Our Mission Statment
We believe that literacy and technology resources should be accessible to everyone, that you're never too young or old to try something new, and a better community is achieved when people from different backgrounds come together to converse, learn, and have fun.
These principles were first shown by the group who began this Library, then continued through the vision of an ordinary man and staff members who wanted to make a difference.
The original Shelby County Public Library opened in 1899 above the firehouse at Fountain Square on 5th and Main Streets in Shelbyville, thanks to The Woman's Club. With few shelves and only 200 books, the ladies began searching for a way to expand the Library's resources.
Who would have guessed the Library would grow through the help of a poor immigrant?
The Carnegie Grant
The Woman's Club found what they needed in the Carnegie Grant, a $10,000 grant given to communities that demonstrated a public library need. The stipulation was the community had to provide the land and pledge financial support for services and maintenance. The city of Shelbyville cooperated, and the Carnegie grant was awarded to the community. An old graveyard was chosen, as the land had reverted back to the city after a church had been destroyed, and it still serves as the library property today. $1,000 was pledged for the Library's yearly support. In 1903, the new library building was opened and is still in use. As the Library grew throughout the years, expansions to the original building were added in 1969, 1979, 1997, and 2007. In 2018, a programming building was constructed to better meet the community's needs.
Who was Carnegie?
Shelby County Public Library is a Carnegie Library because it was built with money donated by Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
As a 13-year-old child making $1.20 an hour as a bobbin boy in a cotton factory, Andrew Carnegie would have only dreamed of becoming one of the wealthiest businessmen of the 19th century. But as he worked hard, first in a factory six days a week, then
later with the railroad, and continued educating himself by reading, that's precisely what happened.
Between 1883 and 1929, 2,509 libraries have Mr. Carnegie to thank for their establishment. Because Andrew Carnegie believed so fully in generosity, The Carnegie Foundation was chartered by Congress in 1906 and still provides educational resources
throughout the world today.
The Library today
Did you know?
At one time, you could take a shower at the Library. Tickets were $1.00 and were suitable for one month. Soap and towels were provided for free.
The Library was integrated in 1958.
The Library has over 70,000 books.
Carnegie requested that the library designs include the words "Let there be light" and the image of the rising sun to represent the knowledge that could be found in the Library. This was incorporated into SCPL by the rising sun over the front door and interior vestibule doors.
Although the remains of most of those buried in the cemetery at the Library were moved to Grove Hill Cemetery when it opened in the 1850s, there are still people buried on the front lawn. Before the Library was built, the cemetery had been overgrown and neglected for 50 years.
There are only two Carnegie Libraries built on old cemetery lots.
SCPL has been expanded five times, creating 22,000 square feet for our patrons.
In 1969, a four-story wing was added that today serves as our staff offices.
In 1979, the building was renovated, providing restrooms and an elevator.
In 1997, the main floor and basement were extended, adding 7,880 square feet. Currently, it houses books and computers for adults, and our Children's Department, respectively.
In 2007, the Reference Department and Hudson Room were built, adding 2,800 square feet.
In 2019, the Carnegie Library Center was finished, adding 8,800 square feet and creating much-needed additional space for Library programs.
In 2023, the main building was renovated, expanding the Children's Department into the Hudson Room, converting the Community Room into the Kentucky Room, and general updates needed throughout the building.
The Firehouse at Fountain Square. Photo from Jim Cleveland's collection.
Foyer floor tiling depicts ‘A University of the People,’ which Carnegie believed libraries to be.
The Shelby County Public Library 2022 Photos by Amanda Perry-Davis