1904 image courtesy of the Riley County Historical Society
The original Carnegie Library, built in 1904 with a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, still stands at 5th and Poyntz. A largely volunteer labor force erected the structure and fit the limestone blocks in place using hand tools, horses, and wagons. It took only ten months to complete the project, and in December 1904, the first Manhattan library opened its doors with a collection of 1,000 volumes. Can you imagine the scope of the project when horsepower was really horse power?
Today, the library houses a collection of more than 160,000 items. The collection is constantly being refreshed and refined with daily deliveries of new books, DVDs, music CDs, and now a collection of ebooks. An average of 1,000 people per day visit MPL, and a recent PEW report revealed that two -thirds of Americans are “actively engaged” with their local libraries. Impressive numbers, indeed.
It’s been exciting to watch the big cranes unloading steel girders that will become the new children’s library, to marvel at the skill of the workers, and to see the building’s frame take shape. The new children’s library expansion should be completed by the end of the year, and, in the words of a young patron, “The library is the best!”
The library’s first leader, Mary Cornelia Lee, wrote in 1929, “It is fitting now to remember and honor the early pioneers of Manhattan who lived and labored, planned and thought and dreamed, through the years of the first half century of our civic life, as well as to give credit to the later citizens who voted for the Free Public Library and who have supported it through the first quarter century of its existence.” As we go through this new construction process, it is still fitting to remember the people who make the library possible, and to thank them for creating such a vibrant, welcoming place for the community to share information and ideas.