- Salt Lake’s first free public library opened on February 14, 1898, consisting of two rooms at the City and County Building and holding 10,000 books.
- This achievement was the result of a grassroots effort by local civic groups, working in cooperation with the Mayor and City Council. The Library was enthusiastically welcomed by Salt Lake residents and the press.
- The Salt Lake City Public Library system (known as The City Library) has been in continuous operation for 125 years, and now boasts the Main Library downtown and seven neighborhood branches.
- Today, The City Library welcomes thousands of new cardholders every year and holds a collection of over 2 million items.
- A more detailed history of The City Library can be found at slcpl.org/125. Throughout the year, the Library will celebrate its birthday on social media (@slcpl), slcpl.org, and in-person at the eight libraries.
125 years ago, two years after Utah became a state, on February 14, 1898, Salt Lake City’s bookloversreceivedthegreatestgiftofall:afreepubliclibrary!Occupying two rooms in the City and County Building and holding 10,000 books, the Library opened its doors at 10am to an eagerly awaiting crowd. Though a few libraries came and went in Utah’s early days, this was the city’s first completely free public library, sustained through donations and tax funding. This achievement was the result of a grassroots effort by the Ladies’ Literary Club and other local organizations, working in cooperation with the Mayor and City Council. The opening of the original library established the Salt Lake City Public Library system (The City Library), which now encompasses the five-story Main Library and seven neighborhood branches.
In 1897, a petition calling for Library funding circulated among Salt Lake residents gained the required 1,000 signatures in a matter of days. In June of 1897, the City Council unanimously approved a tax levy to fund a public library. By the end of the year, the Mayor appointed a Library board of directors and staff. On January 1, 1898, 10,000 books from the defunct Pioneer Library
were moved to the new location at the City & County Building, which was ready to open six weeks later.
The response to the new Library was greater than even the most optimistic expectations. Librarian Annie E. Chapman and her small staff were on their feet all day helping patrons find books and accepting Library card applications. Over 300 people applied for library cards. The first card was issued to the President of the Library Board, Col. T.G. Webber. The first book checked out was a novel by Alexandre Dumas, borrowed by a Norwegian immigrant named Charles Gulbransen.
The Salt Lake Herald-Republican newspaper noted of the opening-day crowd: “It was a representative lot too. Businessmen, public officials, housewives, artisans, professional men, and schoolchildren were in evidence” Remarking further on this momentous occasion, the paper said: “Even now the Library is an institution of which the people of Salt Lake should be proud,” and “As the people become more and more used to patronizing it, they will wonder more and more how they ever did without it.”
It can be hard to fathom how much life in Salt Lake City has changed over the last 125 years, but The City Library has remained a constant, and the newspaper quotes from 1898 are as true today as they were back then. The Library system has grown along with the city, making sure that library services reach every corner of our Salt Lake community while adapting to new technology and to the changing needs of city residents.
The legacy of the Ladies Literary Club, Annie E. Chapman (namesake of Poplar Grove’s Chapman Branch), Col. Webber, and countless others is evident throughout Salt Lake City. In 2022, over 3 million physical and digital items were borrowed; 27,243 new Library cards were issued; and 929,871 visits were made to the eight Libraries. By using the Library, patrons saved a total of
$28,854,666.97duringthecalendaryear. The Library looks forward to many more years serving its friends and neighbors in the Salt Lake City community.
The City Library proudly serves the Salt Lake Community with its eight neighborhood locations. The Main LibraryisajewelintheheartofSaltLakeCity,attractingvisitorsfromaroundtheworldtoadmireitsbright spaces and stunning architecture. The City Library never charges late fees for returned items, and is proud to now offer two hours of free parking at The Main Library. Over 86% of Salt Lake residents hold Library Cards, and enjoy access to hundreds of thousands of ebooks and audiobooks.After halting programs during the height of COVID, the Library welcomes patrons back for in-person and virtual programs, events, and workshops. Learn more at yourcitylibrary.org.