Little Rock Look Back: The Public Library Opens

carnegieOn February 2, 1910, the Little Rock Public Library officially opened its doors.  There had been an open house the night before, but this was the first day of acquiring a library card and checking out books.

Various private libraries had existed sporadically in Little Rock throughout the 19th Century.  In November 1900, a Little Rock School District committee made the first inquiry into the the creation of a Carnegie Library in Little Rock.  Over the next several years, numerous entreaties were made, but funding for the City’s portion was an obstacle.  On December 17, 1906, the Little Rock City Council passed an ordinance to move forward with building, furnishing and equipping a library.  Finally, in February 1908, the City approved acceptance of $88,100 from Andrew Carnegie.  The building would be designed by Edward Tilton, who designed Carnegie libraries, working with local architect Charles Thompson.

Mary Maud Pugsley was hired as the first librarian for Little Rock in May 1909. She began her duties on September 15, 1909, in order to get ready for the opening of the library at the southwest corner of 7th and Louisiana Streets.

On February 2, 1910, formal circulation of books began.  J. N. Heiskell was issued library card number 1.  He was secretary of the Library’s Board of Trustees and had long been an advocate for a public library in Little Rock.  He had often used his bully pulpit as editor of the Arkansas Gazette to advocate for a public library since arriving in Little Rock in 1902.  (Years later — he lived until 1972 — he received a replica of the library card made out of gold.)

That first day of operation, 500 people had applied for library cards. The application process required one to be a Little Rock property owner or to have a property owner sign the application.

Within the first year of operation, 2.5% of Little Rock’s population of 45,951 had applied for a library card.

For more on the history of the transformation of the Little Rock Public Library into the Central Arkansas Library System, read Shirley Schuette and Nathania Sawyer’s From Carnegie to Cyberspace — 100 Years at the Central Arkansas Library System, published by Butler Center Books.


One thought on “Little Rock Look Back: The Public Library Opens

  1. A pair of comments on your excellent LR Library presentation.

    (1) I love the name of the first librarian. Just saying the name makes me smile – MARY MAUD PUGSLEY. There should be something with HER NAME on it. (I bet the task of being ‘The First’ meant double the work in just establishing rules, programs and all the physical details of dealing with materials for years too.) The fact this woman was at the genesis of the city even having such a wonderful place as ‘a library’ makes her all the more deserving of the honor.

    (2) What happened to the Gold Library Card of Mister Heiskell? What a splendid treasure! If the heirs of his estate
    are agreeable, that precious card should be put in a VERY SECURE DISPLAY within the main library. The gold card would become as endeared to the library visitors as the beautiful columns (from the origional bldg) that were saved by an astute gentleman / and his generous family.

    Your colomn has proven to be an INSPIRATION! I hope some ‘magic happens from these suggestions!’

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