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Public Library

Public Library Trust Funds, Other Trust Funds

Grand Rapids Public Library is the school district library for the city of Grand Rapids. It is founded on the provision in the constitution of Michigan, which has been there in one form or another since 1835 (the first constitution of the state), which requires the legislature to provide by law for the establishment of libraries and sets aside the penal fines for this purpose.

In its present organization, the library dates from 1871. March 15 of that year the governor signed the act of the legislature, which became immediately effective, consolidating the three school districts within the city at that time into one district, and do-terminus with the city. The three school district libraries with this consolidation became automatically the school district library, but later on this was changed to the Grand Rapids Public Library.

The three school district libraries were the east side, organized in 1835; the west side or Union, organized in 1837 or 1838; and the Coldbrook, organized in 1841.

In 1858 there was a meeting of citizens in Luce's hall for organizing a citizens library movement, and this organization became the Grand Rapids Library association. It continued for a few years, but in 1861 its books were transferred to the East Side School District library in the building then located on the site of the present Junior college. In 1869 the City Library association was organized, this organization afterwards becoming the Ladies Literary Club.

After the passage of the act of the legislature in 1871, the books belonging to the City Library association and to the Y.M.C.A. were turned over to the Public Library, thus uniting all the library resources of the city, for a short time with joint management and support. Afterwards, however, the books of the City Library association were withdrawn.

These consolidated libraries then became the present Grand Rapids Public library. It was opened to the public with 4,045 books on its shelves December 21, 1871, in the second story of the Leonard store on Monroe avenue, where the Houseman & Jones clothing store now stands. From that time until 1903 the library was managed by the board of education.

In January, 1875, the library was moved from the Leonard store to the second floor of the new Ledyard block, at Ottawa avenue and Pearl street. It remained in these quarters until 1888, when the present city hall was opened, and it occupied quarters on the second floor until 1904. It was then moved into the present Ryerson Library building, the gift to his native city of Martin A. Ryerson of Chicago, grandson of Antoine Campau, whose brother, Louis Campau, founded the city.

The library continued under the direction of the board of education until 1903, when an act of the legislature was passed creating the board of library commissioners for the management of the library, the title of the property, however, remaining with the board of education. This act was amended in 1905 in connection with the revision of the law for the schools of the city and the new city charter. The law of 1903 created a board of five elected members, one retiring each year, with the superintendent of schools ex-officio, making six on the board. The power of the superintendent of schools on the board in 1903 was somewhat limited. In the law of 1905 he was given powers co-equal with those of the other members of the board. The alw of 1905 also provided that the tax-levying body of the city must levy 4/10 mill annually for the maintenance of the library, and it may add thereto such other sums as it sees fit. This law also provided that the library board has the power to act as trustee in the management of gifts and bequests of both real and personal property for the furtherance of the work of the library.

One of the first acts of the new board, elected in September, 1903, was to adopt a plan for the development of the library. This plan provided for the following:

1. Development of a special historical collection relating to Michigan. 2. A library of patents and inventions. 3. A furniture and industrial art library. 4. Courses of free lectures. 5. Work for the blind. 6. Sunshine work--shut-ins, hospitals, picture books in colors, etc. 7. School of Design.

All these things have been accomplished, except the School of Design, and that seems likely to be brought about through a private foundation, now in process of getting started. It was believed that a comprehensive collection of books on the industrial arts would form a nucleus around which should develop a school of design.

The relations of the library with the school system are by law made unusually close, and this has made possible a method of co-operation somewhat unusual in American cities.

In 1894 there was started the scheme of deposit libraries in public school buildings, the books to be for the use of teachers and children in the schools. This has been in operation ever since.

In 1906, in the new Sigsbee school building, the plan was inaugurated of having branch libraries in public schools serving both the school and the community. At the present time there are 22 such school branch libraries in operation., the twenty-third, in the new Burton High school, will open this fall, and the twenty-fourth is in process of construction in the new Alger school, to open in 1927.

On Bridge street the west side branch has a separate building, now nearly completed, which represents an investment in land, building and equipment of about $225,000. The value of all the library property at the present time is in round numbers $1,300,000, as compared with $5,000, its value in 1871.

The library has been the recipient of some of the most important gifts that have ever come to the city. The outstanding one is the Ryerson Library building. At the time it was erected it was the largest and most costly library structure in any city of the country containing less than 100,000 population. The trust funds for the advancement of the library are now eight in number.

At the present time the library contains over 300,000 books, and if to this are added pamphlets, maps and manuscripts, the number of pieces exceeds 400,000. There are books and current periodicals in a dozen different languages, and the number of current periodicals on file in the reading rooms represents over 1,000 titles, of some of which the library takes as many as 38 copies. Besides the ordinary features of a Public library, the supplying of reading in the reading rooms and the circulation of books, there is affiliated with the library the Historical Society of Grand Rapids, for the building up of a great historical collection of Michigan and American history, now numbering about 50,000 pieces---books, pamphlets, maps, manuscripts, etc. Other noteworthy collections are those on furniture, American painters, horticulture, family and industrial relations and works in the Holland language.

It also conducts courses of free lectures, both at the Ryerson building and at the branches, and gives many art and other exhibitions in the Ryerson building. In the new west side structure it is planned to carry on similar exhibition and lecture work.

During this year the Public library will perform nearly 2,000,000 individual services, over 60 per cent of which will be in the branches. This includes books issued for home use, readers in reading rooms, attendance at lectures, etc. The library goes into more Grand Rapids homes than any municipal institution except the water works. It serves all the people, from infancy to old age.

The present members of the library board are: W. J. Wallace, president; H. Fred Oltman, secretary; A. P. Johnson, Edwin Stokoe, Arthur J. Avery and L. A. Butler, superintendent of schools, ex-officio. The librarian, Samuel H. Ranck, is ex-officio clerk of the board.


Lewis G. and Marion Stuart, $3,600--Established as Lewis G. Stuart fund 1897 by the Historical Society of Grand Rapids. Income used for purchase of books and other material relating to American history, with special reference to Michigan and Old Northwest.

Charles Woolsey Coit, $1,000---Established 1906, by bequest of Mr. Coit. Income used for purchase of books by and about American painters.

Frederick P. Wilcox, $1,000---Established 1912 by bequest of Mr. Wilcox. Income used for purchase of reference material on economic and political science.

Grand Rapids Academy of Medicine, $102--Established 1915, when balance in treasury of Academy of Medicine, on disbanding of that organization, was turned over to library board to form nucleus of fund for purchasing of medical books. Thus far no money had been expended, but income has been added to principal.

Winnie Whitfield Butler, $400---Established 1922 as gift from Mrs. George E. Hardy of New York. Income used for purchase of picture books in colors for children.

Hundred Years--Established 1925, to build up collection in library on American history, supplementing present and future historical funds. Until 1930 none of income may be used; then for 20 years one-fourth of income may be expended and balance added to principal; for next 25 years one-third of income may be expended and balance added to principal; for last 50 years, until January 1, 2025, one-half of income to be used as needed for interests of American history, and balance added to principal. A number of persons have subscribed to this fund, and amount now invested is $1,594.

Rebecca L. Richmond, $5,000---Established 1925 by bequest of Miss Richmond. Income used for purchase of books on landscape architecture and allied subjects.

John S. Lawrence, $2,500---Established 1925 by bequest of Mr. Lawrence. Income used for purchase of books on genealogy.

Rebecca Richmond Fund for Lectures on American History, $2,000--Established 1926, through action of Historical Society of Grand Rapids in turning over a bequest from Miss Richmond to library board as trustee, to form nucleus for fund for purpose specified.

Mrs. James H. Campbell bequeathed $2,000 to Historical Society of Grand Rapids for purchase of books for historical room of Ryerson Library building. Historical society voted that this money, when received, should be turned over to library board as trustee, to be held for purpose mentioned in Mrs. Campbell's will.


Emma J. Cole, $1,500 for use of botany department of public schools.

Thomas D. Gilbert, $2,000 for apparatus for teaching physics in public schools.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000
 URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/etten1926/library.html