Salina Public Library’s history began in 1868 when 15 Salinans drew up a formal petition for the charter of the Salina Library Association “for the purpose and object of establishing a public and circulating library.” The Kansas secretary of state granted the charter on March 19, 1868. For 25 years, the library offered minimal hours of service and a browsing collection of fewer than 500 donated books and journals.

In 1893 a call went out to establish a more organized free reading room. Space was secured in the Odd Fellows building at the corner of Seventh St. and Iron. Funds were raised through lectures, teas, and ball games, and a $3.00 subscription fee was collected from those who supported the reading room. 

Around the turn of the 20th century interest in public libraries was sweeping the nation, and Salina citizens were among those enthusiasts. On April 27, 1899, Mayor T. W. Roach appointed 12 citizens to a board charged with the organization of a Salina Public Library. That same year a city mill levy of one-half mill was established to support the new library. The library opened on the east side of the basement in a building owned by Mr. V. A. Austin at the corner of Eighth St. and Iron (opposite today’s Post Office). A year’s rent totaled $150.00. Miss Bessie Page was hired as the librarian and was responsible for keeping the library open 48 hours per week with the stipulation that her salary did not go over $25 per month. On January 1, 1900, the library was transferred to the City of Salina. At the reception marking the transfer, the mayor said, “The officers of the city can not make the public library a success. It is your duty to watch it and aid it in every way.”  Those words are still true today. The basement space soon proved less than desirable, and in March 1901, the library moved to the first floor of a building on S. Santa Fe. The rent in this brand-new building was $250.00 per year. 

News of Andrew Carnegie’s support of public libraries reached Salina late in 1901. Carnegie was offering $15,000 for a building with the condition that the city would furnish a site and guarantee support of no less than $1,500 annually. The library board accepted the offer immediately and began a campaign to raise the needed funds. Support was so strong that within 5 weeks all the money was raised. The City of Salina provided 3,000 books and building maintenance. The southwest corner of Eighth St. and Iron was chosen as the new library’s site, and was completed and open for business in June 1903. An addition was made to the building in 1922, and the Carnegie Free Library served Salina until 1968. The building was razed in 1969.

January 1, 1904, saw the hiring of Mrs. Delia Brown as the librarian. She went on to serve as Librarian for 42 years. “Mrs. Brown’s tenure saw the library weather 3 major depressions, 2 world wars, epidemics of influenza and other contagious diseases, and all of the trials and tribulations of the first half of this century. Despite such hardships, the library gradually grew and improved in materials and service to the community.” – Richard Neuman, “Salina Library Began in 1868”, Salina Journal, July 4, 1976

September 29, 1968, saw the dedication of the newest and current library building situated at 9th St. and Elm. The building cost $928,000 and was financed by a federal grant and city bonds. Things moved along smoothly until the 1990s when the library saw some big changes. 1992 brought the completion of the library’s automated card catalog and circulation system. Computer hardware and software were purchased for staff and public use. The old card catalog still had pride of place and was available to patrons for a few years more, even though it was no longer updated. In I996 a major renovation began which involved moving the children’s dept. downstairs, relocating the fiction collection, adding meeting rooms, and installing a grand staircase. The project took 18 months to complete.

In 2003, a $1 million expansion was begun to create a Technology Center to house 14 new internet stations, a computer classroom, a digital design studio, and a meeting room, resulting in 7,000 square feet being added to the library. The addition opened in 2005.

In 2007 the dance studio across Elm St. from the library was purchased to house the library’s Community Learning and Skill Sharing program (CLASS) and provide additional meeting rooms and office space for staff.  Originally called the Salina Public Library’s Learning Center, the building was renamed the McKenzie Center when longtime library director Joe McKenzie retired in 2017 after 40 years of service.

Around 2016 the library purchased the vacant house next to the Learning Center and had it razed to create needed parking for staff and library patrons and parking for the neighboring church. The lot to the north of the Learning Center was paved at this time, too.

In 2019, Melanie Hedgespeth took over as Director of the library. The main floor layout was updated in 2020, and in 2022 the Salina Public Library App was launched. New improvements are in the works as we are continuously striving to best serve our community. The support of our patrons has allowed us to grow and evolve into the library you see today.

It’s exciting to imagine what the future holds for our library. Stay tuned!