St. Louis Public Library Tour

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.                               
  — Ray Bradbury

The Central Branch of the St. Louis Public Library recently underwent a two year, $40 million dollar renovation. Last week I visited the library with some of my colleagues for an official tour. 

The St. Louis library originally started as a school library in 1865, where patrons had to pay $3 for an annual membership or $12 for lifetime access. In 1893, it became the St. Louis Public Library and still required a fee for use. At the time it did not occupy its current home and instead bounced around from location to location for nearly 15 years. Finally, it was decided that a permanent structure needed to be built. With the backing of Andrew Carnegie, city officials broke ground on October 29, 1908, and construction began on the massive 190,000 square foot structure. On January 5, 1912 the library held its grand opening for its elaborate new home.  

The main entrance to the Central Branch of St. Louis Public Library is on the south side of Olive street and resembles both the Boston and New York Public Library. (Both of which I have visited.) As part of the renovation a new entrance or "neighborhood" entrance was created on the north side of the building, which features a sleek modern look complete with white subway tiles and an abundance of natural light. The stacks, that had previously occupied this space, were relocated, along with many of the personnel offices. 

The interior of the building, particularly the ceilings, maintained their Italian Renaissance influence and depict flourishes of lilies, grapes, birds, and other symbolic images. One of the ceilings was even based off the Badia Fiorentina church in Florence, Italy. (Viva I'talia!) Another ceiling features painted wood with representations of prominent figures such as Gutenberg, St. Louis, and De Soto.

Stained glass windows and a Mark Twain bust are among the other library relics preserved within the interior of the building. Originally, the library was entirely closed stacks, which meant you would take the call number of the item(s) you wanted up to a long wooden desk, that resembled a bank teller counter. You would then wait while one of the employees would retrieve the item(s) you had requested. Part of the extensive renovation made much of the closed stacks obsolete, although a few items remain in closed collections. The colorful teen room and children's area are heavily used and the audio visual collection alone boasts 25,000 items. Flying book covers and massive literary quotes decorate other ceiling spaces. Perhaps what was most impressive about the library was how busy it was on a Wednesday afternoon. College students filled the custom built wooden farm tables; researchers delved into family history; and other tour groups passed us on several occasions. My recommendation is to take the ninety minute tour. I promise it will be worth your while.

All images by me. 


  1. I LOVE libraries. There is something about combining books with amazing architecture that makes me want to curl up in a corner and stay all day. Your photos make me want to visit this one (and perhaps stay a while).


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