Library celebrates 150 years

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Courtesy Grand Rapids Public Library

The Grand Rapids Public Library is having a year-long sesquicentennial celebration that will culminate on its birthday on Dec. 21.

The celebration will kick off with My Library Story, where families can share their stories about the library with the Grand Rapids History and Special Collections Department. 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 celebratory items and events throughout the year include a commemorative GRPL library card, 150 books, movies and music, a read-a-thon, exhibits on the history of the library, pop-up pocket parks, special events and 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,” said 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.”

Throughout its 150 years, the Grand Rapids Public Library has evolved. It 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.

After operating out of downtown rooms and buildings, including inside and above a dry goods store, the Ledyard Building and rooms of Grand Rapids’ City Hall, a Grand Rapids native Martin Antoine Ryerson, an arts and education benefactor from Grand Rapids, funded the Ryerson Building.

Grand Rapids Public Library also established different branches with Grand Rapids neighborhoods. The first branch was the West Side Branch, originally housed in an old Michigan Bell Telephone Company building, which opened in 1908. Other branches include Ottawa Hills, Madison Square, Yankee Clipper, Van Belkum, West Leonard and Seymour. 

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