The first library in Nebraska Territory was established during the winter of 1856-57 in Omaha, then still an unincorporated village less than three years old. A young men’s association was directly responsible for this first Omaha Library Association. Dr. George L. Miller, who in 1865 became the founder and editor of the Omaha Herald, was elected president. To raise money for the project, a course of nine lectures on “elevated subjects” was conducted. The association cleared nearly eight hundred dollars.
This money was used to furnish and supply materials for a reading room, located on the second floor of the Western Exchange Bank Building at the southwest corner of Twelfth and Farnam streets. A collection of nearly one hundred publications, including a wide selection of newspapers, periodicals, and current literature was assembled for the use of those who had paid their membership fee in the Omaha Library Association.
The association grew and prospered during the following year. Gifts were donated to the book collection from such prominent citizens as Fenner Ferguson, the Nebraska territorial delegate to Congress, who secured a large collection of public documents. Eight books came from the University of the State of New York.
A full time librarian, E. V. Smith, had been employed by the association in 1857. In addition to attending to the collection of reading material, he also found time to make weather observations from the reading room. These were published in the Omaha Times.
By the winter of 1859-60, however, the library association was declining. Unstable financial backing, hard economic times, and dissension among the association members caused it to cease operating a little more than three years after its establishment.