Key Events in the History of the Kansas City Public Library.

Images on this page are courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections.

Directors and Librarians

  • 1874-1881 James Greenwood
  • 1881-1911 Carrie Whitney (first appointed librarian)
  • 1911-1936 Purd Wright
  • 1936-1939 Irene Gentry (interim)
  • 1939-1942 Louis M. Nourse
  • 1942-1943 Priscilla Burd (interim)
  • 1943-1947 Harold Hamill
  • 1947-1950 Harry Brinton (interim)
  • 1950-1968 Richard B. Sealock
  • 1968-1973 Stephen Kirk
  • 1973 Idris Smith (interim)
  • 1974-1983 Harold Jenkins
  • 1983-2003 Daniel J. Bradbury
  • 2003-2004 Joseph H. Green
  • 2004-2005 Roger Pearson (interim)
  • 2005-2020 R. Crosby Kemper III
  • 2020 Debbie Siragusa (interim)
  • 2020-present John Herron

Library Timeline


  • The Board of Education resolves: That there be established in connection with our schools a library to be known as the Public School Library of Kansas City.
  • The Board purchases a bookcase for $8 from Col. W.E. Sheffield, and eight volumes of the New American Encyclopedia to fill it the Library has its beginning.


  • Tickets to public lectures are sold to raise funds for the Library resulting in $98.00 towards books.
  • James M. Greenwood is appointed Superintendent of Schools and supervisor of the Library.


  • Formal Library rules are adopted. Patrons could purchase yearly subscriptions for $2 or lifetime borrowing privileges for $10.


  • Library and Board of Education office moves to the Piper Building, 546 Main Street.


  • Library Reading Room opens to the general public during evening hours.


  • Superintendent Greenwood appoints Mrs. Carrie Westlake Whitney as the first Librarian.


  • Missouri State Legislature authorizes Board of Education to spend $2,500 a year towards Library funding.


  • Library relocates to the 2nd floor of a building at the corner of 8th and Walnut.


  • A new Library building is constructed at 8th and Oak at a cost of $11,100.


  • All high school students are given free access to the Library.


  • Kansas City voters approve a $200,000 bond proposition for the construction of a modern library building.


  • Main Library at 9th and Locust opens. The two-story building houses several reference rooms, a lecture hall, art gallery, museum, and bindery.


  • The subscription fee system is discontinued--the Library is made free and open to the public.
  • The Allen Library (Westport Branch) becomes the first branch of the Library when Westport, MO is annexed by the city of Kansas City.


  • The Board of Education receives custody of the William Rockhill Nelson art collection. The collection is housed in the Western Gallery of Art in the Main Library.


  • Colonel Daniel B. Dyer donates a large collection of American Indian artifacts to the Public Library. The museum space in the Main Library is renamed in his honor.


  • Louis George, a retired trunk manufacturer, donates property at 25th and Holmes to be used for a branch library.


  • Switzer Branch opens, becoming the first of several branch libraries to be housed in a public school building.


  • Dewey Decimal classification system is adopted.


  • Louis George Branch opens the first phase of a Library District expansion plan and the first free-standing branch library.
  • Small sub-branches open at the Jewish Educational Institute and Swope Settlement.


  • Northeast Branch opens in Northeast High School. This was the first conscious effort to combine the public schools and the public library branches.
  • Garrison Square Branch opens near Garrison Square Park, the first branch to specifically provide service to the African-American community.


  • Central Branch and Swinney Branch open.


  • Karnes Branch, Kensington Branch, and Mark Twain Branch open.


  • Blue Valley Branch opens in the Jackson School.


  • Lincoln Branch opens in Lincoln High School to provide more complete service to the city's African-American residents.
  • The Library system passes one million in circulation.


  • Washington Branch opens in Mount Washington School.


  • Dewey Decimal reclassification and cataloging of the entire Library collection is completed.
  • Paseo Branch opens in Paseo High School.


  • West Branch and Southwest Branch opens.


  • The Library system passes two million in circulation.


  • The Western Gallery of Art collection is removed to the Atkins wing of the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art.
  • East Branch opens in East High School.


  • Daniel B. Dyer Museum closes and collection returned to Dyer heirs.


  • After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Library establishes a War Information Center to update the public on the war effort.


  • The Library becomes a repository for books donated to The Victory Book Campaign for the armed forces.


  • Library establishes a Business & Technical Department and Young People's Department.


  • A sub-branch library is established at the North American Aviation Bomber Plant.


  • A 30-foot library truck Kansas City's first bookmobile service is introduced, circulating an estimated 100,000 books in its first year.
  • A $115,000 renovation project begins, including the establishment of an Art and Music Department and film library.


  • Voters approve a $6 million bond package resulting in the construction of a new Main Library building at 12th and McGee.


  • Ground is broken for the new Main Library.
  • Circulation reaches three million.


  • New Main Library opens in the School District Building at 12th and McGee.
  • Missouri Valley Room opens on the 3rd floor of the Main Library, housing the Library's reference collections in local history, genealogy, and Western history.


  • Ground is broken for the Plaza Branch at the corner of Brookside Blvd. and Main St., former site of the E.C. White School.


  • Plaza Branch Library opens becoming the first full-service community branch.


  • Braille Library moves into the Main Library.


  • The black history collection is officially designated the John F. Ramos, Jr. Collection in honor of the first black member of the Kansas City Board of Education.


  • Library celebrates its 100th Anniversary.


  • Staff receives a memo announcing several librarians will be learning how to use computer terminal to access the many bibliographic indexes that are "on-line."


  • Library joins the Missouri Library Network Corporation (MLNC).


  • The Board of Education authorizes the formation of the Friends of the Kansas City Public Library.


  • Library Board accepts the recommendation of the Branch Study Task Force to reconfigure the branch system and adopt the full-service branch library model.
  • The Library officially adopts American Library Association's Freedom to Read Statement and Library Bill of Rights.
  • Inaugural Friend's of the Library book sale is held.


  • The Library establishes reciprocal lending agreements with other Kansas City area library systems.
  • First public access computers (Apple IIe models) are installed in the Main Library and six branch libraries.
  • Low-vision Library opens at the Main Library.


  • Kansas City Board of Education approves a $567,224 contract to purchase hardware and software for a new on-line catalog.
  • Board adopts a resolution to accept the report of the Library Director titled Creation of a Kansas City Public Library District.
  • District voters pass an 18-cent increase in the Library operating levy.


  • The Library breaks ground for the Lucile H. Bluford Branch, named in honor of the longtime editor of the Kansas City Call. It is to be the first new branch constructed in 25 years.
  • Online catalog access available at all Library branches.


  • District voters approve the separation of the Library from the Kansas City, Missouri School District with a 67% majority.
  • Lucile H. Bluford Branch and South (Waldo) Branch open.
  • Compact discs are added to the Library's circulating collection.


  • The Library District's first Board organizes, electing Mary Arney as its first president.
  • Trails West Branch and North-East Branch open.


  • Dial Access to the KACEY computerized catalog made available to home computer users. Automated telephone renewal services also instituted.
  • Card catalogs are removed from Main Library.


  • The National Endowment for the Humanities awards the Library a challenge grant of $237,500.
  • Library director, Dan Bradbury, is named Librarian of the Year by the Library Journal.
  • The Board authorizes the sale of the Library's rare books collection, with proceeds going to the Library endowment.


  • Online access to general and business periodicals is introduced at the Main Library.


  • Southeast Branch opens.
  • Library launches its first public website.


  • Sugar Creek Branch opens.


  • Library celebrates 125th Anniversary.
  • Library cardholders surpass 200,000.


  • Library opens a Technology Center and begins to training classes for the public.


  • Library contracted to create a new Central Library in the First National Bank building at 10th and Baltimore.
  • The Special Collection Department's Local History Index is made accessible online.


  • New West Branch renamed Irene H Ruiz Biblioteca de las Americas opens.
  • Plaza Branch Library closes its doors due to the buildings structural problems; moves to temporary location at 301 E. 51st Street.
  • Library is awarded $86,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the purchase of computer hardware and software.


  • Groundbreaking ceremony is held for Plaza Colonnade Building at 48th and Main, future home of the Plaza Library Branch.


  • New Central Library opens at 10th and Baltimore in the historic First National Bank building.
  • Dedication of the Missouri Valley Room in the new Central Library (10th and Baltimore) is held.
  • Central Library receives a National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


  • KC Research website launches through funding by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
  • New Plaza Branch Library opens at 48th and Main.
  • Library receives a $2.1 million grant from Ewing Kauffman Foundation to build an auditorium at the Plaza Branch.
  • Library begins offering downloadable e-books.


  • First installment of the Missouri Valley Speaker Series held at the Central Library.


  • Stanley H. Durwood Film Vault opens in the lower level of the Central Library.


  • Truman Forum and auditorium opens in the lower level of the Plaza Branch.
  • The Central Library's children/teen area is renovated, expanding the space from 5,800 to 10,000 square feet.