Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Detroit Public Library

The Detroit Public Library system is the second largest library system, by volumes held, in the state of Michigan, and is the twentieth largest in the United States. The library system in Detroit dates back to 1865, although the Main Library was not built until several decades later. In 1910, Andrew Carnegie, who was a library philanthropist, donated money to the city of Detroit for their library system and it was with this money that Detroit decided to build a main library on a piece of property on Woodward Avenue, near Kirby Street. This location is now considered part of the Cultural Center of Detroit, which includes the Detroit Institute of Arts, located near Wayne State University.

The city commissioned Cass Gilbert in 1912 to construct a three-floor library in the early Italian Renaissance Style. Although construction began in 1912, it did not open until March of 1921 because of construction delays due to World War I. The library’s structure was constructed with Vermont marble and Serpentine Italian marble. The phrase “Knowledge is Power” was carved into the marble above the main entrance on Woodward Avenue.

During the 1950s, the library’s book collection contained over 2.5 million volumes and the library building did not have sufficient space for this large of a collection. In 1963, the library had two additional wings constructed on the north and south sides of the building, respectively. This addition doubled the space of the library. These wings were connected to the preexisting library along the back of the building and a second entrance was constructed, which opens the library with another entrance at Cass Avenue as well. The new entrance included a mosaic above it, entitled The River of Knowledge, which was constructed by Millard Sheets. Also created as part of this addition, is a mural on the West Wall of Adam Strohm Hall, on the third floor. This mural, painted by local artist John Stephens Coppin, is called Man’s Mobility, and it depicts the history of transportation.

Today the library’s holdings include books, magazines, records, CDs, DVDs, and electronic materials that are available through databases. The Main Library also houses several special collections including the Burton Historical Collection, the E. Azalia Hackley Collection, which includes materials on African Americans in the Performing Arts, the National Automotive History Collection, the Ernie Harwell Collection, which includes materials on the Detroit Tigers and the Tigers announcer himself, and the Rare Book Collection.

In addition to the library’s collection, patrons are provided with free information and services regarding food, transportation, housing, health care, financial aid, education, legal advice, counseling, and family support.

To this day, the Detroit Public Library is considered a gem in the city of Detroit and a gem in the world of public libraries.



Detroit Public Library photo

Detroit Public Library postcard

View all items related to the Detroit Public Library