About Us

Our Story

We believe that literacy and technology resources should be accessible to everyone, that you’re never too young or too 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 it was through a poor immigrant that the library would grow?

The firehouse at Fountain Square. Photo from Jim Cleveland’s collection.

The Carnegie Grant

Carnegie Public Library, Shelbyville, KY, c. 1909. Photo from McGinnis Archive.

The Woman’s Club found what they needed in the Carnegie Grant, a $10,000 grant given to communities who demonstrated a need for a public library. The stipulation was the community had to provide the land and pledge financial support for services and maintenance. The city of Shelbyville was cooperative 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 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 needs of the community.

Who was Carnegie?

SCPL 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 exactly 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 is still providing educational resources throughout the world today.

The Andrew Carnegie painting displayed in Genealogy.

The library today

Uniquely U Painting Class

Today, our library is more than just a place to house books. We offer a variety of programming for adults and children to promote lifelong learning, close the technology divide, supply spaces for meetings, bring the library to those unable to reach it on their own, and participate in service projects. This is only a small picture of our library!

From our historic beginnings till today’s modern purpose for libraries, our focus is to come together to serve the community. This is achieved because our passionate staff is ready to serve you, our Board of Trustees and Director are excellent visionaries and stewards of our funding, and Shelby County is supportive of our mission.

We move forward together, with appreciation for the history of the library and Shelby County, but embracing a future that will enrich each person who walks through our doors.

Did you know?

At one time, you could take a shower at the library. Tickets were $1.00 and good for one month. Soap and towels were provided free.

The library was integrated in 1958.

The Library has over 70,000 books.

Carnegie requested that the library designs included the words, “Let there be light,” as well as 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 also the interior vestibule doors.

Foyer floor tiling depicts ‘A University of the People,’ which Carnegie believed libraries to be.

SCPL has been expanded five times, creating a total of 22,000 square feet for our patrons.

  • In the 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.

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 in 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.

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