After several attempts to establish a library in Tulsa by women’s clubs beginning in 1905, a group of citizens finally persuaded Andrew Carnegie, in 1912, to provide $35,000 to build a library if the city would provide a suitable site and $3,500 per year to maintain it. But the election for local support failed. A book shower brought in 800 donated volumes for a temporary library. In December, 1912, Miss Alma Reid McGlenn of Pittsburgh, PA, accepted the position of Librarian. She arrived in January, l913, and the first formal library opened in the basement of the Court House on March 1. By the end of the month 646 people had applied for cards and 2,150 books were checked out.
In 1914, Mr. Carnegie agreed to provide $55,000 and this time, local funds were available. James Hawk was named architect, and construction began shortly thereafter. The laying of the cornerstone for the new Carnegie Library was held October 9, 1915, with much ceremony. The building was designed to hold 50,000 books, but it opened on April 16, 1916, with only 4,000 books on those shelves. By 1920, the book inventory totaled 17, 513.
By 1921, the staff had grown to six and by 1924, it totaled 13. In 1923 she convinced the library board to initiate a program to provide “stations” within the schools. The first one was in Celia Clinton School in West Tulsa. It proved to be so successful that Lowell, Kendall, Jefferson, Emerson, Whittier, Lee and Mark Twain elementary schools installed stations the following year.
In 1927, ALA listed Tulsa among the top 10 U.S. cities with highest circulation of non-fiction materials. That same year, an editorial writer called for a new central library, noting that the Carnegie building had many flaws including low light levels and heavy metal doors. Despite its shortcoming, by 1929 there were 73,437 books and a total circulation of 474,131 items.
In 1939 Miss McGlenn retired and James E. Gourley was named Librarian. The War caused many changes in Tulsa, including the Library, which was fighting for its budgetary life. James Gourley entered the Navy as a Lieutenant in the autumn of 1942, and Helen G. Ware was named acting director until his return. For several years very little was spent on new books.
In 1950 a consultant recommended that a new central library and several branches be built. Through the latter part of the 1950’s there was a debate over whether or not the library could be housed in the old Court House at 6th & Boulder. The idea was dropped once it was determined that it would cost $1,000,000 to do the renovations needed. But all the talk about the library situation spurred action by a group to secure separate funding for the Library, and the new Civic Center gained popularity as a possible site.
In November, 1961, Tulsa County voters approved a bond issue to build a new central library and three branches plus a 1.9 mill levy for funding the system. Charles W. Ward and Joseph Koberling were named as architects, and in the summer of 1965, the new 135,000 sq. ft. library opened with a grand ceremony including Governor Henry Bellmon, Mayor James Maxwell, and James Webb, Director of NASA.
Through the years, the Central Library has served thousands of people throughout the County by circulating books, cassettes, CD’s, art prints, videos, and DVD’s. It also houses an in-depth research library, a telephone reference service, periodicals and newspapers, a large print collection, and several well-used meeting rooms.
There are conversations going on at present about the need for another new central library. One thing is certain, the staff of the Tulsa City-County Library System will do its very best every day to provide excellent service and to meet the needs of Tulsa’s citizens.