Written by John Mason, KHC Archives Librarian
This year Dodge City Public Library turns 115, and its location on 1001 Second Avenue turns forty years old. The creation of the library back in 1907 was the result of growing desires in Dodge City for free, public access to books. The creation of the library in Dodge City was also emblematic of a national trend encouraged by the Industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who used his immense wealth in an effort to improve society through the creation of public libraries throughout the United States and Great Britain. Though the library has changed and evolved over the past 115 years, it has remained an important resource for the people of Dodge City.
Prior to 1907, libraries in Dodge City were fairly small, shirt-lived, and were not free and open to the public. In January 1905, however, the local women’s clubs encouraged a local judge, E.H. Madison, to contact Andrew Carnegie regarding the creation of a new public library in Dodge City. Carnegie offered to donate $7,500 (later increased to $8,500) for the construction of a new library, provided that the city agree to spend $750 annually to maintain the library. As the March 9, 1905 edition of The Globe-Republican newspaper stated, “the object and design of Mr. Carnegie is to bring the best books and periodicals within the reach of every class of citizens,” and that the library would be free and open to every citizen of Dodge City. This was a project that the public seemed to have largely supported, as a meeting on January 23, 1905 regarding the establishment of a new library was met with “a large attendance” and eighty volumes were donated to the new library by attendees. With such a groundswell of support – a local merry-go-round even donated 25 percent of their revenue to the library project – the plan for a new library was quickly established, and the new building was opened to the public on February 1, 1907. From the beginning, there was support to make the building itself a “pretty structure that will add to the beauty of the town,” and that building – now the Carnegie Arts Center – is indeed now on the National Register of Historic places as both architecturally and historically significant.
Despite an initial closure of the library for a few months in early 1907 due to a scarlet fever outbreak, the library was a big success. Newspaper articles in The Journal-Democrat and The Globe-Republican proclaimed the success of the early library, stating that the “greatest proof of the success of this undertaking…is in the large number of visitors daily, seeming to greatly appreciate the attractive reading room and excellent literature.” Library services were evidently quite popular, as the number of patrons continued to grow, and new books and services proved to be very popular. The first story time at the library in 1912 was given to a group of one hundred twenty-five children, for instance. That same year, The Dodge City Globe stated that “one of the best appreciated public institutions in Dodge City is the city library,” attesting to the growing popularity of the new library and its swiftly growing collection of books.
As Dodge City grew, so did the number of patrons and books at the library, ultimately requiring renovations to the facility, adding a new wing in 1936 with labor from the Works Progress Administration, and a children’s department in 1950. By 1969, the number of library card holders had increased from 298 in 1907 to 10,984, and the number of books had increased from 1000 to 28,118. In the 1960’s, then, the library was faced with a significant problem: the library was not big enough to serve the growing population. On top of this, numerous aspects of the library were in disrepair – the roof was leaking, the front steps were a hazard, and there were concerns that the floor would not be able to support the weight of the library’s collection of books. Despite several failed attempts to gain funding for a new building, the library board of trustees made the decision to rent a new location for the library, which they moved into in late 1969. Though these issues were problematic enough for the library to move locations, the Carnegie Building has since been repaired, and remains a particularly beautiful location that now houses the Carnegie Center for the Arts.
The new building, located at 606 First Avenue, was previously an old Montgomery Ward department store, but was renovated to suit the needs of the library. This location offered much more space, more parking, and was better suited to meet the needs of the public than their previous location. This move was assisted considerably with the help of volunteers who helped provide boxes, trucks, and labor to help move the library’s books from one location to the next. In the 1970s, the library began to make a more concerted effort to improve services for Spanish-speaking community members. In 1971, for instance, DCPL obtained a grant which they used in large part to purchase more Spanish-language books, and 1972 saw the creation of bilingual reading programs. The library continues today to maintain a collection of Spanish-language materials for patrons to check out. The 1970s also saw the integration of films into the library collection, as well as a now-discontinued program which allowed patrons to borrow prints of famous artworks.
The library rented this space for 12 years, but the location was only a temporary one, and increasing rental costs essentially forced the library to move once again. In this case, voters approved of the construction of a new library, which opened at 1001 Second Avenue in 1982. This newest location – still the home of DCPL forty years later – has seen the implementation of numerous new changes. Newspaper articles from 1984 suggest that DCPL, along with other Kansas libraries, were working on making their inventories available online in what was considered a “technological breakthrough.” By 2002 this technological breakthrough was a reality for library patrons, as DCPL received sixteen computers and a printer for free through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The library has only continued to grow with time. The year 2019 for example saw the library continue to improve and expand its services, establishing a new children’s library and becoming the new home for the Kansas Heritage Center. The Kansas Heritage Center contains numerous books for research and an archive through which patrons can learn about and research the history of Kansas and Dodge City. DCPL has served the community of Dodge City for the past 115 years and continues to do so, offering various materials such as books, movies, and video games, to residents of Dodge City.