While the modern day concept of a library has undergone several evolutions in the last couple of decades alone, the core concept of libraries as a place of knowledge and learning has existed in societies around the world for a very long time. In the U.S., a country just under two and a half centuries old, we don’t have any ancient libraries, but we do have some impressive milestones of our own, nonetheless.
In this particular instance, the Mt. Clemens Library in Detroit is celebrating its 150th birthday this year, and is getting excited about some of its history as well. At this age, the Mt. Clemens Library is among the oldest of Michigan’s public libraries. Some experts say that the only other contender for oldest in the state is the Detroit Public Library, which was founded in March 1865.
Mt. Clemens library was also founded that same year, but the lack of good records means that no one is sure of the exact date it opened its doors. Even so, library officials have announced that they’re still planning to have a specific celebration for the library, which will be held on July 18th of this year.
The library’s current dedicated housing, however, is not at all where it started, and it’s unsurprising that exact records have been lost over the numerous moves throughout the history of the organization. The library was opened in Union School in 1865 upon the suggestion of a Union School official who wanted students to be able to get books from the school itself.
Twenty-five years later, however, the library had outgrown its roots and was moved once to the basement of the Macomb County Courthouse, and then again to the Chamber of Commerce building. Each time, the Mt. Clemens library soared past expectations and grew larger, demanding a more dedicated space for its services.
At the turn of the twentieth century, in 1901, it would finally get that dedicated home; the library was given a $15,000 grant by philanthropist and businessman Andrew Carnegie, and became one of the early Carnegie libraries – a series of over two and a half thousand Carnegie-funded libraries built throughout the country in the early 1900s.
Of course, Mt. Clemens Library wasn’t resting on its laurels, and the busy hub of reading and knowledge would outgrow its location again half a century later, and move once more to a new location built in 1969. That building, where the library stands today, was renovated in 2004.
Of course, today the library has replaced paper filing systems with computer servers, and offers a much more diverse range of materials for its patrons to check out, but that doesn’t overshadow the rich heritage and history the library has enjoyed to get to where it is today.
For context, what else was going on in 1865? The year was home to the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and the publishing of Lewis Carol’s famous “Alice in Wonderland” novel. Where will the next 150 years take the Mt. Clemens Library? Only time will tell.