The Grand Rapids Public Library has a central library and seven branch libraries. The central library is called the Main Library, which is located at 111 Library Street NE in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a small city with a population slightly larger than that of Aurora, Illinois. The oldest part of the Main Library is the Ryerson Building.
The lawyer and lumberman Martin A. Ryerson (1856-1932) was a trustee and patron of the second University of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Art Institute of Chicago. He provided funds for the University of Chicago’s Ryerson Physical Laboratory (1893) and the Art Institute’s Ryerson Library (1901), as well as provided funds for a library building in his birthplace of Grand Rapids, Michigan that opened in 1904. He and his wife also donated hundreds of works of art to the Art Institute of Chicago, of which his brother-in-law, Charles Lawrence Hutchinson (1854-1924), was long president.
The Grand Rapids Public Library was founded in 1871. Its original location was in the Grand Rapids City Hall. In 1904, the library organization moved into the Ryerson Building.
In 1967, the Grand Rapids Public Library more than doubled in size. [The addition was later named the Keeler Wing, for reasons explained below.] After the 1967 expansion, most of the Ryerson Building was closed off to library patrons as it housed staff offices and the archives.
Thirty years later, a bond proposal was approved that sparked a $31,500,000 program to renovate or build seven library buildings. The Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation raised $8,500,000 in a capital campaign to help reach the total $31,500,000 for the library seven-building improvement project. Mike & Mary Ann Keeler donated $1,200,000 as part of the Grand Rapids Public Library Foundation’s capital campaign.
The Main Library, including the Ryerson Building, was renovated, as were four existent branch libraries, and three new library buildings were developed to take the places of “antiquated and non-accessible facilities.” The first branch library to undergo renovation was the Seymour Branch located at 2350 Eastern SE. The renovations included an increase in the floor space and the addition of more computers.
Renovation of the Main Library started ten years ago in January of 2001. While the facility was under renovation, the organization operated out of a warehouse for almost two years.
After the renovation, completed in April of 2003, the Ryerson Building became truly public space again as library patrons could once again use the original entrance stairway and doors. This changed the Main Library’s address from 60 Library Plaza to 111 Library Street. The Ryerson Building and Keeler Wing also opened to each other, with a new central atrium that “allows visitors to see… how the two buildings are joined.”
The last of the six branch libraries to open did so in August of 2002. [Yes, that means the West Leonard Branch Library opened while the Main Library was still under renovation.] The West Leonard Branch Library, located at 1017 Leonard NW, serves an area of Grand Rapids that previously lacked library services.
In October of 2004, the Grand Rapids Public Library celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Ryerson Building’s opening with a series of free programs. The highlight of the centenary celebration was the unveiling of a copper box that had been inside the cornerstone and the contents of the box. The documents that had been placed inside the copper box provided current library patrons with a glimpse of what life was like in Grand Rapids in Edwardian times and the librarians back then.
There are seven members on the Grand Rapids Board of Library Commissioners. They are elected rather than appointed.
The seven branch libraries of the Grand Rapids Public Library are the Madison Square Branch (1201 Madison SE), the Ottawa Hills Branch (1150 Giddings SE), the Seymour Branch (2350 Eastern SE), the Van Belkum Branch (1563 Plainfield NE), the West Leonard Branch (1017 Leonard NW), the West Side Branch (713 Bridge NW), and the Yankee Clipper Branch (2025 Leonard NE).
There are facilities in the Main Library and the Yankee Clipper Branch Library that can be rented.They are the third-floor Ryerson Auditorium and fourth-floor Vander Veen Center for the Book in the Main Library and the Auditorium & Meeting Area on the Lower Level of the Yankee Clipper Branch Library.
They can only be rented for “those activities [that] are educational, cultural, or community betterment in purpose.” They cannot be rented “for business development, sales or commercial activities” or “for social events such as showers, birthday parties, weddings and receptions, or private receptions.” Obviously, those policies are quite a bit different from the policies of the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center and the Newberry Library, which I have described or alluded to in previous articles, and where many (rich and upper-middle-class) couples have happily wed, but I commend the library policymakers in Grand Rapids for being high-minded.
In addition to the usual circulation services for books and movies, the Grand Rapids Public Library offers delivery service to the homebound; an e-mail service for the Reference Desk called AskUs; free classes that range from Internet 101 to how to get out of debt; local history research; speaking engagements by authors; and other special events. The cleverly-named Dewey’s Retreat, a third-floor café, sells soups, sandwiches, snacks, and drinks.
The Main Library is open Mondays through Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and on Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., however it is only open on Sundays from Labor Day to Memorial Day. There is a gated parking lot next to the Main Library. The phone number of the Main Library is 1 (616) 988-5400.