Central library cass gilbert drawing

Roots of Education and Service: The History and Founding of the Central Branch of the St. Louis Public Library

By dnc8b8
  • Introduction

  • Reading Room and Punch House Open

    The Reading Room and Punch House provided newspapers, literature, and a well-stocked bar to feed the intellectual appetities of the community. Its eventual failure to catch on ignited discussion for a more permanent public library in St. Louis.
  • St. Louis Library Association

    THe St. Louis Library Association was formed in 1824, and through private citizens collected books and monetary donations was able to open the Reading Room again as the Public Library Society. Even longer hours and renewed financial and public interest was not enough to keep the library afloat.
  • St. Louis Library Society Finds New Life

    Lack of interest eventually forced the Library to sell its materials and furniture to pay off debts. The Library Company were able to transfer any remaining materials to the St. Louis Lyceum. The Lyceum would become the Mercantile Library in 1846. The Mercantile Library thrived, despite limited membership opportunities. The Mercantile exists still today as a successful piece of living St. Louis history and archive.
  • St. Louis In Context: 1850's

    St. Louis: 1850'sThe late nineteenth century was a time of great change for St. Louis and the nation as the Civil War ended and the Industrial Revolution took hold.
  • Public School Library Society

    Public School Library Society
    The Committee on Education brings House Bill No. 87 to the floor for a vote, Mr. Barlow suspended votes for yes and no, and the bill to incorporate the public school library in St. Louis was passed (Missouri House 216).
  • Ira Divoll

    Ira Divoll is considered the founder of the St. Louis Public Library system. In 1865, Divoll organized the St. Louis Public School Library Society. At this time he was the Superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools. He would serve as head librarian for a short time, February to November 1865, before John J. Bailey was ______
  • John J. Bailey

    John J. Bailey
    Formerly a library assistant at the Mercantile Library, Bailey was hired as a librarian at Public School Library Society. He was instrumental in organizing and composing successful fundraisers that included music, plays, and dramatic readings. These were part of Divoll's tenacious efforts to raise money and membership for the library, which also included passing out hundreds of circulars and holding lectures that included speakers like P.T. Barnum and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
  • Public School Library Society Opens Reading Room to the Public

    The library had begun issuing books in December 1865 to its members. It was not until October 1866 that the reading room was opened to the public (Van Ausdal 7).
  • Public School Library Moves

    Public School Library Moves
    In April 1869, the school board gained ownership of the library and moved the library onto the second floor of their building. This building provided the library with even more space to grow into and better lighting for its readers.
  • Frederick Crunden

    Frederick Crunden
    Frederick Crunden, Director fo the library from 1877 to 1909, possibly one of the most influential directors for the founding of the Central branch and the groundwork for the system as it is known today.
  • "A Free Library"

    "A Free Library"
    In this editorial written in 1882, the author delcares that it is past time that St. Louis has a free public library, much like the Boson Public Library. He declares that a free public library is an essential feature for a modern city. He goes on to state that "it is not merely an aid to learning, it is a stay to good morals, a check on crime, a healpt o prostperity, and a notice to all the world that the city which supports it is a city of the present".
  • Free Library Recommendation

    Free Library Recommendation
    At the February 9th board meeting, Crunden submitted his annual report showing that the total collection of the PUblic School Library had grown to 210,733 volumes, and membership had risen to over twelve hundred. The president of the board, Richardson, made the argument that the library be made a free institution for all, not just young students but all those who wished to continue educating themselves later in life.
  • Public School Library Moves

    Public School Library Moves
    In 1893 the library moved from the Polytechnic building, into a the School Board building on 9th and Locust. It would stay in this location until 1909. An article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in December of 1892 describes the advantages of the move for the library and its hopes of soon becoming a free public library.
  • New Public Library Continues to Impress St. Louis Public

    New Public Library Continues to Impress St. Louis Public
    In an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the dedication of the new free Public Library is hailed as a great moment in St. Louis history. It is cited as being a catalyst for intellectual growth for all readers. The article continues to explain how the new quarters and large collection make the library the top in the nation.
  • A Genuine Free Library

    A Genuine Free Library
    The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that on January 15, 1894, St. Louis will have a free public library. The article details the transfer of the library to city control and the tax increase of one-fifth of one million. Crunden states that he expects the lovers of reading will flood the library once it is opened to the public, and expects continued growth and prosperity for the library.
  • Public School Library Society: Free at Last

    Public School Library Society: Free at Last
    In March 1894, the library was passed to the Free Library Board after nearly a year of struggle and political battles between the board, the school board and Crunden. Although the public had overwhelmingly voted in favor of creating a free public library in 1893, it would take the new board a year to organize. During this year, the board had to prepare rules and bylaws, and seek the consent of over 2,000 lifetime members and School Board to truly control the collection.
  • Library Opens to the Public

    Library Opens to the Public
    On June 1st, 1894, the library opened its doors to the public. Within a year of opening, the library's collection grew to 91,000, becoming the largest west of the Mississippi. It would also see a quadrupaling of its registered users and in circulation (Van Ausdal 13).
  • Carnegie's Offer

    Carnegie's Offer
    In March 1901, Andrew Carnegie offers the city of St. Louis $1 million to build a new Central branch and six additional branches. His conditions includes that the city raise taxes to fund annual maintenace and provide debt-free land to build the new libraries.
  • Carnegie's Offer is Accepted

    Carnegie's Offer is Accepted
    Crunden announces that the board will accept Carnegie's offer. The board will meet immediately to discuss additional branch locations and allocation of funds.
  • Exposition Site Chosen

    Exposition Site Chosen
    Before the St. Louis Public Library board could send plans to Carnegie for the Central Branch, their chosen site had to go through a variety of changes. A bill was introduced to change the Music Hall Exposition site into a public park that the library could use to build their Central branch. When passed the exposition site becomes Missouri Park.
  • Carnegie Approves Central Branch Location

    Carnegie Approves Central Branch Location
    In 1903, the selection of the exposition grounds was made official and sent to Carnegie for final approval. Crunden began plans to build a model library at the upcoming 1904 World’s Fair to show Carnegie the plans for the Central Branch. In June 1903, Carnegie approved the plans and location for the Central and other branches, however due to the high cost of materials construction was delayed until after the World’s Fair.
  • Crunden Suffers Stroke

    Crunden Suffers Stroke
    While visiting New York, Crunden suffers a sever stroke leaving him paralyzed on one side of his body. While Crunden returns to work by the end of the year, his judgement is questioned in several St. Louis Post-Dispatch articles that report agitated behavior.
  • Gilbert Cass

    Gilbert Cass
    Gilbert Cass was chosen as the lead architect for the Central branch project in 1907.
  • "Brain Clog"

    "Brain Clog"
    After Crunden's stroke there was public criticism about the long hours he put in and the strain that overworking had on men's health.
  • "The New Branch Libraries"

    "The New Branch Libraries"
    As the new branches opened across the city, patrons young and old flocked to the new reading rooms and children's collections.
  • Dr. Arthur E. Bostwick

    The Library Board elects Arthur Bostwick as new head librarian for the St. Louis Public Library. Bostwick begins his new position in October 1909, after moving his family from New York. Previous to accepting the position, Bostwick was chief of the circulating department at the New York Public Library.
  • Central Branch Dedicated

    On a snowy and freezing day in January, the Central branch was dedicated in front of crowd of more than one thousand. Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress, was a featured speaker at the event, along with George Carpenter, President of the Board of Directors, Archbishop John Glennon, architect Cass Gilbert, and future head librarian, then Secretary of the Board, Arthur Bostwick, among others.
  • St. Louis Public Library School Opens

  • Central Library Re-Opens

    Central Library Re-Opens
    In 2010, the Central Library closed for renovations, moving millions of items out of the branch and making ready for significant change. The $70 million in renovations were in part to update the library for the demands of a 21st century audience. On Decmeber 9th, 2012, the branch reopened to great praise and awe. The interior has either been redone or refurbished, keeping many rooms like the reading room, staircases, architectural pieces intact but refreshed.