Grand Rapids Public Library administrative archives
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
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-
- 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