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DC Public Library Records

Identifier: 040
The archives contains the official records of the Free Public Library, a subscriber based library, and the District of Columbia Public Library established in 1898. The records contain photographs, slides, correspondence, scrapbooks, posters, newsletters, blueprints, maps, architectural drawings, meeting minutes internal memoranda, audiotapes, reports, payroll ledgers, financial information, and other official files. The records document the operations and projects of the library’s director, board of trustees, divisions, departments, central library, and branch libraries: The DC Community Archives is the official repository of the records of offices, divisions, departments and trustees of the DC Public Library. A records management program and records schedules ensures the transfer of permanently valuable historic records to the archives.


  • 1896-1970

Language of Materials



142 boxes

Biographical / Historical

General A.W. Greeley in late 1894 solicited funds for a public library and in 1897 the first subscriber supported “Free Public Library” opened in Washington. Congress was unwilling to fund a public library for Washington residents since it felt the Library of Congress was sufficient to meet their needs. Finally, in 1898, at the urging of prominent citizens, Congress appropriated $6,720 to fund a public library and the Commissioners appointed nine library Board of Trustees. The first publicly funded library was located at 1326 New York Avenue with 15,000 books and Weston Flint as its first Librarian.

Prominent philanthropist Andrew Carnegie offered $250,000 to erect a new public library building if Congress would provide monies to maintain it. On March 3, 1899, Congress passed an act accepting Mr. Carnegie’s gift and setting aside federal reservation lands at Mt. Vernon Square as the site for the new library. On September 28, 1899, Carnegie increased his total donation to $350,000. The cornerstone for the central library was laid on April 23, 1901 and on January 7, 1903, the Carnegie Library opened with elaborate festivities and President Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie in attendance.

Dr. George Bowerman was appointed Librarian in 1904, a position he held for 36 years. In 1911, the first branch library in Takoma Park opened, erected with funds from Andrew Carnegie. After World War II, money originally donated by Carnegie for erection of branch libraries was finally used to build many new branches, including Southeast, Mt. Pleasant, Tenley, Woodridge, Northeast, and Georgetown from 1922 through 1935. Clara Herbert was appointed Librarian in 1940 and held the position during World War II under 1947. Harry Peterson, the next librarian, instituted many modern changes in the Post-War period. During the 1960s additional branches were opened, a bookmobile operated in underserved areas, and the library increased services to the underprivileged as part of model cities programs in the city. In 1965 Peterson began an effort to construct a new and larger central library and by 1972 the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library opened at 9th and G Streets in a building designed by the famed architect, Mies Van der Rohe. Additional branches opened or were expanded in the 1970s and 1980s. Hardy Franklin became Director of DCPL in 1975 and was to serve for more than 20 years. In 1986 a mural depicting the life and work of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. was installed in the lobby of the library. In the 1990s internet assess, increased services to children, a literacy program, a Young Adult division, a Business Improvement Center, expanded community events and programs were instituted as part of the services found at the DC Public Library. The Library celebrated its 100th year anniversary in 1996.
DC Public Library
An inventory of DC Public Library at DC Public Library
Finding aid prepared by Faye Haskins.
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the DC Public Library Special Collections Repository

1709 3rd Street NE
Washington DC 20002 USA