The history of the Onawa Public Library can be traced to 1894 when the Monona County Jail held 25 books available to the public . Locations changed several times over the next decade before 1906, when a $10,000 grant was received from Andrew Carnegie to construct a new library. The grant was augmented by $20,000 from local Judge Addison Oliver, who contributed funds for both the building and a permanent endowment for future maintenance.
The cornerstone for the present library was laid October 17, 1908, and the building was officially completed fall the following year. The library, which is markedly different architecturally than other Carnegie libraries in the state, was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in October 1979.