GPL Blog

From the Archives — July 2021

As we continue planning and preparing for the new Galesburg Public Library building, we’re also looking back to the library’s history in Galesburg and how we’ve served the community for more than 150 years.

In 1858, Knox professor (and later acting president) Albert Hurd donated a collection of books to form the Young Men’s Literary Society. The collection was housed in the public high school until the city passed an ordinance in 1874 and a free public library was created. The same year, the first library board was established. Nine men were appointed to help build and maintain the library. The next year, the first librarian, Mrs. F.A. Smith, was hired.

By 1884, the library was ready for a bigger space (much how we feel today!). The first official library opened that year at 221 East Main Street. In just two years, under the direction of librarian J.B. Holland, the library had expanded to include more than 15,000 volumes and seventy periodicals. The library’s first card catalog was implemented that year, allowing the librarian and patrons to find materials much more easily.

This first iteration of the Galesburg Public Library probably looked a lot different than the current one, but the mission was the same: serve the public. Stay tuned over the next few months as I explore more periods in the library’s history. Next time, I’ll talk about the development of the Carnegie library. If you have any thoughts or questions about the library’s history, feel free to contact me at!

The Galesburg Public Library Archives houses thousands of materials relating to Galesburg, Knox County, and Illinois history. Questions about the materials? Visit the archives page or contact Emily at

Originally published in The Burg.

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