Topeka public library celebrates 150th anniversary with new updates

A proud heritage: The Topeka Public Library may be a relatively new building, but it was built upon a long history of literary advocates who helped make it the jewel of the community. The library continues to be part of the beating heart of the capital city. 

The Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library is celebrating 150 years of serving the local community.

The library’s anniversary comes on the heels of numerous renovations with the promises of more to come over the next few years.

The TSCPL opened in 1870, not long after the civil war ended. Topeka was a much different place at the time with many of the streets being little more than dirt roads and the majority of jobs being focused on the growing railroad industry.

The beginning of the library in Topeka can be traced back to the Ladies’ Library Association, which began Nov. 12, 1870. Indeed, women in Kansas are attributed with the survival of many of the early libraries in the state during this time.

In 1968, the Women’s Kansas Day Club posed the question, “How would libraries have been built without the help of women?”

The first library was quite small compared to today’s iteration. Located in a rent-free corner of the carpet department of Keith & Meyers dry goods store, which was on the east side of Kansas Avenue, the Ladies’ Library consisted of one second-hand bookcase and a small collection of only 40 books.

The library soon moved to the new Costa Opera House Building and other locations until finally settling in 1883 at their own official building on the statehouse grounds. They were renamed to the Topeka Library Association as more and more men became interested in developing the library further.

The library moved, once again in 1953, to its permanent location at 10th and Washburn.

This move gave the library more room to develop and grow to fit the needs of the budding Topeka community. Major renovations took place in the early 1970s and again in the late 1990s with the help of HTK Architects and internationally recognized architect Michael Graves. The prominent rotunda design, the use of large interior columns and the utilization of three different types of brick for the exterior of the new building are all signature styles used by Graves.

“Everything that he does is very distinctive. The color of the walls, the peach and the blue, are signature colors of his,” said Diana Friend, Communications and Marketing Director at the library. “When we started doing the recent renovations, we appreciated the respect for the architects that were hired. They did not want to lose Grave’s style.”

The building has gone through even more changes recently with renovations on the roof, tiling inside the foyer, the addition of an outdoor area called Claire’s Courtyard and more.

The library circulates over 2.5 million books today and countless more through its online digital services.

On average, around 2,000 people from the local area visit the library on a daily basis, but the library still only manages to serve around 60% of the local population every year.

As time goes forward, the library hopes to continue to create new spaces and new activities to service the growing and changing Topeka population.

The library plans on making several more renovations in the coming years, once funds are readily available for improving outdated restrooms, making the second floor more available to the public and opening a new art gallery near the entrance.

“We’re trying to let people know that the stereotypes that they may have against libraries is actually not very accurate,” said Gina Millsapp, CEO of the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library. “We have books, a fantastic film collection and hundreds of thousands of titles available online.”

A variety of services and activities can be found at the library on a daily basis. Checking out and purchasing books is only a fraction of what is available at the library today: streaming music, printing/faxing documents, a business center, a new learning center, a genealogy research center, an early child learning center, book clubs and much more can be found there. Other activities like conversations on difficult topics and concerts have also become more popular in recent years.

“We offer around 150 different services on a daily basis. How many other places in Topeka offer that many choices and services?” said Millsapp. “Any information that I need to do my job or to use for a personal interest can be found here. You can shop, go to the café for some great food, and I guarantee you’ll see someone you know when you walk in.”

Many of these services can be accessed simply through the use of a library card, which only takes a couple minutes to set up and is completely free at the customer service desk.From help on research projects to continuing education, the library has many services to offer to the Topeka community.

Edited by Adam White, Diana Martinez-Ponce, Jason Morrison, Abbie Barth

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