History of the Moberly Library

The history of the Moberly Library spans well over a hundred years and remains one of the most outstanding and gorgeous buildings downtown.

In 1872, a group in Moberly formed in order to create a library. They named themselves the “Moberly Library Association” and created a mini library. They began with 335 books, 8 magazines, and an expectation that members of the library would pay $5 per year. This library ceased to exist after three years due to not having a structured library system and people simply not continuing to pay their dues.

Next a group of railroaders and their families attempted to create a library or a borrowing plan in Moberly. Not much came of it but this group attempted for years to create some sort of a structure.

However, on April 2nd, 1901, a tax came before the people of Moberly (largely in part due to the encouragement of railroad families) and was overwhelmingly approved. The original library used shelving and books from the multiple attempts at creating a library before and set up shop throughout the summer of 1901.

The first librarian, named Mrs. Bessie Lee, was hired and began work on August 1, 1901 at the official “Railroad Library Rooms”

Knowing that this temporary arrangement couldn’t last long, in January of 1902, citizens of Moberly sent a letter to Mr. Andrew Carnegie asking for funding for an official building within the city limits.

In April, Carnegie responded that if the city of Moberly would give $1500, he would give $15,000. By the time the building was finished, Moberly had given $2,000 and Carnegie had donated $20,000. All in all, Andrew Carnegie helped build over 2,500 libraries (approximately 1700 in the US) all over the world.

Carnegie required the elected officials—the local government—to:

  • demonstrate the need for a public library;

  • provide the building site;

  • pay to staff and maintain the library;

  • draw from public funds to run the library—not use only private donations;

  • annually provide ten percent of the cost of the library‘s construction to support its operation; and,

  • provide free service to all.

Moberly’s very famous Ludwig Abt designed the original library according to Carnegie’s specifications. The architecture was typically simple and formal, welcoming patrons to enter through a prominent doorway, nearly always accessed via a staircase. The entry staircase symbolized a person’s elevation by learning. Similarly, outside virtually every library was a lamppost or lantern,meant as a symbol of enlightenment.

Libraries in Brookfield, Mexico, Monroe City, Shelbina, Huntsville, Fayette, and Fulton were all Carnegie Libraries.

The Moberly Library joined the Little Dixie Regional Library system in 1967, and spans four library branches and two counties.

In 1994, the Moberly library renovated and doubled its size.

The library now employs over twenty people and has approximately 165,000 items available for checkout. A wide variety of technologies, computers, ebooks, DVDs, Books on CDs, and good ol’ fashioned books are available. The current Director is Mrs. Karen Hayden.

The library is still tax supported and has been in continuous service since 1902.

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