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Grand Rapids Public Library administrative archives

Identifier: Collection 109


The Grand Rapids Public Library Administrative Archives houses the publications & images which document the history, growth and development of the Grand Rapids Public Library system from ca. 1871 to the present. Also added to this collection are items given by staff members past & present related to the Library and their work, and those given from individuals and organizations that relate to GRPL activities. Included are narrative and statistical reports, official records, and an irregular representation of various units, programs, and peoples. The bulk of the collection related to the Main Library, but information on the branch libraries and affiliated programs is also included. Some information on buildings, staff and events, as well as new library building construction, can be found. Some data on the Library’s historical relationship with the Grand Rapids Public Schools, on Michigan Authors, and library programming is included. Select information on Martin A. Ryerson, benefactor & namesake of the 1904 Ryerson Building, is found.

For a formal presentation of the Library's history, see the publication:

A Free Library for Everyone : the history of the Grand Rapids Public Library / Gordon L. Olson, 2003. Call no. 027.4774 OL85f


  • 1881-present

Conditions Governing Access

Some portions of this collection contain files where considerations of privacy may need to be observed. Access to the Card Holder and Payroll sub-series requires approval of the GRHSC Department Head. Other files may contain information which may require confidentiality.

Biographical / Historical

The Grand Rapids Public Library traces its origins to 1871 when a special act of the state legislature combined three local school districts into one district. With this combination their three libraries were also combined; and the libraries of the Y.M.C.A and the Ladies' City Library Association were added into that single collection (the books of the Ladies' City Library Association were later recalled by the association). This combination produced a collection of 4,045 volumes, housed on the second floor of the Leonard Store (140-44 Monroe, NW). By 1975 these quarters were so cramped that the library moved into larger quarters on the second floor of the Ledyard Building (Pearl at Ottawa). In 1888 the library was moved to the second floor of the then new City Hall. Following a gift from Martin Ryerson in 1902, a new building was constructed for the library on Library Street. A significant addition to this building was erected in 1967.

The library has operated several branch systems through its history. Initially all local public schools had branch libraries (26 was the maximum under this system). A branch was also established in the Bissell House, a turn-of-the-century social settlement house in Grand Rapids modeled after Hull House in Chicago. With time the school branch libraries were opened to the public, in addition to the school children. In 1907 the Board obtained the Bell Telephone building at Bridge and Caldwell and operated the West Side branch from that structure. In 1926 the current West Side branch was constructed on that site. Over the course of time the branch operation in the schools were phased out and a series of neighborhood branch operations were opened instead.

When organized in 1871, the library belonged to the Board of Education, which exercised supervision of the facilities. By special legislative act in 1903 (amended 1905) a separate Board of Library Commissioners was authorized to oversee the library, with the Superintendent of Schools an ex-officio member of the Board.

Grand Rapids Library Assoc. (founded May 5, 1858)

Quarters: May? 1858 – Luce Block Nov. 1878 – Lovett’s Block

Collection given to the Board of Education & moved to the Central School Building.

Ladies’ Literary Club, Ladies’ Reading Club Library (City Library Assoc.) 1869/70. With Miss Frances E. Holcomb as librarian.

Public Library Locations

Joint Library on Monroe St., Dec. 21, 1871. First library open to the whole public. 1875, Ledyard Block facility 1888, City Hall facility

Librarians/Library Directors Miss Frances E. Holcomb later Mrs. C.R. Bacon (Ladies Library) , 1871-1876

Mrs. Alfred Putnam, 1877 to Jan. 1884 (Source:Baxter) Frances C. Wood, Jan. 1884-Feb. 1886 (Baxter) Henry J. Carr (Feb. 1886- )

Samuel Ranck ( ) Donald Kohlstedt ( ) Alberta Massingill ( Robert Raz ( to July 2004) Marcia Warner (Dec 2004 - 2017) John McNaughton (2018 -

See also: A Free Library for Everyone : the history of the Grand Rapids Public Library / Gordon L. Olson. G.R. : The Library, 2003.


178 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donor: Grand Rapids Public Library Span dates: 1881-2001-

Related Materials

Coll. 156, The Grand Rapids Area Humanities Council Coll. 219, The Samuel H. Ranck Papers.

Coll. 233 includes a letter from Frank Dumond, Director of the GR Public Museum, related to the Dedication of an historical marker honoring the Furniture Industry in Grand Rapids. This is a found item, which may have come from the former library person, Julie Doezema, to which the letter is addressed, or may actually have been received with Dumond's Collection 019, and become separated during usage.

Coll. 339, The Robert Raz and Alberta Massingill Oral History Collection Coll. 342, The Ryerson Library Foundation Collection Coll. 344, The May Quigley Collection

Finding aid for the Grand Rapids Public Library administrative archives
December 1989
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Grand Rapids History Center Repository

Grand Rapids Public Library
111 Library Street NE
Grand Rapids Michigan 49503 USA