Saint Paul, MN

The History Behind the St. Paul Public Library

Paula Carlsen

ST. PAUL, MN - The public library of Saint Paul could be traced to its origins back in 1856 with the opening of a reading room in the newly established Young Men's Christian Association. In 1857, the Saint Paul Library Association was formed, together with the Mercantile Library Association.

The Library Association suggested that the city be responsible for its holdings and make them a free public library under the direction of Alexander Ramsey in 1879. Ramsey had served as Mayor, Governor, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Secretary of War. On September 7, 1882, The government finally authorized an allocation of $5,000 to set up the public library of Saint Paul. With this date, the library added 8,051 volumes.

The library developed dramatically in subsequent years. In 1890 the construction of a new structure was already in demand. In 1900, the library moved to Seventh Street's former market hall. Various local councils pursued the project, but the library remains in the city center until the whole structure, along with the library and most of its 158.000 books, was set ablaze in 1915. Fortunately, the new Central Library has already been built.

The new Central Library was planned far in advance of the fire in 1915. The construction of a new library started under the supervision of Mayor Lawler in 1909. In 1910, the library board started considering the expense of collecting the $500,000 that the new building had been expected to cost.

In 1912, James J. Hill, a wealthy train entrepreneur, granted $700,000, especially for the building and maintenance of a public library. Shortly after that, the project succeeded to collect $100,000 through a subscription campaign. Greenleaf Clark legacy also received $30,000, and the state of parliament granted $600,000 to build the facility.

By 1912, Charles Soule, advisor to the Boston library, engaged in helping develop a new building. The central library began operating in 1914. The whole facility was ultimately set up at the cost of roughly US$1.5 million, including the James J. Hill Reference Library.

The public library of Saint Paul has developed and adapted since then to the fickle nature of Saint Paul and the world around it. The St. Paul Public Library currently has a central library of George Latimer, 12 branches, and a bookmobile. There have been many changes, but the fundamental function is to give knowledge and ideas to create visions and stimulate creativity.

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