The Library came into existence in 1911 when Fresno State Normal School was established. Maude Schaeffer (Department of English) was appointed acting librarian in 1913; she was succeeded in 1914 by Agnes Tobin who remained in charge of the Library until her retirement in 1948. In 1923, two years after the institution became Fresno State Teachers College, Miss Tobin obtained her first assistant. Not until 1941, despite the change of name to Fresno State College in 1935, did the staff grow to six. When Henry Madden (for whom the present Library is named) arrived as College Librarian in 1949, the staff numbered eight. The collection contained approximately 70,000 volumes, with an emphasis on elementary and secondary education.
During Dr. Madden's tenure (1949-1979) the collection grew to 576,000 volumes. The Government Documents Department was established in 1963 and a year later was granted depository status for U.S. publications. The Department of Special Collections was established in 1966, initially containing the Roy J. Woodward Memorial Library of Californiana, the University's archives, and a rare book collection. In 1962 the Department of Music agreed to transfer its collection of phonodiscs to the Library and in 1968 the Music Library was created; in 1994 it was re-named the Music & Media Library to better reflect its growing collection of videotapes and cassettes. In 1966 the Library began a nine-year reclassification project of all materials from the Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress classification system (the project was completed in 1975). In July of 1970 the College Lab School was disbanded and its juvenile collection was transferred to the Library and in 1978 the curriculum collection was transferred from the School of Education; these are housed together in the Teacher Resource Center. In 1975 the library entered the world of electronic information when the Reference Department began searching electronic databases for patrons.
Dr. Madden retired in 1979 and in 1981 the library was re-named in his honor. The South Wing opened in 1980. Associate University Librarian Lillie Parker became University Librarian when Dr. Madden retired and she served in that position until 1988. During that decade, the Library's catalog records were converted into machine-readable form, and the Library's first automated circulation system, CLSI, was installed in 1982. In 1985, the Madden Library Associates support group (now the Friends of the Madden Library) was established.
Michael Gorman joined the Madden Library as Dean of Library Services in 1988. The Reference Department added a number of CD-ROM indexes. From 1990-1992 the Library suffered severe budget cuts. Twenty-five percent of its periodical subscriptions were cancelled. No video materials were purchased at all, and the purchasing of all other library materials decreased significantly. In 1991, the Library's Systems Office was created, and the first automated catalogue, ALIS, was brought up in the spring of 1992 (replacing the old card catalog). Since then, comprehensive periodical indexes and hundreds of bibliographic and full-text online databases have been made available on the Library's online system. A Development Office was created in 1994, the first two electronic classrooms were opened in 1998 and 1999, and The Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children's Literature was established in 1998. In 2000, the Central Valley Political Archive was established. Also in 2000, the Library began offering laptops for student use, which continues to be one of the most popular student programs today, with over 100,000 check-outs per year. In fall 2001, the Library celebrated the acquisition of its one-millionth volume. Online tutorials and videos to teach students how to use the library were introduced in 2002.
In March 2004, voters approved the Proposition 55 bond issue, which provided $95 million for a new library building. The firms of A.C. Martin Partners, Inc. and RMJM Hillier were hired as the architects and the planning process began. In 2005 all of the books were moved to a warehouse off campus and in summer 2006 the original wings of the Library were demolished. Construction of the new library building took place from 2006-2008, with the Library operating out of the old South Wing. From May 2008-January 2009, the South Wing was remodeled and library services and staff were located in temporary locations across campus.
While construction was under way, some other significant changes were taking place. In February 2007, after the retirement of Michael Gorman, Peter McDonald was named as Dean of Library Services. In May 2007, ALIS, the Library's online catalog system, was replaced with Millennium. The Reference Department began accepting questions through instant messaging in 2007 and added text messaging in 2009.
Construction was completed in early 2009 and the new library opened on February 20 of that year. The new library has over 365,000 square feet of space for study, collections, computing, and services. It has the largest installation of public access compact shelving anywhere in the nation. The Table Mountain Rancheria Reading Room provides a unique environment for study and reflection and the Ellipse provides space for exhibits and events. The Library houses a fully functional Starbucks. The new library was an immediate success with the campus and the community, with over 1,000,000 people visiting before its first birthday.