Library Study of Kansas City Public Library

A History of the

Kansas City Public Library

from 1873-1920

Kimberly Rainey Woolery

San Jose State University

Prof. Elizabeth Wrenn-Estes

LIBR 280-12

May 14, 2012

The Kansas City Public Library has a rich and interesting history, from its start as a small shelf of books, to the multi-branch institution it is today.   This study will cover the history of the Kansas City Public Library from its inception in 1873 through 1920, as well as touch briefly on the library building today.  The study will include its creation, board, staff, and services.


Governing Board
The Modern Library


Kansas City through 1873

In 1873, Kansas City, then know as the City of Kansas, had only been an officially incorporated city in Missouri for 20 years.  After Missouri was incorporated into the Union in 1821, all the Native American tribes were forcefully relocated to southern Kansas.  Following this relocation, the French trader François Gesseau Chouteau set up a trading post along the Missouri river that was known as the village of the Kansa.  After a few years, this post, by then known as Chouteau’s, was moved to higher ground to avoid the frequent flooding.  In 1831, a group of Mormons purchased several acres and set up a settlement, but conflict between the group and Missouri residents soon led to them being expelled in 1833 (ByCityLight, n.d.; “History of Kansas City,” 2012; “Kansas City, Missouri,” 2012).

That same year, John McCoy established West Port as a trading post along the Santa Fe Trail. It was located in the hills three miles south of the river.   The name refers to the fact that it was the last place for settlers to get supplies before heading west along the Oregon, Santa Fe, and California trails.  A year later founded the settlement of Westport Landing as a landing point for West Port.  This founding has led to him being known as the “father of Kansas City” (ByCityLight, n.d.; “History of Kansas City,” 2012; “Kansas City, Missouri,” 2012).

After the founding, a group of investors known as the Kansas Town Company began to settle in the area.  In 1850, the landing was officially incorporated as the Town of Kansas (ByCityLight, n.d).  In 1853, the area was expanded, renamed the City of Kansas, and a mayor was elected to serve the 2,500 citizens. (“Kansas City, Missouri,” 2012).

During the years prior to the Civil War, Missouri was a slave state, but the population was divided over the issue.  In 1854, with the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska act, states were officially allowed to decide if they would allow slavery.  Because of this, many pro-slavery advocates began to cross the border from The City of Kansas into Kansas state in order to encourage Kansas to adopt slavery. The group elected a pro-slavery legislature to advance their cause.   Soon many abolitionists also started moving into the area, declared that government to be illegitimate, and elected their own legislature forming the town of Lawrence, Kansas.  In 1856, a group of pro-slavery advocates burned Lawrence.  In response, an abolitionist rode through the City of Kansas, freeing slaves and burning down plantations.  These acts ignited what would come to be known as the Border Wars or Bleeding Kansas.  Violence in the area became so terrible that the Governor of Missouri requested that President Buchanan send in federal troops to quell it (“History of Kansas City,” 2012; “Kansas City, Missouri,” 2012).

During the Civil War, the City of Kansas was also the site of much fighting, including the First and Second Battle of Independence and the Battle of Westport.  Following the Civil War, the city was still a popular area of pro-Southern sympathizers.  It was at this time that the anti-hero myth of Jesse James was promoted by an anti-Republican Reconstruction newspaperman, John Newman Edwards (“History of Kansas City,” 2012; “Kansas City, Missouri,” 2012).  Jesse James spent several years moving around the City of Kansas and robbing banks, stagecoaches, and the fairgrounds (“Jesse James,” 2012).

In 1867, the Kansas City School District was created to serve 2,150 students (Kansas City Public Schools, 2012).  Soon after, the city was chosen for Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad Bridge, and upon its completion in 1869, the population and economy boomed.  The stockyards in the area grew and by 1871, Kansas City was second only to Chicago in livestock production (“History of Kansas City,” 2012; “Kansas City, Missouri,” 2012).  In 1873, this population had reached 40,740 (Union Historical Company, 1881).


In November 1873, the Kansas City Board of Education treasurer J. V. C. Karnes first proposed the resolution to establish a connection between the schools and library:

“Resolved, That there be established in connection with our schools a library for the use of the officers, teachers and scholars of the public schools of this district, to be known as the Public Library of Kansas City.

“Resolved, That an annual appropriation be made, of such sums as the Board of Education may deem expedient, to be used exclusively as a library fund, and that all money received from any other source in aid of the library be added thereto, and the treasurer be required to keep a separate account with such library fund, and that all orders drawn upon such fund, designate that they were given for such library purposes.

“Resolved, That there be a standing committee on the library who shall be charged with the management and control thereof, subject to the supervision of this board” (Whitney, 1908, p. 351-352).

The members of the board approved the resolution and voted to host a series of public lectures to fund the creation the library.    The founders consisted of president Henry A. White, secretary James Craig, treasurer J. V. C. Karnes, C. A. Chace, T. K. Hanna and Henry R. Seeger.  They were a group of white, upper-middle class, educated Christian men.  As members of the Board of Education, the education of the city was important to them.  They, along with the newly hired superintendent, James Greenwood, felt that the establishment of a library was important to the educational development of the city (Christian, 2010; Whitney, 1908).  Greenwood in particular though a library was “a fountain from which all might drink and in drinking not be impoverished” (Christian, 2010).

They had high hopes for the library, wishing it to be seen as an educational and cultural center of the city.  However, the library had a very humble beginning.  A single shelf of books, purchased for $8, was all that the original library consisted of (Whitney, 1908; Christian, 2010).


Despite the purpose of the library being stated as a collaboration between the public library and the schools, it was not available for any student or member of the public to use for free or in an unlimited capacity.  The patrons were those who could afford it.  In order to check out books from the library, patrons had to pay a subscription fee.  The fee was $2 for a year or $10 for lifetime with the ability to check out one book at a time for up to two weeks (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.e; Christian, 2010).  It differed from a true public library in that aspect, though it was still considered a circulation library rather than a private subscription or social library.  Rather than being available only to members of a club or select social or business group, the service was available to any member of the public who could afford it.   However, many individuals would not have been able to afford this fee and, therefore, would not have been able to check out books from the library.  Though $2 or even $10 seems like a small amount of money, this would translate to roughly $38 and $191 today.  Though subscription information is no longer available, most likely it would have been other educated, middle class, white people who were able to afford the fee.

This subscription service was only in place for 22 years of the library’s existence, however.  This change came about through the efforts of the librarian at the time, Carrie Westlake Whitney.  In 1890, the Board voted to allow the third and fourth year (junior and senior) high school students to be allowed free access to the library.  At that time, 140 tickets – or library cards – were issued to the students.  In 1892, this was extended to all high school students and 837 tickets were issued.  In 1893, the middle school students were allowed access, as well.  This resulted in 2400 tickets being issued to white students and 158 to black students.  This free use resulted in a large increase in library circulation.  A total of 19,550 more books were circulated in fiscal year 1894 than the previous fiscal year.  In 1898, the library became free for use to all citizens of Kansas City.  Following this, it was again noted that there was a marked increase in circulation, as well as the need for an expansion to the recently built library and the building of branch libraries (Whitney, 1908).

The increase in circulation and need for expansion suggests that the city had a large portion of individuals who were interested in using the library, but unable or unwilling to do so while it was a subscription service.  The library patrons were no longer simply those who could afford it, but it was truly free for all citizens.  Though the student card distribution suggests that the patrons were still predominantly white, the library also distributed cards to black students, creating a more diverse patronage.

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Since the library was established to be collaboration between the schools and a public library, the first library location was that of a shelf of books located in the superintendent’s office. The bookcase and eight volumes of the New American Encyclopedia were purchased from the head of the board of education, Col. W. E. Sheffield, for $8.00 (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.e). It was then placed in the office of the Superintendent at the Central High School at 11th and Locust (The Paseo Alliance, 2009). The superintendent’s office moved to a new location at the Richmond Sage Building at 8th and Main in 1874. It was again moved in 1878 to the Piper Building at 546 Main Street.

Library at 8th and Oak

In 1884, the library was moved out of the Superintendent’s office and into a room on 2nd floor of a building at the corner of 8th and Walnut (The Paseo Alliance, 2009). The library did not have its own building until 1889, when the Main Library was constructed at the corner of 8th and Oak. The land was rented for $300 a year.  The building itself was a small, simple storefront building constructed for $11,100. (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.c; Kansas City Public Library, n.d.e; Whitney, 1908).

The library soon outgrew this location, and, in 1897, it moved yet again. A new building was constructed at 9th and Locust for $200,000. It remained at the location until the 1950s. The building was much larger and more grand than its previous location.

Postcard of the Library at 9th and Locust


            Descriptions of the layout of the first freestanding location at 8th and Oak could not be found.  However, The Kansas City Library website states the new location at 9th and Locust was an “economic and architectural achievement” (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.c).  It featured columns, a grand rotunda, several murals and paintings covering the walls.  It was a two story structure that not only housed the library collection, but had several reference rooms, a museum, a lecture hall, an art gallery, and a bindery.  In her presentation about the first librarian, Shirley Christian (2010) described the layout of the building:

“It had two stories plus a daylight basement, with ionic pillars and balustrades, and the names of beloved writers around the top under the eaves…A broad vestibule led to the rotunda, at the back of which was the delivery desk. Opening into the Rotunda were the reading room, children’s room, public room, stack room, reference room, catalogue room, reception room, and offices for the librarian and reference librarian.”

The National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form from 1976 lists a detailed description of the layout.   It was designed in the Second Renaissance Revival style.  The original building was a U-shape design measuring 132 x 144 feet and two stories tall.  In 1918, there was again a need for more space and the building was expanded, creating a rectangle measuring 132 x 222 feet and making it slightly more than three stories tall.  After the addition, the library contained three doorways for public use.

The interior contained a sub-basement, three floors for use, and an attic.  The sub-basement held storage, the heating equipment, and a garage.  The attic was unfinished and also was used for storage.

The original ground floor contained the museums, bindery, some of the stacks, and more storage.  After the addition, the reading room was relocated to the ground floor and given its own entrance, as well.

The first floor contained the two main entrances opening into the grand rotunda.  This rotunda contained a large, mosaic fireplace.  Towards the back of the rotunda was a desk with a screen behind which the library attendants worked.  Surrounding the rotunda were several rooms – a reading room, the cataloging room, the art room, the ladies room, two reference rooms, the children’s room, and the library offices.  More stacks were housed in the entire northwest wing of this floor.  These stacks could be closed off from the rest of the building by an iron door in the case of a fire. After the reading room was moved in 1918, the reference rooms were enlarged and the stacks expanded.

The original second floor contained the offices of the Board of Education, board rooms, the newspaper room, an art gallery, the women’s club, a high school reference room, a lecture hall, and more stacks.  With the addition, the art gallery and Board of Education offices were expanded.

The library’s Missouri Valley Special Collections contains photos of the library as it appeared in its early years.

The Rotunda

The Stacks

Reception Room

Children’s Room

Reference Area

Reading Room

Writing Room

Women’s Club

Reflections on the Building

In the early years of the library, the working conditions would have been less than ideal.  After being hired, the first appointed librarian spent three years attempting to run a library out of the office of the superintendent.  It’s easy to imagine that this would have afforded some difficulties, not the least of which would be two individuals sharing an office to run two separate organizations.  Additionally, the librarian would have had to work next to the individual who had previously been in charge of the operations.

The growth of the library also resulted in several moves in a short period of time.  This would have required the librarian to reorganize the library operations to fit the new location with each move.  It also meant that the addition of new rooms and services would require her to expand her duties, as well as adjust to working with a larger staff.  Though the early librarians did not experience the harsh working conditions that many did, the ability to be flexible and innovative would have been essential in order to navigate the challenges inherent in starting the library, growing the collection, and the large number of changes that occurred over just a few years.

The readiness of the city to build two new buildings for the library in less than 10 years time attests to the importance the city placed on the existence of the library.  It was seen as a cultural center and a way to show that Kansas City, though in the Midwest, could be just as civilized as Eastern cities (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.c).   The city and board was willing to support the library during its rapid growth and acquire the funds needed for buildings to accommodate that growth.

The beautiful design of the library at 9th and Locust was a testament to just how much the city valued the idea of the library as a cultural center.  Though functional, the building was far from utilitarian.  The building was very formal and very austere.   The city chose to create a building that reflected their ideals of what a library should be.

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The library received its funding from a variety of places, though it was never the recipient of a Carnegie Grant. In the early years, funding was spotty. The funding for the original shelves and books was taken from the profit from a public lecture series put on by the Board of Education. Two years later, the library received an additional $490 from a failed attempt to establish a Ladies Centennial Association. Donations from citizens of Kansas City were also received. A record from the board meeting in December of 1881 lists the donations to date:

Taken from Kansas City Missouri: Its History and Its People by Carrie Westlake Whitney

The library continued to receive donations in the years to come. In 1896, George Sheidley, a wealthy cattleman, bequeathed $25,000 to the board to purchase books for the library. In thanks, a bust of Sheidley was placed in the rotunda (Whitney, 1908).

The library also received funding from the city itself. In 1883, an amendment to the laws governing the school system by the Missouri Legislature was made that allowed the appropriation of up to $2,500 annually for the libraries. The limit was later lifted (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.e; Whitney, 1908). For the building of the library at 9th and Locust, the city borrowed $200,000 in bonds payable in New York (Whitney, 1908).

Additionally, the library was not originally a free service. From 1876 until 1898, the library operated as a subscription services. Patrons were able to purchase yearly subscriptions for $2 or lifetime subscriptions for $10 (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.e). This subscription gave the patrons the ability to check out one book at a time for up to two weeks (Christian, 2010).

Despite the appropriations, subscriptions, and donations, the need for more library materials was often more than the library could maintain in the early years. The library also solicited donations of books. In 1881, the plans the newly hired librarian had for the growth of the library required greatly expanding the collection. To help, the school principal took a horse and cart door to door to collect book donations (Christian, 2010).

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In the 138 years of the library’s history, there have only been 15 head librarians, four of whom held interim positions. The first library supervisor position was held by James Mickleborough Greenwood (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.e).  Greenwood was superintendent of the Kansas City Public School system from 1874 until 1913 (Memorial Library, 2012).  As the library was housed in the Superintendent’s office, Greenwood was appointed as both Superintendent and supervisor of the library at the same time.  He held the position of Supervisor until 1881 when he appointed Carrie Westlake Whitney as the first librarian, with a starting salary of $30 a month (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.c).  This salary would increase to $183 by the end of her tenure (Whitney, 1908)

Carrie Westlake Whitney


Whitney was born in 1854 in Fayette County, Virginia to Wellington and Helen Van Waters Westlake.  She had at least one sister and two brothers, though it is not known if she had any other siblings. In 1861, her family moved to Sedalia, Missouri.  Little else is known of her early life or education, other than that she was educated “privately” in Sedalia and that she attended schools in St. Louis (Christian, 2010).

On June 1, 1875, Whitney married E.W. Judson (“Carrie E. Westlake, 1875”).  There is no record of how or when this marriage ended.  However, in 1885 she married James Steele Whitney.  He died from tuberculosis after 5 years of marriage (Christian, 2010).  There’s no record of how she came to live in Kansas City.

Before becoming the librarian of the Kansas City library, Whitney ran a small, private rental library (Magerl, 1999).  When she took the position of public librarian, the library collection numbered 2,000 books and approximately 1,000 government documents, reports, and periodicals.  Whitney pledge to grow the number of subscriptions, enlarge the collection with appropriate selections, and to mold the library itself into an educational center for the readers of Kansas City.  In just two years on the job, she added 1,800 volumes to the collection for a growth of almost three times the rate it had before (Christian, 2010).

Whitney felt very strongly about what a library should be and what type of materials it should house.  She believed that reading should elevate the reader and lamented “trashy” reading.  In the Board of Education Annual Report for 1881, she’s quoted as saying:

“A nation is elevated only as all the people are capable of passing into higher planes of social and intellectual enjoyment. In the man we look for determination, will power, decision of character, firmness, truthfulness, honesty, uprightness, and if he has not these nobler qualities we refuse him our respect; and while these qualities are not exactly the ones that most please us in the child, nevertheless the whole training should be such as to give him strength of character, and a sturdy self –reliance. Every quality that man or woman has is incipient in the child and needs development and exercise. The reader, whether he be a child or an adult, should be made to think as well as feel. Sensational literature is addressed to the feelings, and this is chiefly the reason why it perverts the taste and darkens the judgment” (Christian, 2010)

She often wrote articles on the topic of introducing children to literature at an early age.  She also wrote poems for children herself.  She worked closely with the schools to encourage teachers to look beyond textbooks for lessons and encourage reading among their students.  She also started a program at the public library to allow high school students to have the first free library cards.  She extended this program to younger students a year later.  Four years after that, the library was free to use for all city residents.  She considered her work for children to be her most important contribution (Christian, 2010; Magerl, 1999).

In 1901, she was elected president of the Missouri Library Associations (Magerl, 1999).  She was also active in the American Library Association.  She continued her work in growing the Kansas City Library and her crusade to improve the public’s reading beyond novels, growing the library collection to over 100,000 volumes (Magerl, 1999).  However, not everyone was pleased with her work.  In 1910, after nearly thirty years as head librarian, the board voted to replace her.  They felt that a man would better serve the position and demoted her to co-assistant librarian with her friend, Frances Bishop.  Unsurprisingly, this caused quite a bit of friction between the two assistant librarians and the new head librarian.  After two years, the board voted to terminate Whitney.  They allowed her to “retire” instead of being fired (Christian, 2010; Magerl, 1999; Horner, 2011).

From that time until her death in 1934, she lived basically as a recluse in the house she shared with Bishop.  At the time of her death, newspapers referred to her as the mother of the Kansas City Library.  In a history of Kansas City she published, she, herself, had said “Mrs. Whitney’s biography is the history of the Kansas City Public Library” (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.c).

Frances A.  Bishop

Frances A. Bishop was appointed Assistant Librarian in 1895, after two years as head cataloger (Whitney, 1908). She and Whitney became close friends and ended up sharing a house until Whitney’s death.  No other information could be found for her.

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Governing Board

Until 1988, the library was associated with the school district and, therefore, did not have a board of trustees.  Instead, the Board of Education held that position (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.e).  A photo in the Missouri Valley Collection of the Kansas City Library of the Board of Education members from 1867-1904 identifies the members in 1873 as E. H. Allen, C. Chace, James Craig, T. K. Hanna, J. C. James, J. V. C Karnes, H. R. Seeger, and H. A. White.  White held the position of President, Craig of Secretary, and Karnes of Treasurer (Whitney, 1908)

Board of Education

In addition to their responsibilities as the Board of Education, the board’s library responsibilities included appointing the librarian, seeking funding, acquiring materials, and approving and authorizing all major operations of the library.  The governing laws allowed the board to appoint librarians and assistant librarians, who were required to make an annual report to the board, including in the report the money received by the librarian.  The librarian was also required to provide the board with receipts outlining the number and conditions of the materials in the library.  The board also set the hours of use for the library.  For example, in 1879, it was the board that originally brought forth the resolution to set aside reading rooms with the hours of use as 7 to 10pm every day but Sunday (Whitney, 1908).

Acquiring and approving funding was one of the more important roles of the board.  Board members often appealed to the public for support for the library.  The board was instrumental in changing the Missouri State Legislature to allow for the appropriation of funding for public libraries.  The board also voted on how this funding was to be used, such as in the approval of the building of new libraries (Whitney, 1908).

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One of the first services the library offered was a series of public lectures.  Beginning in 1874, the library sold tickets to the lectures to raise money.  That year, they earned $98.00 to go towards new books (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.e).  When the new library was built in 1897, a lecture hall was included. The library continued hosting lectures, though they were eventually made free.  The lectures are still a feature of the library system today, including a special series lectures hosted over Missouri history by the Missouri Valley Special Collections (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.b)

The early library also offered a reading room for the public beginning in 1879.  When Whitney took over as librarian, improving the reading room was one of her many goals.   When the new library was built in 1897, several large, beautifully furnished reading, newspaper, and writing rooms were included.  Over time, as the library grew, the idea of reading rooms gave way to study rooms that could be reserved (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.d).

In 1897, with the building of the new location, the library started offering several other rooms for use, as well.  The reference rooms were extended to include a room particularly for high school students.  This went along with Whitney’s idea of encouraging library use in youth.  A women’s club was added on the second floor for the use of female patrons.

Children’s rooms were also an important addition.  The early children’s room is vastly different than typical children’s areas today.  Like today, the children’s collection is included in the room, but the atmosphere is very sedated.  There are no toys, activities, or comfortable reading areas.  This picture from the Missouri Valley Special Collections shows children reading quietly at the tables.  The image is not unlike that of the adult reading rooms.

Children in the Children’s Room

In 1901, the library launched its newsletter, The Kansas City Public Library Quarterly.   It’s original purpose was to list new books, publish bibliographies of special subjects, contain announcements about library events, and contain general library news (Whitney, 1908).  This newsletter was discontinued in 1910 (“The Public Library Quarterly” n.d).

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The Modern Library

The library continued to expand in the decades to come.  In 1899, the first branch library was added.  The Westport Branch was added when the Westport area was annexed into the city.  The outlying schools in the area also began to house library sub-stations, which numbered 26 at the beginning of the 20th century (Whitney, 1908).  When the library split from the public school system, those sub-stations were no longer under their purview.

As of today, the Kansas City Public Library has 10 branches, including the Central (main) Branch and the Westport Branch (Kansas City Public Library, 2012).  The Central Branch is now located at 14 West 10th Street, in what was formerly the First National Bank.  The library moved to this location in 2004.  One of the most interesting features of this location is the “Community Bookshelf.”

Community Bookshelf

This façade of 22 books, each measuring 25 feet by 9 feet, covers the parking garage for the library.  The titles were nominated by Kansas City readers and selected by the Board of Trustees (Kansas City Public Library, n.d.a).  The titles are:

  • Kansas City Stories, Volume 1 (listing the following titles on its spine)
    •     Kansas City, Missouri; Its History and Its People 1808-1908 by Carrie Westlake Whitney
    •     Tom’s Town: Kansas City and the Pendergast Legend by William M. Reddig
    •     Goin’ to Kansas City by Nathan W. Pearson
    •     Farm: A Year in the Life of an American Farmer by Richard Rhodes
    •     Mr. Anonymous: The Story of William Volker by Herbert C. Cornuelle
    •     Kansas City, Missouri: An Architectural History by George Ehrlich
    •     Journeys Through Time: A Young Traveler’s Guide to Kansas City’s History by Monroe Dodd
  • Kansas City Stories, Volume 2 (listing the following titles on its spine)
    •     Virgil Thomson, A Reader: Selected Writings, 1924-1984 by Virgil Thomson
    •     Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell
    •     I Was Right On Time by Buck O’Neil
    •     The O’Donnells by Peggy Sullivan
    •     Independence Avenue by Eileen Bluestone
    •     Stella Louella’s Runaway Book by Lisa Campbell Ernst
    •     PrairyErth (A Deep Map) by William Least Heat-Moon
    •     Messages from My Father by Calvin Trillin
  • Children’s Stories (listing the following titles on its spine)
    •     Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
    •     Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
    •     Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
    •     Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess
    •     What a Wonderful World by George Weiss and Bob Thiele
    •     Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    •     The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
    •     M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  • O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
  • Cien Anos de Soledad (100 Years of Solitude) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Republic by Plato
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
  • The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes
  • Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux by Black Elk, as told to John Neihardt
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Journals of the Expedition by Lewis and Clark
  • Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose
  • Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  • Truman by David G. McCullough

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The history of the Kansas City Library shows the evolution of what was considered “public” for many libraries at the time.  The very small, subscription-only library ran by the school board is quite different from how we view libraries today.  With the difficulty modern libraries often face receiving funding from taxes, it is hard to imagine the reaction that would result if the library were to begin charging for its services.  Yet, this was common in the late 19th century.  However, with the help of a very dedicated librarian, the idea of free use was accepted and implemented, and the library became truly public.

Early librarians and library staff faced many challenges.  Building a library from the ground up is a challenge most modern librarians will never face, but Whitney and the Board of Education did just that.  They even went so far as going door to door to gather book donations.  Fledgling libraries required an extreme level of dedication to maintain. The working conditions were often less than ideal, resources and locations were hard to come by, and public support was not always forthcoming.  Even librarians who put their all into the system could still end up facing a lack of support, often for arbitrary reasons, such as when Whitney was removed from her position and replaced with a man.  However, like today, early librarians still worked through those challenges to serve the public in the best way they could.  Thanks to them and the others who did support the early libraries, libraries like The Kansas City Public Library are able to thrive and serve our population today.  In the 139 years of its existence, it has transformed from a very small subscription service to a 10 branch system serving the  largest city in Missouri.

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ByCityLight (n.d.) City history. Kansas City, Missouri. Retrieved from

Carrie E. Westlake, 1875. (n.d.) Missouri, Marriages, 1750-1920 index, FamilySearch.  Retrieved from

Christian, S.  (2010, May). Carrie Westlake Whitney. Speech presented Kansas City Central Library, Kansas City, MO.

History of Kansas City (2012). Retrieved from

Horner, J.A. (2011, December 13). Carrie Westlake Whitney and Carl Busch: “A Christmas greeting to Kansas City Children” [blog post]. Local History. Retrieved from

Jesse James (2012). Retrieved from

Kansas City Public Library (2012). Hours & locations. About the Library. Retrieved from

Kansas City Public Library (n.d.a). Community Bookshelf. Library History. Retrieved from

Kansas City Public Library (n.d.b). Local history & genealogy. Research Resources. Retrieved from

Kansas City Public Library (n.d.c). Overview. Library History. Retrieved from

Kansas City Public Library (n.d.d). Room guidelines. Policies & Financials. Retrieved from

Kansas City Public Library (n.d.e). Timeline. Library History. Retrieved from

Kansas City Public Schools (2012). History.  Overview. Retrieved from

Kansas City, Missouri (2012). Retrieved from,_Missouri

Magerl, B. (1999). Carrie Westlake Whitney: Librarian and Director of the Kansas City Public Library ?-1934. Missouri Valley Special Collections: Biography.

Pickler Memorial Library (2012) Personal and professional papers of James Mickleborough Greenwood (1874–1914). Retrieved from

Ryder, E. B (1976). Kansas City Public Library. National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form.

The Paseo Alliance (2009). A history of Paseo High School and the Kansas City Missouri school district. Retrieved from

Union Historical Company (1881). The history of Jackson County, Missouri. Kansas City: Birdsall, Williams & Co.

Whitney, C. W. (1908). Kansas City Missouri: Its history and its people. Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company.

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