The Miami-Dade Public Library System has a long, rich history that traces back more than 100 years. Throughout this time, the Library System has grown from two small community libraries to a system that includes 48 branches and four bookmobiles - all designed to foster curiosity and discovery.
During the 1940s through the 1960s, the Library System flourished as it began to redefine itself as a true public service entity. One of the most critical times in our history was during the 1970s when the Decade of Progress Bond initiative was passed. The bonds gave the Library System the opportunity to build new facilities and experience a boom in growth. After this period of capital development, it wasn’t until 2001 when the system would once again increase the number of branches through its Capital Plan initiative. The initiative made way for the development of 18 new libraries.
Today, the Miami-Dade Public Library System is one of the most recognized systems in the country and serves a large and very diverse population. It continues to meet the needs and the demands of our community, consistently delivering Five-Star customer service every day.
The Miami-Dade Public Library System traces its origins to the late 19th century when the Lemon City Library and Improvement Association opened a community reading room in the home of Mrs. Cornelia Keys on April 7, 1894. The ladies of the Pine Needles Club established the first subscription reading room in Cocoanut Grove (original spelling) on June 15, 1895. In 1900, the Cocoanut Grove Library Association was incorporated and in 1901, Miami-Dade County’s first library building was built in that community. The Lemon City Library and Improvement Association built a public library made out of Dade County pine which was dedicated on May 10, 1902.
The City of Miami’s Library was founded by the Ladies’ Afternoon Club, later the Woman’s Club of Miami. By 1905, the Club was trying to provide a public reading room for its collection of books. The Club had no permanent home until 1913 when Henry Flagler donated a parcel of property. His gift of land for the construction of a clubhouse contained a proviso that a public reading room be maintained in the building. Reliable financial support for the library was a continuing problem and in 1915 the Miami City Commission was persuaded to support the library and allocated $50 each month to its support. This downtown location was later sold and the Miami Women’s Club erected a building where the Flagler Memorial Library was established. By 1925, the neighborhoods of Coconut Grove and Lemon City had been annexed into the City of Miami. The City’s first bookmobile was proudly pictured in The Miami Herald on January 5, 1928.
The first public library serving the Black community was the Dunbar Branch - established on March 14, 1938 by the Friendship Garden Club with assistance from the Miami Women’s Club. While the Dunbar Branch was being used, the Friendship Garden Club and the Washington Heights Library Association raised funds to build a new library. The City of Miami appropriated the remainder of the money to build on land donated by Black philanthropist Dana A. Dorsey. The Dorsey Memorial Library opened on August 13, 1941 under the supervision of the Miami Public Library’s Head Librarian. This was the first public library building owned by the City of Miami.
The City of Miami thus had several community libraries receiving various amounts of financial support from public funds.
In 1942, these libraries were brought together to form a single public library system, governed by a Board of Trustees and administered by a Head Librarian. A new main library building had been proposed for Bayfront Park in downtown Miami as early as 1938, but the proposal was not realized until a decade later. Miamians began using their new library in Bayfront Park on July 2, 1951.
The following years brought a number of new neighborhood libraries, and the closing and consolidation of others. In April 1957, the subscription library in Coconut Grove became part of the system and eight new branches were constructed over the next eight years. In December 1965, the City of Miami and Metropolitan Dade County agreed that the City of Miami would provide public library service to unincorporated Dade County and to those municipalities that did not provide their own library service. At this time, two existing municipal libraries, Coral Gables and South Miami, entered into the agreement with Metropolitan Dade County and were included in the new public library system. A year later the Miami Springs Library was added to the system. Library service to the unincorporated area was provided by four bookmobiles.
On November 1, 1971, the City of Miami transferred its library system to Metropolitan Dade County which created a new Department of Libraries. While some municipalities elected to continue providing public library service through their own municipal operations, the City of Homestead’s public library joined the County system on January 1, 1975 and the Hispanic Branch (Rama Hispánica) opened on August 2, 1976 in Little Havana.
The Miami-Dade Public Library System was born! On July 22, 1971, Metro-Dade County Resolution #42709 transferred the Miami Public Library System into the Miami-Dade Public Library System effective November 1, 1971.
Mr. Edward Sintz was the Library Director under the City of Miami Library System and continued on as director following the merge. Mr. Sintz served as Director until 1989.
Citizens voted in favor of the Decade of Progress Bond Program - a $553 million initiative which made possible many important local projects including the construction of 13 new libraries.
The Carol City and Concord Branch Libraries were opened.
The System became a Cooperating Collection of the Foundation Center. The Foundation Center is the nation’s leading authority on philanthropy, connecting non-profits and grant makers, supporting them with tools they can use and information they can trust. The Foundation Center resources are available today at the Main Library.
During a Friends’ fundraising event, American journalist, writer, feminist, and environmentalist, Marjory Stoneman Douglas appeared and read from her works.
On January 1st, the Lily Lawrence Bow Library in Homestead joined the System.
The 65+ Club (now known as Connections: Library Service for the Homebound) began service. Connections: Library Service for the Homebound provides materials by mail to individuals of all ages who are unable to visit the library in person due to chronic illness, physical disability and frailties of age.
The Talking Books Library opened at the Little River Branch Library. Talking Books loans Braille and audio books and magazines, along with a player, free by mail to persons who have difficulty reading or using printed books and other materials.
The first Hispanic Branch Library opened and a groundbreaking was held for the future West Dade Regional Library.
South Dade Regional and Model City Branch Libraries opened.
Groundbreakings for the future North Dade Regional and South Miami Branch Libraries were held.
Florida Senate Bill 770 was passed. This law codified the confidentiality of book circulation records.
Groundbreakings for the future Kendall and Homestead Branches were held. The South Miami Branch Library opened.
During the Friends’ Annual Dinner, Isaac Bashevis Singer, the 1978 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, was honored.
The Northeast Branch Library opened and a groundbreaking was held for the future Miami Lakes/Palm Springs North Branch.
Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD) were installed at the Main Library.
A groundbreaking was held for the Cultural Center Plaza, home to the new Main Library.
Three libraries opened in the communities of West Dade, Kendall and Homestead.
Two branches opened - Miami Lakes/Palm Springs and Coral Reef Branch Libraries.
The Library System became a United States Patent and Trademark Depository Library.
The new Main Library – located in the Cultural Center Plaza – opened.
Key Biscayne Branch opened.
The Library System grew when three libraries in the City of Miami Beach joined the Miami-Dade Public Library System.
During the November election, a referendum was passed which established a Book Trust. The Book Trust provided additional dollars to supplement library materials.
Pope John Paul II visited Miami and a mass was held outside of the Main Library on the Cultural Center Plaza.
The Library’s first computer-based catalog was implemented for staff and patrons.
Ronald Kozlowski was appointed the new Director of Libraries.
A groundbreaking was held for the West Kendall Regional Library.
First Lady Barbara Bush visited with Library Director Ronald S. Kozlowski and others at the unveiling of the first billboard in the country to encourage literacy.
West Kendall Regional and North Central Branch Libraries opened.
Purvis Young’s mural "Everyday Life," which adorns the Culmer/Overtown Branch Library, was repainted and brought back to life!
The Civic Center Branch – a porta kiosk library - the world’s first library to be built on an elevated transit system opened.
On August 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew swept through Miami-Dade County destroying the West Kendall and South Dade Regional Libraries and the Coral Reef Branch.
Responding to the community’s needs following the devastation of Hurricane Andrew, the Library System converted the 29-foot Artmobile into the South Dade Story Express. The mobile unit toured South Dade entertaining youth of all ages!
After extensive renovations following Hurricane Andrew, South Dade Regional, West Kendall Regional, Homestead and Coral Reef Branch Libraries reopened.
Library Director Kozlowski resigned and Mary Somerville was named Interim Director. 'Treasures of Sacred Civilizations: Life and Art in Ancient Peru,' a historical exhibition featuring pre-Colombian artifacts opened and was inaugurated by Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori during the 1994 Summit of the Americas.
The American Library Association held its 113th annual conference in Miami.
Mary Somerville was officially named Director of Libraries.
As part of the Friends’ fundraising efforts, a book signing by boxing great Muhammad Ali was held at the Main Library, which also hosted a photographic exhibition on his life.
The Library System continued to connect patrons to the web by expanding Internet access and completing re-wiring and cabling to all facilities; This would provide the backbone for a new 21st century automated system.
The System was the only library in Florida to receive a grant for $225,000 from the Gates Foundation which brought PCs to the public.
Mary Sommerville was elected as President of the American Libraries Association (ALA). ALA provides for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services.
The new and improved Allapattah Branch reopened.
The library’s website – www.mdpls.org was officially launched!
Raymond Santiago was appointed as the new Director of Libraries.
The Main Library hosted the archeological exhibition "Sacred Traditions of Lost Civilizations: Legacies of Bolivia’s Archeological Past" which featured two mummies and hundreds of artifacts dating back to 1200 B.C. which were never before exhibited outside of Bolivia.
In celebration of Andrew Carnegie’s centennial anniversary, the Library System received a $500,000 grant which was used to update the System’s language instruction, citizenship preparation, basic skills, and bilingual materials.
The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners approved an increase in the Library’s millage rate which went from .321 to .351 - it was the largest increase in a decade. As a result of the millage increase, small and medium branches enhanced services and standardized hours.
The Doral Branch Library opened.
The Library System commemorated its 30th anniversary with a year-long celebration – "Cultivated Under the Sun!"
The Country Walk Branch Library – a storefront leased facility – opened.
The System’s Capital Plan was approved, which led to the development of 18 new libraries.
The Ask-A-Librarian email reference service began.
The S.M.A.R.T. (Science, Math and Reading) Tutoring program was inaugurated.
The first Art of Storytelling International Exchange Partner - the Jamaica Library Service in Kingston presented workshops on children’s librarianship and multicultural storytelling to staff and guests.
The Hialeah Gardens Branch Library opened and new Mobile Libraries (Bookmobiles) began operations.
Computer Labs at South Dade and North Dade Regional Libraries were opened.
Director Raymond Santiago was chosen as Librarian of the Year by Library Journal.
The Naranja, Tamiami and Lakes of the Meadow Branches opened.
A dedication at the Main Library for the Helen Muir Florida Collection was held.
The Culmer/Overtown, Edison Center and Concord Branches reopened.
The Library’s catalog was upgraded from a character-based to a graphical-interface which made for a more user friendly system.
The new Miami Beach Regional and California Club Branch Libraries opened.
The West Flagler Branch reopened after extensive renovations.
The Borrow-by-Mail service which offers patrons the convenience of having books and other materials delivered to their homes for a small fee was launched.
The Golden Glades Branch Library - the first library to be built since 1985 - opened.
The Opa-locka Branch opened.
First Lady Laura Bush awarded the Library System with the 2008 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation's highest honor for museums and libraries. The award pays tribute to outstanding institutions that make exceptional contributions to their communities.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped awarded the Talking Books Library Service with the 2008 Network Subregional Library of the Year award.
The Library System implemented its Five-Star Customer Service campaign.
As a result of the Capital Plan initiative, the Sunset, International Mall, Kendale Lakes, Virrick Park and Pinecrest Branch Libraries opened.
The new 15,000 square-foot Naranja Branch Library opened.
In an effort to aid in the development of early literacy skills among children, ages zero to five, the Library launched Reading Ready, an early literacy program aimed at parents, families and caregivers.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the future Arcola Lakes Branch Library was held.
The Art of Storytelling celebrated its 10th anniversary and a record number of people – more than 12,000 – took part in the celebration.
The new Hispanic Branch Library opened making it the first library east of the Mississippi to have an affordable housing complex for previously homeless families built above it.
The Palmetto Bay Branch Library opened and the Shenandoah Branch Library reopened after major renovations.