Library History: Overview

Photo courtesy of Riley County Historical Society

The Manhattan Library Tradition 1856-1989: Historical Booklet. Photographs and documents courtesy of Riley County Historical Society and Museum; text compiled by Richard Coleman.

History of the Manhattan Public Library

Manhattan is a library town. People support and use their library, and have done so for almost as long as the town has been in existence. In 1856, before Kansas even became a state, the first Manhattan library organization was incorporated.  Membership was open, for a fee of $1.00, to “all persons of good moral character.” Manhattan Public Library has grown and prospered ever since.

Thanks to the efforts of the Manhattan Library Association, the Carnegie Library was built and opened in 1904. The opening day collection numbered 1,000 items. Mary Cornelia Lee was its first director, serving until 1942. Her starting salary was $35 a month.

A children’s room was established in 1931, and by 1937 the library was bursting at the seams. The librarian’s report complained that a new building was needed “because of crowded conditions.” The population of Manhattan had increased three-fold since the library opened.

The new library was slow in coming. The great flood of 1951 caused extensive loss of books and periodicals, as well as heavy damage to the building. In 1964, the Library Board began to consider a new library. In 1966, the library became headquarters for the newly established North Central Kansas Libraries System, serving a twelve county region. Construction on the $825,000 building at the corner of Juliette and Poyntz began in 1968. A grand opening of the new library was held on March 9, 1969. The library’s collection size reached 55,000 items.

As new technologies were developed, the library embraced them. It introduced an automated system for checking out materials in 1976, and an online catalog in 1989. In between the library building was remodeled in 1980 to accommodate growth. Service hours were extended to include Sunday hours in 1985.

As had happened with the Carnegie Library, the new library was soon overcrowded. In 1996 construction began on a $3.7 million expansion. The result in 1998 was the dedication of the east building, which joined the existing west building with a beautiful three story atrium featuring the Aesop’s Fables Trellis sculpture by Kent Bloomer.

The library served Manhattan well, but there was still room for growth. In 2012 the Building for Young Minds campaign kicked off to raise funds for an expanded children’s room. Private donations contributed one-third the cost of the project. On March 5, 2013, the $2.125 million expansion was approved, doubling the size of the children’s area. In December 2014, the expanded children’s library, storytime room, and garden opened to the public.

Manhattan Public Library continues to be a vibrant hub of the community. An average of 1,000 people a day of all ages visit the library. Library program attendance in 2015 exceeded 30,000. Over 45,000 individuals have Manhattan Public Library cards. They enjoy a collection of over 150,000 books, audio cds, dvds, blu-rays, story kits, tablets, and other items. Virtual collections available through the Sunflower eLibrary and Hoopla further expand the library’s collection by hundreds of thousands of titles.

Where will the library go from here? The forward thinking library board included an addition to the 2nd floor in the latest expansion. Currently unfinished, this space will be developed for future public use.