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Check it out: The history of the Western Branch Library

How the first Black-run public library in the nation came to be and lives on

The exterior of a brick and stone library building

The Western Branch Library is one of nine Carnegie libraries in Louisville.

Photo via LFPL.

The Louisville Free Public Library is a rich community resource (with more than just books), and new investment is bringing improvements to multiple branches in the coming years. Each LFPL branch has a unique history, but the Western Branch Library at 604 S. 10th St. was the site of many historic firsts for both Louisville and the US.

LFPL got its start in 1902 with funding from Andrew Carnegie. From the beginning, local educator and civil rights leader Albert E. Meyzeek pushed to include Black Louisvillians in the library system. LFPL and its predecessors, like the Polytechnic Society, excluded Black patrons, but Meyzeek’s efforts persuaded the newly formed public library to open a dedicated branch for in western Louisville.

A group of nine women and one man stand on the steps of a building in a black and white photo

Reverend Thomas F. Blue and Western Library staff, including Blue’s successor and the branch’s first children’s librarian Rachel Harris, (front row, second from the left) in 1927.

Photo courtesy ASC, UofL

A new branch

The first iteration of what would become the Western Branch opened in 1905 in a private residence at 1125 W. Chestnut St. It all started with three rooms and about 1,400 books. Reverend Thomas Fountain Blue was chosen to lead the new branch, making him the first Black American to head a public library.

Rev. Blue continued to oversee the Western Branch as it moved into its permanent location on 10th Street in 1908. By 1919, a second Black-run branch had opened at 600 Lampton St. Rev. Blue moved up to direct the newly-created “Colored Department” of LFPL, which oversaw two libraries, two schools, and 80 classroom collections across 29 buildings.

In 1952, LFPL became the first desegregated public library system in the South, and the Lampton St. branch closed in 1975. The Western Library faced a temporary closure in 1992, but reopened with $500,000 in renovations just two years later.

The Western Branch today

The Western Library still serves as an important repository for Black history in Louisville. It houses the African American Archives Reading Room, which includes the writings of Rev. Blue, Joseph Cotter Sr. and Jr., and other prominent Black writers.

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