Phoenix Public Library celebrates 125th anniversary

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The Phoenix Public Library system is celebrating its 125th anniversary. On June 21, 1898, the “Friday Club” opened the first Phoenix Public Library location in two upstairs rooms of the Fleming Building at Washington Street and First Avenue. This was the result of 14 women recognizing the need for Phoenix, incorporated as a city in 1881, to have a free library.

In 1901, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill allowing a tax to support free libraries, qualifying Phoenix to have a donated library building from Andrew Carnegie. The Carnegie Free Library at 11th Avenue and Washington Street was opened in February of 1908 and served as the primary location until 1952.

It was replaced by the original central library, constructed on property donated by the Heard family at Central Avenue and McDowell Road. In 1995, the current flagship Burton Barr Central Library was opened. Lee Franklin, Community Relations Manager for Phoenix Public Library, joined Arizona Horizon to discuss the history of the library, the services offered and how the use of the library has changed over the years.

Initially, the Burton Barr Central Library was a bit controversial because of the design. It is fondly referred to as a “toaster,” Franklin said.

“Many of the architectural elements of Burton Barr honor, recognize and incorporate the summer solstice that happens on, ironically, June 21,” Franklin said. There are a lot of features that are at their most prominent on June 21.

How has the library handled the age of the internet?

The library has handled it like a champ, according to Franklin.

“We have 17 total locations now, and at all of our locations we offer, for many members of our community, their access to the internet and their access to computers. So what is the same today as it was in 1898 is that people can turn to the library to find answers to whatever it is that they’re seeking and know that it’s for everybody. They can come in and find information that they know is vetted and trustworthy,” Franklin said.

The library has adapted with the age of technology and continues to provide services through various ways that suit the needs of the community.

Lee Franklin, Community Relations Manager for Phoenix Public Library

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