The library was first established in March of 1872 by 15 members of the Ladies' Reading Club with 9 members paying $1.00 in dues. By October of the same year, it had grown to 57 ladies paying dues.
In 1902, Andrew Carnegie offered $15,000 for a library building. The city accepted the gift and pledged $1,500 annually for maintenance of the library. A beautiful building, designed by George P Washburn, was completed in 1903. The building, now home to Ottawa Community Arts Council, still stands in City Park at 5th & Main.