150 years after its humble beginning, the Kalamazoo Public Library has lots to celebrate

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

The Kalamazoo Public Library traces its origins to 1860 when it inherited 123 volumes from a failed township library.
It was a 2,800-volume school library before its collection was made available for the first time to the general public in October of 1872. Before then, it was open for a single hour each week and its use was limited to students in the Kalamazoo Public Schools district and their parents, according to information provided by the library.
Kalamazoo Public Library Director Ryan Wieber is set to take listeners back to what it was like to live in Kalamazoo in the 1870s and explore the role the library played in the lives of residents at that time during a Dec. 1 program downtown.But with a focus on early childhood literacy, it grew quickly from a place with a few shelves of books to an institution with five buildings -- its central location at 315 Rose St., along with branches in the Washington Square, Eastwood, and Northside neighborhoods as well as Oshtemo Township. It also has a continually growing collection of books and other resources, improved technology, and an experienced staff that is constantly planning for the future.
“It’s not often that an organization hits the big 1-5-0,” says Director Ryan Wieber. “So we are taking the time to celebrate this year with activities, programs, and opportunities to reflect on the library’s history and to also shine a light on the current ways the library provides meaning for so many today through its collections, services, and engagement.”
Among the many services the library has provided or continues to provide:
• The library has served as a depository of public documents since 1907 and it established a Local History Department in 1928 to preserve information about Kalamazoo’s origins.
With a focus on early childhood literacy, the Kalamazoo Public Library grew quickly from a place with a few shelves of books to an institution with five buildings.• The first KPL bookmobile got rolling in 1956 and was able to carry up to 4,000 books to outlying areas of the city and school districts that did not have school libraries then.
• The Library of Michigan officially recognized the formation of the Kalamazoo Public Library on April 2, 1990. That made KPL the first district library in the state of Michigan.
• KPL’s online catalog (CAROLIN) was launched in 1991, replacing an old manual card catalog.
• Its website went live in 1996 to provide contact information and other library services information.
• KPL launched its Ready to Read early literacy program in 1997.
• KPL was the first public library in the nation to loan digital audio players in 2001.
• KPL was named Library of the Year by Library Journal in 2002.
• The popular Reading Together program, which invites the whole community to come together to read the same book, began in 2003.
• In 2018 KPL began partnering with Kalamazoo Public Schools to launch OneCard to ensure that every KPS student had access to library services.
• KPL became a fine-free library in 2020 to remove a major barrier to library services.
• KPL launched Library of Things in 2020 to provide useful items such as cooking appliances, electronics and more for checkout.
• In 2020, Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo Public Schools, The Kalamazoo Promise, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and the City of Kalamazoo partnered to provide Wi-Fi hotspots with unlimited Internet service for one year to hundreds of households in Kalamazoo. Known as Digital Access For All (DAFA), the partnership was formed to address Internet access inequities in Kalamazoo. 
The Kalamazoo Public Library has a number of events planned to commemorate its 150th anniversary. According to Farrell Howe, marketing and communications manager for the library, they will include feature stories from patrons and KPL staff members, and opportunities for community members to participate in discussions about future services at the library. More information is available here.

The events include:
WHAT: Walking Tour of Mountain Home Cemetery
WHEN: When: 2 to 3:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 2, at Mountain Home Cemetery, 1402 W. Main St.
Among the many familiar names who have found a final resting place at Mountain Home Cemetery are some who played important roles in the history of Kalamazoo and in the early years of the Kalamazoo Public Library. Lynn Houghton, regional history curator of the Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collections, is set to lead a 90-minute tour focusing on the cemetery’s history, architecture, design, and symbolism.
WHAT: Step Back in History: KPL at 150
WHEN: 5 to 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7, at the Central Library, 315 S. Rose St.
The library’s 150th anniversary is to be celebrated during the October Art Hop at the library’s central branch on Rose Street. Historical photo displays, an interactive digital timeline, and KPL staff members dressed in period costumes will be on hand. The Mall City Harmonizers barbershop chorus and the Sweetbriar Sisters ukulele trio will also make musical performances, sponsored by the Connecting Chords Music Festival/Michigan Festival of Sacred Music. There will also be commemorative giveaways and refreshments. Library Director Ryan Wieber and special guests will raise a toast at 6 pm.
WHAT: 150th Anniversary Coloring and Donuts Celebration
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, at all KPL locations
Stop by any KPL locations and celebrate the anniversary with coloring and eating donuts. Visitors will be able to color local artists’ and illustrators’ designs in a commemorative coloring book to keep. Donuts and juice are to be provided.
WHAT: Building a Public Library in Kalamazoo 1893
WHEN: 6 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 20, at the Central Library, 315 South Rose St.
The public is invited to take a closer look at the first library building, including those who designed it, those who built it, what it looked like, and what it meant to the community.
WHAT: A History of the Oshtemo Branch Library
WHEN: 6 to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the Oshtemo Branch Library, 7265 W. Main St.
The origins of the Oshtemo Branch Library and its near 60-year history will be explored. The ranch opened in 1964 as an experimental cooperative effort between Oshtemo Township and the Kalamazoo Public Library system.
WHAT: ARTbreak: Kalamazoo Public Library at 150
WHEN: Noon to 1 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, 314 South Park St.
KPL’s Local History Librarian Ryan Gage will reveal the history between the library and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts during a two-decade span from the late 1920s to 1947. At that time, the library, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts all operated under the Kalamazoo Public School system.
WHAT: Kalamazoo in the 1870s
WHEN: 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 1, at the Central Library, 315 South Rose St.
KPL Director Ryan Wieber is set to take listeners back to what it was like to live in Kalamazoo in the 1870s and explore the role the library played in the lives of residents at that time.
Additional events, open houses, celebrations and are being planned. Information about them are to be posted here.
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Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.