The library was popular from the start. By March of 1871, the Library Association had 31 life members and 145 annual members. They had 764 books and subscribed to six monthly magazines. But the road wasn’t always smooth for the new library: By 1874, the annual report showed a debt of $140. Many fundraising projects (such as a strawberry festival and a masquerade ball) were held, but hard times continued. Membership sank to 75 while the debt continued to increase until it reached $203. In 1884, a city ordinance was passed, which established a tax-supported base and gave Emporia a public library in the modern sense.
The new facility opened to the public on February 23, 1906, with a reception for the townspeople. Over the coming years, many exciting developments came about: Dr. Clyde Meredith, an Emporia State music professor, began the record collection by donating both records and money. Also during this period, the microfilming of newspapers was begun. The annual budget increased twelvefold from its original $2,000 to $27,000.
With the advent of federal funds, the Emporia Public Library attempted to become all things to all people in terms of information resources. Mrs. Beryl Liegl was the director of the library when the first of these federal funds became available. She reported that this money allowed her to begin many new services for Emporians. She instigated a framed art reproduction service of quality prints, updated the record collection started by Dr. Meredith, began the services for the homebound, and increased the large print collection. Telephone books were added to the collection as well as a copy machine. The genealogy, business, and reference departments were also upgraded under Mrs. Liegl’s guidance. The Memorial book program, in which community members donate funds in honor of special events such as marriages, births, or deaths, began at this point as well. The Memorial book program continues today and enables the library to purchase many high-quality books.
The new building—our current building—has a spacious atrium, the checkout desk, the children’s room, adult and children’s DVD collections, audiobooks, an area for mending and processing materials, and the large meeting room on the main floor. Upstairs is the adult collection (which includes fiction and nonfiction), the Spanish language collection, the young adult area, microfilm, and reference materials. Another upstairs feature is the Kansas Room, which houses the magazine and newspaper reading space as well as books about Kansas. The library also provides computers for public use and free Wi-Fi.
In 2001, the library removed the card catalogs and purchased an automated library system. The new system gave patrons online access to the digital catalog and modernized processing internally. In 2017, the library moved to a newer, more streamlined automated library system, giving patrons even more access to their accounts and allowing the integration of the catalog and digital resources with the website. The library continues to adapt its services and resources based on the needs of the community.