The beginnings of the Dallas Public Library date back to 1899 when the Dallas Federation of Women’s Clubs managed to raise $11,000. School teachers from public schools and businessmen donated in order for the Library to be founded. Another prominent donor was Alfred Horatio Belo, the founder of The Dallas Morning News.
The first library building was built in 1901 as a result of a grant in the amount of $50,000 awarded by Andrew Carnegie who was a famous philanthropist and steel magnate. In his honor, the building was named the Carnegie library. This library held a collection of 9,852 volumes, an auditorium and an art room which was the first of its kind open to the public in Dallas, known today as the Dallas Museum of Art.
Next to open in 1914 was the branch in Oak Cliff. Another four were established in the 1930’s and one of those four was the Paul Lawrence Dunbar Library which was also open to African Americans. During the Second World War, the library was used as a war information center. Due to the poor conditions and space limitations in the 1950’s, the Carnegie Library was torn down and a new building was built in its place (today is known as the Old Dallas Central Library). In the next two decades, 17 more branches were built to serve different parts of the city.
Remarkably, in 1962 Lillian M. Bradshaw was put in charge of the library which made her the first woman in charge of a department in the administration of the City of Dallas and was very well received by the public and even fought off attempts of censorship in ordering books.
A new and very large central library was opened in 1982 which even had the then state of the art technology the Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC). This library was named to honor former mayor J. Erik Jonsson for his great contributions in this sector. The STAR system was put into practice in 1996 which included access to the Internet as well as a great number of electronic databases.
Now the library has 27 branches located all throughout the city and carries over 2.5 million volumes. It also offers various services such as:
- Downloadable materials in the form of E-books, E-journals, music, audiobooks.
- Free tax help, each year from February to April.
- It lets its clients borrow materials and books from libraries all over the country.
- Variety of classes
- A database of over 5,000 NGO’s and agencies
- Homeless Engagement Initiative
- A copy of First Folio by Shakespeare
- A copy of Dunlap Broadside Declaration of Independence