The St. Louis Public Library dates to 1865 as the Public School Library Society of St. Louis. Originally a subscription library open only to paying members, it was opened to the public for reference and reading on the premises in 1874. During 1893-94 the Library was re-established by voters to be led by an independent board and supported by a property tax as a free service available to all St. Louis residents.
The downtown Central Library was built with a substantial gift made in 1901 by Andrew Carnegie, along with six neighborhood branches, four of which (Barr, Cabanne, Carpenter, and Carondelet) are still in use. The original 1865 collection included 1500 books and by 1893 that number had grown to 90,000. Between 1894 and 1917 book deliveries, children’s programs, and a librarian training school all began. By 1938 the collection grew to 900,000 books and other items. Today the system consists of 15 branches and Central Library with 4.6 million items in its collection, 85,000 cardholders, over 300 full time staff, and 2 million visitors annually.
The mission of the St. Louis Public Library is to provide learning resources and information services that support and improve individual, family, and community life through a variety of services, programs, and initiatives. The services include tools and collections for business, individual, or organizational research and information needs. The Library connects its holdings to themes or celebrations like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Read St. Louis, as well as partnerships with the International Institute, Fair St. Louis, Missouri Center for the Book and many others.
Programs exist to bring in popular and timely speakers and authors to branches throughout the city. Numerous discussion groups encourage reading for entertainment or learning, and reach children and adults at every age and walk of life. Other special services include: Wi-Fi Internet access, outreach to new English speakers, visits to schools to share storytelling and books, book deliveries at senior-citizen centers, computer workshops and orientations for grant-seekers. The St. Louis Public Library will continue to seek new and effective ways to better serve its community.