History of the Moline Public Library

A Brief History of the Moline Public Library Treasured Past ~ Vibrant Future

Library BuildingPublic library service in Moline has had a long history. Months after the City of Moline was incorporated in 1872, the first Board of the Moline Public Library was appointed on October 29. Stillman Wheelock, president of the Moline Plow Company, submitted a bid to lease property to the library at 310 15th Street. The city accepted Wheelock’s bid and signed a five-year lease at a rate of $200 per year. Kate Holt was appointed Moline’s first librarian in 1873 and continued her work until March of 1887.    

In July of 1901, WA. Jones of the Moline Daily News sent a letter to steel baron Andrew Carnegie, without knowledge of the Library Board, addressing the need for a new library in Moline. Jones noted that the community has “an excellent public library” but is was in “a very poor location, where the patrons are compelled to cross numerous railroad tracks and where a good part of time the smoke from a factory just across the street pours through the window.” Jones’ request was denied on the grounds that Moline had a number of wealthy citizens who could donate the necessary funds. Jones appealed the decision, and on August 31, 1901, the city of Moline received a letter from James Bertram, private secretary to Andrew Carnegie, stating:

“Responding to yours of July 2, 1901, if the city of Moline will furnish a suitable site and agree to maintain a free public library at cost of not less than thirty-seven hundred dollars a year, Mr. Carnegie will be glad to provide thirty-seven thousand dollars for the erection of a free library building.”*

A New Building

The total cost of the new building and its furnishings totaled $65,000, including the cost of the site. It was constructed by Peter Peterson. The cornerstone was laid on May 2, 1903, in the northwest corner of the building. Though no ceremony was held, a copper box containing numerous relevant items to the time was placed and sealed into the cornerstone.

Library DeskThe new building had an opening celebration on January 26, 1904. The program consisted of an open house, tour and explanation of the building, but no oration. The Library opened for business the next day. At the time of the opening, the areas of the library were used differently than they are used today. The basement had two public areas - to the right was the Men's Smoking and Reading Room and to the left a room designed to be used in the future as a children's department. On the main floor, the librarian's desk was opposite the doors with the stacks immediately behind the desk. To the right was the General Reading Room, furnished with eight long oak tables. The large room to the left was the Children's and Ladies' Room. These rooms, the unused room downstairs, and the Assembly Hall upstairs had large working fireplaces. The office to the right of the librarian’s desk was the Reference Room, and the one to the left a private office. The second floor had a large Assembly Hall to the left, the center room was designed for art exhibits, and the two rooms to the right were set aside for committee work and general meetings. In 1954, the Committee Room became the Katherine Deere Butterworth Room (local history and genealogical research.)    

Major Remodeling

In 1964 a major remodeling of the Library was completed in order to improve the deteriorating structure, and to enlarge space for the book collection. This remodeling included the installation of an elevator and the library has subsequently been made additionally accessible to the disabled by the installation of an exterior ramp, handicapped restroom and automatic doors. A complete renovation of the second floor provided space for a Film and Fine Arts Department. The Children's Room in the basement was also enlarged. Since 1964, the Library has undergone additional changes in collection organization and facility improvement. The book collection was moved several times and in 1986, new carpeting was laid and interior painting was completed. In 1987, the 32 year old Quad-City/Scott County Film Cooperative administered by Moline Public Library as disbanded and the over 800 16mm films and inspection equipment which had been housed at the Main Library were auctioned to the highest bidder.

New Branch & Technology

Library BuildingA fund drive was begun in 1980 in order to build a branch library in the Southeast section of the city, which was being served from a small temporary structure. The successful drive raised $1.1 million and construction was begun in March 1982. Completed in 1983 the Southeast Library houses a large Children's Department, and an Adult Services Department emphasizing current and popular materials.    

In April 1986, The Moline Public Library began using CLSI, an automated library system. In November 1987, the City of Moline adopted a resolution to accept the bequest of Helen Bertha Reher on behalf of the Moline Public Library to establish the Reher Art Gallery in memory of her parents and to fund art related activities and materials at both library facilities. The resolution specified that expenditure of the bequest be based upon a five year plan to obtain additional funding through grants and gifts to fulfill the intent of Ms. Reher's bequest.

Another New Building

Though the need for a new Moline Public Library was initially noted in 1950, the quest for a new library was reintroduced in 1989. Between the years 1989 to 1992, a new building plan was initiated, building sites were studied, consultants and architects were hired, and public charettes were held to gain feedback. However, before the project truly took off, the drive for a new library ended due various controversies regarding the new facility’s location.

In 1994, with Moline expanding to the south, the quest began again with a revision of the 1989 building plan and a recommendation from consultants the proposed new library be built on the Peterson property immediately south of the existing Southeast Library. However, indecision regarding site location once again ended this push for a new library in 1996.

Purchasing the Peterson Property

In 2000, the Moline Public Library took a major leap in ending the site location controversy by purchasing the Peterson Property. The building program was updated to represent present and future need and ultimately a new 77,000 square foot, $14.1 million design was introduced. The Library Board and staff, with the help of consultant George Lawson and OPN Architects, reduced that design to approximately 67,000 square feet and $12 million over the next few years. Finally, in March 2004, approval for funding of this new facility was approved by the city council and the Moline Public Library has a great new chapter to add to its storied past.

Two Milestones Reached

In 2004, two significant milestones were achieved within a small timeframe. First was in March with the introduction of a new third generation integrated library system called Sirsi. This new system introduced a greatly enhanced catalog for library users and completely changed the daily workflow for library staff. The new user friendly, online catalog features book covers, reviews, sound bytes, and more personal account information.

In July 2004, the River Bend Library System merged with the Heritage Trail Library System and Northern Illinois Library system to form the Prairie Area Library System (PALS). This new system now encompasses the entire northern portion of Illinois (except the Chicago area) and should help to promote greater and easier access to materials and resources for library users.

Environmental Study

As a result of an environmental study, the Moline Downtown Library temporarily closed in May, 2006 to repair significant hazards resulting from mold, lead paint and asbestos.

Newest Building

New Library BuildingThe Moline Southeast Library closed it's doors for the last time in August, 2006 and the move to the new 67,000 square foot Moline Public Library commenced. The new library opened to rave reviews, and on schedule, on August 31, 2006.It was a wonderful day for the Library beginning with a live local newscast in the library before open hours. The grand opening celebration and dedication of the new library was on September 30, 2006. It was a day of fun and festivity, with local music artists, popular authors, cultural events, and many programs for children.

* Taken from Moline's Carnegie Library, by the Moline Preservation Society

Photo Gallery

View more pictures of the history of the library in the photo gallery.