Mission & History

Mission & History

The District of Columbia Public Library is a vibrant center of activity for residents and visitors in the nation’s capital. The library provides environments that invite reading, learning and community discussion and equips people to learn all their lives, to embrace diversity and to build a thriving city. We are proud to be a recognized force in the community for engaging the mind, expanding opportunities and elevating the quality of life.


The District of Columbia Public Library was created by an act of Congress in 1896 “to furnish books and other printed matter and information service convenient to the homes and offices of all residents of the District." The establishment of the library was largely due to the long and arduous efforts of Theodore W. Noyes, editor of The Evening Star. Mr. Noyes served as president of the Board of Library Trustees for 50 years.

From 1898 until 1903, the DC Public Library was located in a house at 1326 New York Ave. NW. In 1899, philanthropist and library enthusiast Andrew Carnegie donated funds to build the Central Library at Mount Vernon Square. In 1903, the new Central Library was dedicated in a ceremony attended by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The first branch of the DC Public Library was built in 1911 in Takoma Park. Soon after, additional facilities were added. The library system now includes 25 neighborhood libraries -- three of which are Carnegie built -- and one central library.

In 1972, the Central Library at Mt. Vernon Square was replaced by the large, modern Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 9th and G streets NW. The new main library was designed by Mies van der Rohe. It was designated a historic landmark in 2007. In 2017 the library closed for modernization which was completed in 2020. 

Choose from the links below to read a library's history: