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Grand Rapids Public Library celebrates 150th anniversary

The Grand Rapids Public Library is honoring its sesquicentennial in 2021.

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Since 1871, the Grand Rapids Public Library has provided the city with outstanding service, innovative programs, and expansive collections. 

The 150th anniversary will be a year-long celebration, culminating in a birthday celebration on Dec. 21, 2021.

The 150 will kick off with "My Library Story." Public libraries have a special place in people’s hearts. From childhood memories to transformational experiences, each story is unique. GRPL’s Grand Rapids History and Special Collections Department is collecting the community’s stories about the library. 

Patrons can share their memories through an online submission form and attach photographs, videos, and/or drawings. The stories will be kept in the library’s archives and shared on GRPL’s website and social media channels throughout 2021.

Other events throughout the year include:

  • A commemorative GRPL library card
  • 150 Books, Movies, and Music we love
  • A Read-a-Thon
  • Exhibits on the history of the library
  • Pop-Up Pocket Parks
  • Special events and much, much, more

“Our sesquicentennial is a time for us to reflect on our institutional history and the impact we have made in the lives of generations of Grand Rapidians. It is also a time for us to look to the future and to create innovative new ways that we can continue to grow and meet the needs of our community,” remarked GRPL Director John McNaughton. “But most of all, it is a time of us to say thank you to the millions of people who have walked through our doors. The library is a place for and of the people and our patrons are the center of all we do.”

The Grand Rapids Public Library was founded in 1871 when members of the Grand Rapids Board of Education agreed to combine their book holdings with those of two other organizations – the Ladies Literary Association and the YMCA. A library committee hired the first librarian, Miss Frances Holcomb, at an annual salary of $500.

In its early years, the Grand Rapids Public Library called several downtown spaces home, including a room above a dry goods store, space in the Ledyard Building, and several rooms of Grand Rapids’ City Hall. 

By 1900, the desire for a permanent home began to grow. Martin Antoine Ryerson, a native of Grand Rapids and prominent Chicago citizen, expressed interest in funding a home for the library. Ultimately, Grand Rapids has Martin A. Ryerson, arts and education benefactor, to thank for the gift of the Ryerson Building.

Over the decades, the library expanded into city neighborhoods to better serve patrons living in different areas of the city. The first branch was the West Side Branch, which was originally housed in an old Michigan Bell Telephone Company building; it opened in 1908.

Current branches include Ottawa Hills, Madison Square, Yankee Clipper, Van Belkum, West Leonard, and Seymour. 

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