Timeline of Kentucky Public Library History
Compiled by Chris Bischoff - 2007
1796 - First public subscription library opens in Kentucky. The Lexington Library Company membership cost $5.00 plus $1.50 per year. The original collection consisted of 400 volumes and was the first library west of the mountains. (1)
1800 - The Lexington Library Company was incorporated as were library companies in Danville and Georgetown. (1)
1817 - By 1817, 14 more library companies were incorporated. They were, in order of incorporation: Lancaster, Paris, New Castle, Shelby, Winchester, Washington, Versailles, Washingtonian (Shelby County), Frankfort, Mt. Sterling, Hopkinsville, Louisville, Stanford, and Henderson. (1)
1820 - State library created to consist of acts, journals, court records, and archives of the state with the Secretary of State as librarian. (1)
1871 - Kentucky's first free public library, the Public Library of Kentucky, opens in Louisville. It was to be funded by the proceeds from five national lotteries. The lottery promoters skimmed off much of the lottery proceeds and the library went broke within a few months after the fifth lottery. The library's assets and debts were taken over by a membership library called the Louisville Polytechnic Society. (2)
1887 - Mrs. C. P. Barnes initiated a "Traveling Book Project" for a literary club in Louisville. Later known as the Monday Afternoon Club, the club shipped wooden crates of books to areas with no libraries. After the books were read, they were returned. (7)
1894 - Kentucky Federation of Women's Club was organized in Lexington. Within a few years, it began the Traveling Library project which sent book boxes to places in Kentucky. Mrs. C. P. Barnes headed the committee that ran the project and Katharine Pettit made the first delivery of books to eastern Kentucky. The books were cataloged and placed in wooden cases which were deposited in groceries and post offices. They were exchanged after six months which gave adequate time for the materials to circulate. At first, people were hesitant to borrow the books assuming they would be charged for use. Books were loaned on the honor system. Theft was not a problem. After five years, the Traveling Library Project had 57 cases with 2,000 books in circulation. Jackson, Bell, Breathitt, Perry, Whitley, Pike, Rowan, Harlan, Lee, Letcher, Knott, Clay, and Lawrence Counties were among the first to receive Traveling Library cases. Fannie C. Rawson, of Louisville, eventually succeeded Mrs. Barnes in leadership of the project. (1, 8)
1898 - Law enacted enabling cities of the first and second class to create and operate a free public library. (1)
1900 - Kentucky has 11 public libraries, 15 academic libraries, and 2 law libraries. The public libraries were in Lexington, Mt. Sterling, Maysville, Danville, Campbellsville, Taylorsville, Hopkinsville, Nicholasville, Covington, Bowling Green, and Newport. (13th Biennial Report / Lena Nofcier) - Andrew Carnegie funds his first public library in Kentucky in Covington. (3)
- In Louisville, the previous library collection had passed to the subscription-based Polytechnic Society of Kentucky which had 50,000 volumes and operated a free reading room (1, 2)
1902 - In April, Mayor Charles F. Grainger and 10 citizens began planning for a new free public library in Louisville using funding from Andrew Carnegie to build libraries. (2)
1905 - The Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library was the first public library in the United States dedicated solely to the education and enrichment of African-Americans. The library officially began in 1905 and moved into its present Carnegie building in 1908. (4)
1907 - Kentucky Library Association formed. (1)
1910 - By 1910, laws enacted enabling cities of 3rd-6th class and counties to operate libraries. (1)
- Kentucky Library Commission created and took over management of Traveling Library project. The Commission inherited 5,000 books and 100 cases from the Kentucky Federation of Women's Clubs. The commission extended the Traveling Library service to the entire state. (1, 7)
1911 - First printed report on libraries in Kentucky was published using information from questionnaires sent to libraries throughout the state. (1)
1913 - Second report notes 41 public libraries in 37 of Kentucky's 91 counties. (1)
- The Kentucky Library Commission has 182 traveling library stations operating from 81 counties. (7)
1914 - By 1914, 23 libraries in 15 counties were housed in Carnegie buildings. Additionally, there 4 academic libraries were housed in buildings funded by Andrew Carnegie. (3)
1916 - Berea College begins its bookwagon service. (7)
1920 - By 1920, Kentucky had 58 public libraries. Of these 21 were supported wholly or in part by public funds. The others were funded by women's clubs, subscriptions, and one by an endowment. (1)
1930 - Laws enacted enabling establishment of county libraries. (?)
1934 - The first WPA Packhorse Library began in Leslie County. Harlan County was second. (5, 7)
1935 - Traveling libraries were loaned in 86 counties and service of the Kentucky Library Commission were utilized in all but 6 counties throughout the state. (1)
1936 - The state legislature created the Kentucky Department of Libraries & Archives with three divisions, one of which was the Library Extension Division. The Library Extension Division replaced the Kentucky Library Commission in responsibility for public library development. (5)
- The Citizens Library League was formed in Horse Cave, Ky. (7)
1938 - The Citizens Library League becomes the Friends of Kentucky Libraries and continues to help promote Kentucky libraries.
1939 - Kentucky's first regional library was created at Murray State Teachers College, sponsored by the college, the Library Extension Division, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. (5)
- There are 30 packhorse libraries in Kentucky. Each packhorse library has a librarian who stays in the headquarters to collect, classify, and repair books. Four to Six carriers travel by foot, mule, or horse to deliver items in isolated areas. One carrier even traveled part of one route by rowboat. Books and magazines were carried in suitcases, saddlebags, or "string-bags." (7)
Late 40s - Mary Belknap Gray made the first major contribution of time and money to the Friends of Kentucky Libraries. She felt that bookmobiles were the best way to get books to people in rural areas. Hart, Breathitt, Bell, Madison, Wayne, and Bath Counties were among the counties which received bookmobiles through the efforts of Mrs. Gray. One was made from an unused ambulance, one from a jeep, and another from a hearse. Others were small panel trucks. (7)
1952 - State Aid appropriated for public libraries. 30 libraries are eligible. (6)
- State funds appropriated for centralized purchasing and processing of materials for local public libraries. (6)
- After hearing Jesse Stuart speak about rural Kentucky's lack of access to books, Harry Schachter of Louisville developed a plan to purchase 100 bookmobiles for use in rural Kentucky. (7)
1953 - Kentucky Bookmobile Project sponsored by Friends of Kentucky Libraries, Inc. Mary Belknap Gray, Margaret Willis, Mrs. Barry Bingham, and Governor Lawrence Wetherby were among those who assisted Harry Schachter in promoting the program. Books were collected by various civic organizations for use on the bookmobiles. (6, 7)
1954 - The Department of Libraries and Archives. The Library Extension Division became an independent state agency. (5, 6)
- Friends of Kentucky Libraries purchase 100 bookmobiles and present them to the state for placement in Kentucky counties under the administration of the Library Extension Division. On September 16th, 1954, almost a mile of bookmobiles circled the Old State Fairgrounds in Louisville before Governor Wetherby and Mrs. Bingham officially gave them to representatives from the recipient counties. (7)
1956 - Library Service Act (LSA) enacted. (6)
1957 - 4 multi-county regional libraries established with LSA funds with professional staff employed by the state. One library in those regions was designated at regional headquarters which housed the regional staff but maintained local governance and staff. (?, 6)
1958 - State Archives and Records Commission was created. (6)
- State Archives and Records Service established. (6)
1962 - Department of Libraries created to replace the Library Extension Division. (6)
- Funds were provided to the Dept. of Libraries to begin a bookmobile replacement program. (7)
- Laws enacted allowing establishment of Special Library Taxing District tax by vote.
- Approximately 12 regions established by this time.
1963 - New Archives and Records Depository received its first major accession of state agency records.
1964 - Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) enacted.
- Laws enacted allowing establishment of Special Library Taxing District by petition.
1966 - State Government Research Library established. (6)
- Kentucky's state archives is the 4th largest in the U. S. (6)
1967 - Kentucky Department of Libraries designated a depository of U. S. Government publications. (6)
1968 - State funds appropriated for public library construction. (6)
1969 - Kentucky Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped established as an arm of the Library of Congress National Library service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. (6)
1970 - 87 counties participating in 17 library regions.
- Each region staffed by at least one librarian and one tech.
- 72 counties established as special taxing districts.
1973 - The Department of Libraries & Archives was created when the Department of Libraries was combined with the State Archives and Records Service. (5)
- KENCLIP, a statewide interlibary loan network was established. (6)
1974 - State archives micrographics program established. (6)
1975 - State archives document restoration laboratory established. (6)
1977 - Due to the increasing cost of commercial bookmobiles, The Dept. of Libraries, with assistance from other state agencies designed its own bookmobile resulting in a vehicle that was 50% less expensive. (7)
1982 - New KDLA facility opens on Coffeetree Road in Frankfort. (6)
1: 13th Biennial Report / Lena Nofcier
2: One Hundred Years at the Louisville Free Public Library. -- A Master Facilities Plan for the Louisville Free Public Library. -- 2002. -- adapted from an article by William Garner in the Encyclopedia of Louisville. -- www.lfpl.org/master/library%20history.pdf
3: Carnegie Libraries in Kentucky / compiled by Chris Bischoff.
4: About the Western Branch Library. -- www.lfpl.org/branches/About/westabo.htm
5: The Growth of Libraries. -- Courier-Journal [Accent section?]. -- 4 October 1982.
6: A New State Library & Archives Building [dedication] / KDLA. -- 8 October 1982.
7: Kentucky Bookmobiles ; A Century in the Making / KDLA. -- 1986.
8: Looking Back / Constance L. Foster. -- Kentucky Libraries. -- Autumn 1995.