Art Beat: Kalamazoo's library celebrates 150 years
Zinta Aistars speaks with KPL librarian Karen Trout about the library's history and future.
Books. You may have heard the saying: “We all have one life to live, but readers live a thousand lives.” For 150 years, the Kalamazoo Public Library has enriched the community with an ever-evolving collection of books – and much more. As times change, so has the library. Karen Trout has worked as a librarian at the Kalamazoo Public Library for 20 years. She tells us how the library services have evolved and how it’s celebrating its 150th anniversary.
“The beginning was actually in 1860, but at that time it was considered a school library,” Trout says. “It had all of 123 volumes, and it was only available for students in the school district and their parents. But it grew to about 2,800 volumes and became a public library in October 1872 when the collection was made available to the public for the first time.”
Over the next 20 years, the newly established public library that began as a room above a fire station on Burdick Street, after a couple moves, finally came to the location where it stands today at 315 South Rose Street in downtown Kalamazoo.
“It was in 1890 that the Van Deusens offered a gift to the library that went toward the construction of a new library building, and that was here at the corner of South Rose Street,” Trout says. “In the 1920s, it grew and spilled over into an adjacent house, and so the library’s second new building replaced the first one. That happened in 1959. It was renovated into our current building, which reopened in 1996, so we’ve been at this location for three buildings.”
The library was the second in the state, and among only ten across the nation, with a dedicated children’s department. It was recognized as the nation’s “Library of the Year” by Library Journal in 2002.
As for what the future might bring, Trout says: “That’s something that we want to get a response from the community as we celebrate this 150th anniversary. We’re spending a lot of time this fall looking back, and then after the first of the year we want to look forward. We want to talk about what the future for the library looks like.”
The modern library, which today is more of a community hub with five branches than just an archive of printed materials, includes audio and video and a “Library of Things” with items from games to tools to housewares, as well as historical archives, genealogy resources, job-finding services, a law library, and more.
The Kalamazoo Public Library will be hold celebratory events throughout the year. Visit the KPL website for a list of events.
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