Memories of the Detroit Main Library

When I was growing up, this was the entry way to the Detroit Main Library.  It opened onto Woodward Ave. We probably started going soon after we moved back to Detroit when I was 4.  There was a man who stood there, a very friendly older man who looked at your books when you were going out to make sure you had checked them out. Younger than I am now, he was very friendly and always smiled at my sister and me. He wore a blue suit and had a round head, with little hair.

Woodward Entry.  Click to enlarge.

To the right was the check-out counter. The door you can see to the right led into the children’s room. The picture books and early reading books were right inside the door to the left. Straight ahead, against the back wall were the books for older readers – “Invisible Island”, the Narnia books and others.  My mother brought us here often, interspersed with trips to  libraries closer to our home.At the time I don’t remember noticing the high ceilings and the murals specifically, but they were the background for my library experience.  In 1963, an addition was added on the Cass side of the library.  With building and lawn, it occupies the entire block.  For reasons I don’t understand, most of the books were moved into the new area, leaving the old one behind.  The book checker moved to the new side of the building and continued to sit there all day and look at books. He was there when I studied on the new side all through college and he was still there in 1972 when I started taking my two year old daughter to the library. I wonder what his name was.

New addition.
Cass addition.

To read more about the Main library

  • I Met My Husband in the Library “I usually studied in the sociology room of the Main Library, which was in the middle of Wayne’s campus.  As I was leaving to go to my next class that day, a guy came up and asked if I was Rev. Cleage’s daughter. I said I was.”
  • Detroit Public Library  “Designed by Cass Gilbert, the Detroit Public Library was constructed with Vermont marble and serpentine Italian marble trim in an Italian Renaissance style. His son, Cass Gilbert, Jr. was a partner with Francis J. Keally in the design of the library’s additional wings added in 1963. Among his other buildings, Cass Gilbert designed the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC, the Minnesota State Capitol and the Woolworth Building in New York City.”
  • Historic Detroit Library  “In March 1910, after some surprising opposition, the Common Council voted to accept an offer from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to provide money to go toward improving the Detroit library system. Following two years of court cases and legal mumbo jumbo, the city finally got the go-ahead to start issuing bonds and moved ahead with building a replacement for the structure downtown, a building that was still only 35 years old.”

19 thoughts on “Memories of the Detroit Main Library

  1. What a magnificent entry to the old Detroit Public Library. The library I visited frequently when I was around 12-on-up was a one-story brick and stucco building. It wasn’t the main county library, but the local branch and my friends and I used to take a shortcut to get there, walking along the railroad tracks. I never told my Mom that’s how we got there which was probably just as well. It was only later, when I lived in an apt. only 100 feet or so from those same railroad tracks and knew the trains ran every 2 hours, that I realized how dangerous walking on those tracks had been. But oh well, I survived and read lots of books. :))

    1. My sister, cousins and I used to walk along the railroad tracks when we visited our grandparents until we mentioned it one day. Everybody was horrified. That put an end to that.

    1. It is an imposing building, even for an adult, but I think I was just so used to going that I didn’t think about it.

  2. What an impressive library building! Thank you for introducing me to it. What a contrast to the uninspiring concrete blocks we seem to get today.

  3. I noticed that the old Detroit library was designed by the same person as the Minnesota state Capitol. I wish we had an old main library here.

  4. How I miss the buildings of my youth such as the Main Library . Our neighborhood library was the Parkman Library on Oakman Blvd. it was also a real architectural beauty. And then there was the downtown library behind J L Hudson’s. I could go on and on about the wonderful buildings. How about the library at the parsonage? The leaded glass doors covering the bookshelves.

    1. Andree, nice to see you here! We went to the Parkman Library often. I remember I first got “Bedknob and Broomstick or How to be a Witch in 10 Easy Lessons” there. They had a beautiful interior too.

      Yes, the house on Chicago was amazing. I don’t remember if my father filled up the bookshelves with his book. I could use those beautiful shelves right now. It’s still empty.

  5. Wow — the old part of the library looks like a church.

    Even though you don’t have a full biography of the book-checker, this is a sweet little tribute to a steady worker who put in many years performing a simple but important task. Now his job is performed by a couple of detection panels — and they never smile.

  6. I’ve never seen a public library that is so ornate. I see it didn’t put you off books and reading. A superb building, but were there any cosy corners for youngsters to read in?

    1. There were tables but mostly we got our books and took them home to read. I don’t think we’ve every hung around the library to read.

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