Friday, February 19, 2010

Russell's History: Western Branch Library

The Western Branch Library, located at 10th and Chestnut, is the FIRST full service library dedicated to the education and enrichment of African Americans in the country. The Western Branch library was originally founded in 1905 and did not move to it's current location until 1908. In 1994 the Library was renovated and added an elevator, a new service desk, and most importantly a climate-controlled archives room to protect and preserve valuable African American documents and manuscripts.

The library was founded by Thomas Blue and Albert Meyzeek. Meyzeek, then the principle of Central High School, was concerned about the lack of reference and reading materials available to his students, so he boldly took them to the Polytechnic Society Library. After a few visits he and his students were refused admittance. Meyzeek was outraged. He and several other African American leaders put pressure on the Library board and convinced them to provide a "colored" branch.

The original library began in three rented rooms in a private residence in the Russell Neighborhood.  Thomas Blue (pictured above with his staff) on September 23, 1905 was chosen as it's first head librarian. Becoming the first African African to head a full service library. The Western Branch Library moved to a Carnegie building and its currently location in 1908.

In 1914, Mr. Blue opened the Eastern Branch Library, the second Carnegie library for African Americans in the Smoketown neighborhood. In 1919, the Colored Department of the Louisville Library system was founded, becoming the first of it's kind in the United States. The department included two Carnegie Buildings, two junior high schools, 15 stations, and 80 class room collections in 29 buildings.

Mr. Blue also created a library apprentice class which was held at the Western and Eastern Branch library libraries. He drew students from as far away as Houston. His work here in Louisville also led to the establishment of Hampton Library School at his alma mater Hamption Normal and Agricultural Institute (present day Hampton University). 

*The Eastern Branch Library is no longer in open. It was closed due to budget cuts. The Building still stands on Handcock street and is currently used a daycare.

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