Our History

St. Louis Public Library was established in 1865 as the Public School Library Society of St. Louis. In the beginning, it was a subscription Library open only to paying members. Then it opened to the public for reference and reading on the premises in 1874.

Public School Library Membership Certificate
Detail of a Public School Library Life Membership Certificate. Dated July 31, 1869.

During 1893-94, the Library was re-established by voters to be run by an independent board and supported by a property tax as a free service available to all St. Louis residents.

In 1901 Andrew Carnegie made a substantial gift to the St. Louis Public Library which allowed for the construction of Central Library and six neighborhood Branches, four of which still exist today (Barr, Cabanne, Carpenter and Carondelet) and are still in use. The original collection owned by the Library in 1865 included 1,500 books and by 1893, that number had grown to 90,000 items. Between 1894 and 1917 book deliveries, children’s programs and a Librarian training school began.

By 1938, the collection grew to 900,000 books and other items. Today the system consists of Central Library and 16 Branches (Baden, Barr, Buder, Cabanne, Carpenter, Carondelet, Central Express, Charing Cross, Compton, Divoll, Julia Davis, Kingshighway, Machacek, Marketplace, Schlafly and Walnut Park) with more than four million items in its collection, 85,000 cardholders, more than 300 staff members and two million visitors annually.

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