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History of the Library

Rowan Public Library History:  109 Years of Excellence

“The best way to start a library is to start one,” stated Mrs. J. P. Moore at a meeting of the Travelers Club held on March 31, 1911. And start one they did. Rowan Public Library began its 109th year of operation in 2020.

The last 109 years have seen numerous changes in library locations, services and programs, but the original goal of maintaining a library to serve the information needs of local citizens has remained the same.

Under the sponsorship of the Travelers Club, a library was opened in the Henderson Law Office at the corner of Fisher and Church streets. In 1921 when the county built a new courthouse, the library was moved to the old courthouse, which had been redesignated as a community building. (This community center was the first of its kind to be established in the entire south.)  In that same year the city and county provided a total of $300 for operation of the library. Today, Rowan County contributes more than two million dollars annually for library operations.

Selected Library Milestones from the Last 109 Years

That same year the library name was changed from the Salisbury  Public Library to Rowan Public Library, which better reflected the growing number of communities served by the expanding library system.

In 1936 the library employed its first professionally trained librarian, Miss Edith Clark.

In 1938 the library initiated special programming for children.

 In the 1940s community libraries were established in China Grove, East Spencer, Landis, Rockwell, Spencer, and Yadkin.

A bookmobile was ordered in 1941, but delayed due to WWII. Bookmobile service eventually began in 1948. In 1991, the bookmobile was re-invented as an outreach service targeted to preschool children called “Stories to Go”.

bullet     A new 10,000 square foot library facility was opened in 1951 near the library’s first home, the Henderson Law Office. The family of the late Burton Craig donated the property and substantial funding to help build a new library.

In 1954 the research papers of Mrs. J. Frank (Mamie) McCubbins were donated to the library, firmly establishing the library as a significant genealogy research center. During the last 66 years additional collections have been added, making RPL’s history room one of the premier genealogical research centers in the southeast.

Interlibrary loan, whereby books are borrowed for library users from other libraries throughout the southeast, began in 1955. RPL was one of four pilot libraries in the state for this new service.

In 1969 the Rowan Citizens for Better Libraries was organized. This group spearheaded an effort that resulted in a complete renovation of the library in the early 1970s. Also at this time the library acquired property adjacent to the library for future expansion.
In the mid 1970s an adult outreach service was established to extend library services to persons who are homebound and to residents of care facilities.

In 1979 the Rowan Citizens for Better Libraries was renamed the Friends of Rowan Public Library.

In 1982 the South Branch library was opened to the public. This was the first full service branch established in the county.

In 1984 RPL began providing microcomputers for public use.

In 1986 RPL’s second full service branch library, the East Branch, was opened in Rockwell.

In 1988-89 library headquarters expanded, representing an increase of 10,000 square feet to 47,500 square feet.

In 1990 the library implemented an automated library system, which automated circulation and catalog functions leading to  significantly improved efficiency.

In 1991 Stories To Go first goes on the road as an award-winning program exclusively for pre-school children; it is one of the first on the East coast. The Stories to Go vehicle was refurbished by inmates at the Piedmont Correctional Institution.

In 1991 the Rowan Public Library Foundation was established for the purpose of building an endowment fund in support of the library’s future growth.

In 1996 the library began providing public access to the Internet, and developed a website. Rowan Public Library was among the first five libraries in the state to offer this service.

In 1997 the County Commissioners purchased a new $75,000 vehicle for Stories To Go, a model vehicle designed specifically for pre-school children by Matthews Specialty Vehicles.

In 1998, the library was awarded the ALA/Info Today, Inc Library of the Future Award for its seamless integration of new technology into library operations.

In 1999 planning began for a new regional library to serve the citizens living in the southern area of Rowan County.

In 1999 Stories To Go received Smart Start funding to begin service to home child care centers.

In 2002 RPL initiated a strategic planning process to enable RPL to prepare for the future.

In 2004 the library opened a new regional library in the South Rowan Area known as the South Rowan Regional Library.

In 2006 a self service checkout system using RFID was implemented at South Rowan Regional Library. Wireless internet access was made available for patrons at the East branch and SRRL.

In 2007 the children's  area at the Headquarters location was renovated and wireless internet access was made available for the public.

In 2008 the East Branch was extensively renovated.

In 2019, the County approved refurbishing the former Cleveland Elementary School's media center and auditorium to create the West Branch of Rowan Public Library.

Rowan Public Library looks forward to a future of serving the citizens of Rowan County.