in 1971.
In 1973 the library board approved membership in SELCO (Southeast Libraries Cooperating) for a $5 yearly fee. The library partially automated its operations in 1987 by acquiring “limited access” status within the SELCO system and eventually became fully automated in 1998.
With ADA regulations, the library needed to become handicap accessible. First a grant to improve the library was denied, then the citizenry of Preston voted down an improvement bond. Finally a year-long remodeling project for both the city hall and library resulted in the library expanding into the old town hall, doubling its space and gaining an accessibility lift, was completed in 1996.
Negotiations with the library at Red Wing, Minnesota yielded a windfall of library shelves, purchased with Wils and Marge Garrett Memorial funds. Groups of volunteers journeyed to Red Wing to disassemble the shelving and move it to Preston and then reassemble the shelving in the newly remodel space.