Detroit Public Library

Coordinates: 42°21′30.9″N 83°4′0″W / 42.358583°N 83.06667°W / 42.358583; -83.06667
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Detroit Public Library
Detroit Public Library logo
Location5201 Woodward Avenue
Detroit, Michigan
Established1865; 159 years ago (1865)
Access and use
Population served918,849
Other information
DirectorJo Anne Mondowney
Detroit Public Library
Built1921, 1963
ArchitectCass Gilbert
Architectural styleItalian Renaissance
Part ofCultural Center Historic District (ID83003791)
Significant dates
Designated CPNovember 21, 1983
Designated MSHSJanuary 24, 1964[1]

The Detroit Public Library is the second largest library system in the U.S. state of Michigan by volumes held (after the University of Michigan Library) and the 21st-largest library system (and the fourth-largest public library system) in the United States.[2] It is composed of the Main Library on Woodward Avenue, which houses the library's administration offices, and 23 branch locations across the city. The Main Library is part of Detroit's Cultural Center Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places adjacent to Wayne State University campus and across from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Designed by Cass Gilbert, the Detroit Public Library was constructed with Vermont marble and serpentine Italian marble trim in an Italian Renaissance style. His son, Cass Gilbert Jr. was a partner with Francis Keally in the design of the library's additional wings added in 1963. Among his other buildings, Cass Gilbert designed the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., the Minnesota State Capitol and the Woolworth Building in New York City.[3]


A stand-alone public library in Detroit dates back to 1865.[4] An 1842 state law requiring the Detroit Board of Education to open a library resulted in a public reading room opening on March 25, 1865, in the old Capitol High School at State and Griswold Street. In 1872, the Centre Park Library opened across the street from the current location of the Skillman Branch in downtown Detroit at Gratiot and Library Street. The first branch library opened in 1897 when the Detroit Water Commission library was opened to the public; in 1905 this library was turned over to the Detroit Library Commission.

The first library building, constructed in 1872 at Centre Park

Several additional branches opened shortly afterwards, including one in the Old Main building of Wayne State University. But it was not until 1910 when Andrew Carnegie, the great American library philanthropist of the early 20th century, donated funds did Detroiters decide to build a larger central library to supplement Centre Park. Property near Woodward and Kirby was purchased and in 1912 Cass Gilbert was commissioned to construct his design of a three-floor, early Italian Renaissance-style building. Due to delays and World War I, the Main Library did not open until March 21, 1921. It was dedicated June 3, 1921.[5] In 1937, the Detroit Public Library hired its first African-American librarian, Marjorie A. Blakistone; Blackistone worked throughout her career to expand the library's African-American literature collection.[6] The library system's bookmobile service began in 1940.[7]

Ralph Ulveling was Director from 1941 to 1967.

Detroit Public Library depicted on a postcard

After World War II, Detroit Public Library obtained "projected books" on microfilm and loaned these with portable projectors to disabled veterans (and other patrons with disabilities) who could press a switch under their chin more easily than turning a page.[8]

The north and south wings opened on June 23, 1963, and added a significant amount of space to the building.[9] The wings were connected along the rear of the original building and a new entrance created on Cass Avenue. Above this entrance is a mosaic by Millard Sheets entitled The River of Knowledge.[10] As part of the addition, a triptych mural was added to the west wall of Adam Strohm Hall on the third floor. The mural by local artist John Stephens Coppin is entitled Man's Mobility and depicts a history of transportation. This mural complements a tryparch mural on the opposite wall completed in 1921 by Gari Melchers depicting Detroit's early history.[9]

In 1970 Clara Stanton Jones became the first African American and the first woman to serve as director of a major library system in America, as director of the Detroit Public Library.[11]

The Detroit Public Library is also a founding member of the Detroit area library network. The network initially ran the Integrated Library System (online library catalog) for the library, but the library later purchased its own servers, after the mainframe computer era began to wane, and the library now runs its own systems. The library continues to be a member partner in the network consortium.[12]


The Detroit Public Library is a publicly funded, independent, municipal corporation. The Detroit Public Library Commission, whose members are appointed by the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education, is the governing authority for the system. The commission establishes policies and administers funds. There are 7 Library Commissioners, with the seventh commissioner being the current president of the Board of Education, who is an ex-officio commissioner. Library Commissioners are appointed to 6 year staggered terms. There is an annual general meeting where the president, vice president, and secretary of the commission are elected, and monthly meetings held at the Main Library which are open to the public. The commission appoints and hires the Director and deputy director, while all other employees are hired by the commission, upon the recommendation of the Director.

September 16, 2014, former chief administrative and technology officer Timothy Cromer was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in a $1.5 million kickback scheme."[13][14]


The Detroit Public Library offers users books, magazines, records, CDs, videos, DVDs and electronic materials through access to subscription databases. It also houses the Burton Historical Collection (named for historian and donor Clarence M. Burton), the E. Azalia Hackley Collection Archived September 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine (named for Emma Azalia Hackley), and the National Automotive History Collection. Additionally, there are online collections, including one on Detroit Tigers and Baseball Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Ernie Harwell. The Ernie Harwell Online Exhibit is part of the Burton Historical Collection. The Detroit Public Library Online Catalog


The library also offers practical advice to Detroiters through their TIP service, short for The Information Place. Librarians and support staff have access to a TIP database and offer free community information and referral service on matters such as food, housing, transportation, financial aid, legal advice, education, counseling, health care and family support. Library clients can search the TIP database themselves when visiting the library.




Branch Address
Herbert Bowen Branch Archived December 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine 3648 W. Vernor/W. Grand Blvd.
James Valentine Campbell Branch 8733 W. Vernor/Springwells
Chandler Park Branch 12800 Harper/Dickerson
Henry Chaney Branch 16101 Grand River/Greenfield
Jessie C. Chase Branch 17731 W. Seven M./Southfield
Edwin F. Conely Branch 4600 Martin/Michigan
Frederick Douglass Branch for Specialized Services (formerly The Frederick Douglass Center for Specialized Services)[15] 3666 Grand River/Trumbull
Divie B. Duffield Branch 2507 W. Grand Blvd./14th St.
Thomas A. Edison Branch 18400 Joy Rd./Southfield
Elmwood Park Branch 550 Chene/Lafayette
Benjamin Franklin Branch 13651 E. McNichols/Gratiot
Bela Hubbard Branch 12929 W. McNichols/J. Couzens
Thomas Jefferson Branch 12350 E. Outer Drive/E. Warren
Elisabeth Knapp Branch Archived May 10, 2012, at the Wayback Machine 13330 Conant/E. Davison
Abraham Lincoln Branch 1221 E. Seven Mile/Russell
Main Library 5201 Woodward Ave.
John Monteith Branch Archived July 27, 2012, at the Wayback Machine (Was scheduled to be abandoned/scrapped after Dec 22, 2011. Reopened in January 2012) 14100 Kercheval/Eastlawn
Francis Parkman Branch 1766 Oakman Blvd./Linwood
Redford Branch 21200 Grand River/W. McNichols
Sherwood Forest Branch 7117 W. Seven Mile/Livernois
Rose and Robert Skillman Branch (formerly Downtown Library)[15] 121 Gratiot/Library
Laura Ingalls Wilder Branch 7140 E. Seven Mile/Van Dyke
Detroit Public Library - Service Center 5828 Third/Antoinette

The Douglass Branch for Specialized Services is the base of operations for the bookmobile service, and it also houses the Library for the Blind and the Physically Handicapped and other special services.[7]

The quotes on the outside of the Skillman Branch read, per side:

Gratiot Avenue : "The Fountain of Knowledge Flows Through Books"

Library Street Side: "The Wealth Of The Mind Is The Only True Wealth"

Grand River Street Side : "Religion, Knowledge, Morality"

Farmer Street Side: "Civilization is the Accumulated Culture of Mankind"

Chandler Park, in the Eastside of Detroit, is a three-story facility built in 1957. The library, which has a collection specializing in books written by African-Americans, is located on Harper Avenue, in proximity to Dickerson Street. The interior, As of 2009, is decorated with artwork from children living in the area and portraits of notable African-American people. In 2009 John Carlisle (Detroitblogger John) wrote in the Metro Times that most of its patrons go to the library to use its computers.[16]

Former branches[edit]

  • John S. Gray Branch[15]
  • Bernard Ginsburg Branch (Closed in 1927 and turned over to Recreation Department.)
  • Gabriel Richard Branch (Was located on 9876 Grand River/Stoepel. Closed due to budget cuts on December 22, 2011)
  • George Van Ness Lothrop Branch (At the southwest corner of West Warren Avenue and West Grand Boulevard-demolished October 2009)[17]
  • George Osius Branch
  • Henry M. Utley Branch ( 8726 Woodward Avenue, now "The Family Place". )[17][18]
  • Magnus Butzel Branch (At the southwest corner of Harper Avenue (I-94 Service Road) and East Grand Boulevard; demolished in 1998)[17]
  • Mark Twain Library (Closed and Relocated to Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in 1996. Demolished October 2011)
  • Mark Twain Annex (Closed due to budget cuts on December 22, 2011. Located at 4741 Iroquois)
  • George S. Hosmer Branch (Opened January 11, 1911 and closed May 30, 1932. Located at 3506 Gratiot Avenue. Purchased in 2016 and planned to be a bookstore and café.)[19][20]


  1. ^ "Main Detroit Public Library". Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Archived from the original on May 24, 2012. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  2. ^ "The Nation's Largest Libraries by Volumes Held". American Library Association.
  3. ^ Meyer, Katherine Mattingly and Martin C.P. McElroy with Introduction by W. Hawkins Ferry, Hon A.I.A. (1980). Detroit Architecture A.I.A. Guide Revised Edition. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-1651-4.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "Significant Dates in Michigan Library History". Library of Michigan. January 29, 2016. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  5. ^ "DPL History". Detroit Public Library. 2006. Archived from the original on February 22, 2011. Retrieved April 18, 2011.
  6. ^ Audi, Tamara (November 20, 1999). "Marjorie Bradfield: Put black history into library". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved September 8, 2019.
  7. ^ a b Carlisle, John (Detroitblogger John). "Magic bus Archived 2011-08-18 at the Wayback Machine." Metro Times. June 15, 2011. Retrieved on August 13, 2011.
  8. ^ Rusk, Howard A. (July 27, 1947). "Special pontoon suits help disabled veterans to swim; microfilmed books, typewriting by remote control also assist the handicapped". New York Times. p. 39.
  9. ^ a b George Bulanda (September 2008). "The Main Detroit Public Library". Hour Detroit. Retrieved December 9, 2010.
  10. ^ "The River of Knowledge Mosaic". December 2007. Retrieved December 9, 2010.
  11. ^ James, Sheryl. "Trailblazing librarian, U-M alumna Clara Stanton Jones elected to Michigan Women's Hall of Fame". Diversity, Equity & Inclusion | University of Michigan.
  12. ^ Louise Bugg; Christy A. Wells; Deborah Adams (November 2010). "DALNET – Historical Timeline" (PDF). The Detroit Area Library Network. Retrieved April 18, 2011.
  13. ^ MacDonald, Christine (September 16, 2014). "Former Detroit Library exec gets 10 years for bribery". The Detroit News. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  14. ^ Peet, Lisa (November 10, 2014). "Ex-Detroit Library Official Timothy Cromer Sentenced to Ten Years". Library Journal. Archived from the original on November 13, 2014. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  15. ^ a b c d "Locations & Hours." Detroit Public Library. Retrieved on April 26, 2009.
  16. ^ Detroitblogger John. "Dewey-eyed " (Archive). Metro Times. January 7, 2009. Retrieved on April 10, 2016.
  17. ^ a b c "Detroit Public Library Branches, 1914". Retrieved January 2, 2011.
  18. ^ "The Family Place". Archived from the original on July 28, 2011. Retrieved January 2, 2011.
  19. ^ Aguilar, Louis (September 27, 2016). "Historic public library on Gratiot to open as bookstore". The Detroit News.
  20. ^ Woodford, Frank B. ″Parnassus on Main Street: A History of the Detroit Public Library. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

42°21′30.9″N 83°4′0″W / 42.358583°N 83.06667°W / 42.358583; -83.06667