St. Louis Public Library

The St. Louis Public Library is a public library system located in St. Louis, Missouri.  It has sixteen locations, as well as the primary Central Library location.  Very close in name, the St. Louis Public Library is unrelated to the St. Louis County Library.

History of the St. Louis Public Library

In 1865, Ira Divoll was the superintendent of the Saint Louis Public School system.  At the public school library, he developed a subscription library that would later evolve into the Saint Louis Public Library.  Divoll believed this library should work together with the public education system, helping to offer citizens an opportunity for culture and self-improvement.

The subscription library was moved to the Board of Education building in 1869.  The library had four staff members who provided reference services, up to 12-hours per day.  Like libraries of today, children were always welcomed.

Due to the immense growth of the library collection, which grew in 1854 to 1500 volumes and 90,000 volumes by 1893, the library had to be enlarged.  In 1893, the library expanded into a new space on the highest floors of the new Board of Education building.  Again in 1893, the people of St. Louis voted to switch the Library’s administration to a more independent board, supported by a property tax.  This vote helped enable the library to offer free services for all St. Louis residents.

From 1893 until 1909, the Library occupied the Board of Education building, as construction on the Central Library was being finished. But, again, the building’s space wasn’t large enough to hold the library’s growing collection, so the library began its role as a lending library, similar to today’s libraries, letting the public ‘check out’ books and take them home.

Andrew Carnegie made a large donation in 1901.  The money was used for expansion, including the current Central Library.  By this time, the collection grew to 90,000 books.  The collection included 900,000 items in 1938, and 4,600,000 items by 2014.

17 Libraries

The St. Louis Public Library consists of 17 libraries in total, including the main Central Library.  Branches include Baden, Buder, Cabanne, Marketplace, Carondelet, Carpenter Central Express, Charing Cross, Compton, Barr, Divoll, Kingshighway, Machacek, Julia Davis, Schlafly, and Walnut Park.  In addition to the Central Library building, Barr, Cabanne, Carpenter, and Carondelet branch buildings were Carnegie Libraries.

The Central Library

In 1912, the Central Library building at 13th and Olive was constructed at a location formerly owned by the Saint Louis Exposition and Music Hall, designed by Cass Gilbert.  The main library for the St. Louis public library system displays an oval central pavilion with four light courts.  The outer facades of the large building are of softly rusticated Maine granite.  The Olive Street front is built like a colossal arcade, with beautiful marble bas-relief panels.  Additionally, a protruding three-bay central block, like a triumphal arch, provides a monumental entrance.  At the rear, the Central Library faces a lower garden.  The interior offers several light-transmitting glass floors.  The ceiling of the Periodicals Room is a version of Michelangelo’s ceiling at the Laurentian Library.  In 2010, renovation and expansion of the building began and was completed in 2012.

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  1. May 29, 2021 – revised grammatical errors, increased internal links, etc. – MWS