History of the Library

A brief history.

The Grand Rapids Public Library, located in Grand Rapids, MI, was founded in 1871 and was originally located within the Grand Rapids City Hall. In 1904, the library moved to the Ryerson Building which served as a permanent home for the library. The building was a gift from arts and education benefactor, and native son, Martin A. Ryerson Jr. In 1967, the library expanded to more than double in size.

A successful bond proposal in Grand Rapids in September 1997 triggered a $31.5 million, seven-building library improvement and expansion campaign. Four existing branch libraries were renovated, three new facilities were developed to replace antiquated and non-accessible facilities, and the Main Library, including the historic Ryerson building, was renovated. In January, 2001, renovation on the Main Library began that forced it to operate out of a nearby warehouse for nearly 2 years. Since the 1967 expansion, the original Ryerson building was mostly closed off to patrons and served to house staff offices and the historical archives. The renovation turned the Ryerson building back into a public area and citizens of Grand Rapids could once again use the original stairway and doors to enter the library. The Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation raised $8.5 million towards the $31.5 million total. As part of this capital campaign, the 1967 addition was renamed the Keeler wing, in honor of a $1.2 million gift from Mike and Mary Ann Keeler. The renovation also opened up the Ryerson and Keeler wings to one another, creating a center “atrium” that allows visitors to see more clearly the layout and how the two buildings are joined. The renovation of the downtown Main Library was complete in April 2003.

In October 2004, the Grand Rapids Public Library celebrated their 100th year in the Ryerson building with a series of free programs. The highlight of the event was the unveiling of a cornerstone box and its contents. The copper box, unearthed earlier that summer from the Ryerson building cornerstone, was on display. The documents placed inside provided a glimpse of what life was like at the turn-of-the-century in Grand Rapids and the people who worked at the library.