In 1891, a committee of neighborhood citizens met with the Duluth Library Board to establish a library in Duluth's West End (known as Lincoln Park since 1996). The West End Branch Library, as it was initially called, opened in 1892 in a room of the Irwin-Sloan Block. It operated until 1893, when economic depression and funding cuts forced its closure. It reopened in 1895, but again faced closure in 1896. A Duluth resident made a gift to the library which helped for a time, but the library again closed around the end of 1900. The library opened again in January 1908 and, over the next several years, occupied a number of locations but it remained in operation.
An appropriation of $4,300 was made in April 1915 to purchase two lots in the West End, which were acquired in May. A request for $30,000 for a permanent library was made of and subsequently granted by Andrew Carnegie. Abraham Holstead and William J. Sullivan were chosen as the architects and Jos. Hanson served as contractor. Designs and blueprints for the library were completed by April 1916. The library was named for its proximity to Lincoln Park, located in the West End. Construction lasted through 1917. The library held its grand opening on August 30, 1917, with 500 people in attendance for a gala ceremony. The library publicly opened on September 1. The Lincoln Branch Library was the third and last Carnegie library built in Duluth, following the Duluth Public Library and the West Duluth Branch Library.
In 1966, a garage was built on the library's northeast face to house two bookmobiles. The building operated as a library until October 1990, when a new library assumed service for western Duluth. The building was bought by the Duluth Art Institute in November 1992. According to the institute, it was purchased to acquire more space and to "reach under-served communities." In 1997, the garage addition was renovated, including the replacement of the garage doors with windows.
The library was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 14, 2013. The property was nominated under Criterion A for its relation to the construction of Carnegie libraries across the United States. The building has undergone a number of renovations over its life, but most were performed to comply with building codes and did not significantly impact the library's historic integrity.
The Lincoln Branch Library is a rectangular, single-story building in Late Gothic Revival style. The original structure measures 69 by 51 feet (21 by 16 m), with a 32 by 36 feet (9.8 by 11.0 m) addition. The exterior facade is brown and dark red brickwork, arranged in Flemish bond, contrasted with limestone trim.