The Oldest Independent Black Library in the US

Did you know the first African American public library opened in Louisville, KY, in 1905?

Over a century later, the Western Library in Louisville, KY, still provides valuable services to its community.

One of the invaluable aspects of continuing to honor and share Black history in the US is finding treasures that broke barriers and helped provide opportunities that were previously nonexistent for Blacks. Many of those treasures are historical, but there are others that are still alive and well. That includes the Western Library in Louisville, KY.

This library was the first independent library opened for Black patrons in the early 1900s, a time when Blacks were segregated and kept out of public libraries, and no library worker was willing to open the doors for Black community members. Western Library not only provided library services but was also one of the earliest educational training grounds for Black people interested in library careers — again, at a time when those career opportunities were often closed to them, especially in segregated states.

The Western Library was created after a free public library system opened in Louisville in 1902, but it wasn’t available to Black members of the community. Among many Black leaders, the principal of the local high school, Albert Meyzeek, was concerned that his Black students didn’t have access to the types of reference and reading materials that White students did. He and other Black leaders pressed the city government to commit to providing equitable library services and materials for all.


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The city finally agreed, and Andrew Carnegie pledged funds to construct the library building. Until it was complete, the Western Library operated in three rooms in a private home in a Black neighborhood. But once the Carnegie building was ready in 1905, the library moved in and has remained there since.

The library is still in the same location and continues to pursue its mission of both providing access and services to Black patrons and training future generations of Black library workers. The latter mission was the focus of the Rev. Thomas F. Blue, a librarian who was passionate about ensuring more Black people would have the opportunity to study the library field and carry it forward.

His first efforts involved the youngest readers. He set up a children’s department and created a robust schedule of story hours, a reading club, and other entertainment that proved attractive to children. He also helped create the Douglass Debating Club for high school boys to learn how to research various points and engage in vigorous debate on those points. Many of the debate team members went on to be accepted at highly regarded universities.


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Besides providing a place for reading and learning that was fully accessible to Black people, the Western Library has also become an archive for African American history and literature, including numerous documents from Rev. Blue.

Today, the Western Library is still as active, vibrant, and beloved as it was when it first opened. Library staff are working to digitize the archives to make them available to a wider audience. The library’s location in a lower-income area means it’s a valuable resource for patrons needing access to wifi and computers to search for jobs. The library provides one-on-one reading and computer tutoring to help them.

The building was extensively renovated and reopened in 2012 with a revamped children’s area, a new teen space, additional computers, and the addition of the African American Archives Reading Room. More than one hundred years after opening, it still strives — and succeeds — to make reading, research, and education accessible to all its patrons.



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