The story of the library begins in 1866 with a small collection of books purchased and donated for public use with funds by a group of young men known as “the Sons of Temperance.” Dr. J.E. Marshall, a young physician was named librarian and the collection was placed in his office. Centralia was then a fledgling town, having been founded by the Illinois Central Railroad Company in 1855 and incorporated as a city in 1859.
On December 3, 1872, the Centralia City Council adopted an ordinance which provided for the establishment of a Public Library and Reading Room and the levy of a tax for its support and maintenance. The Mayor appointed nine leading interested citizens as library directors.
On September 1, 1874, the Centralia Public Library officially opened in a second-floor room in the Willard Block on South Locust Street, above the present location of the Melody Shop. The Reading Room was open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 2:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. and on Sundays from 2:00 p.m.-5 p.m.
By 1880, the library had outgrown the room in the Willard Block and to meet its needs, a large upstairs room in the new McKnight Building (Northeast corner of Broadway and Locust) was leased on November 1, 1880. The library was moved to that location where it remained until it moved into the Carnegie building in 1903. Mr. T.L. Joy, publisher of the Centralia Sentinel wrote Mr. Andrew Carnegie with the idea of securing a donation for a library building in Centralia. As a result of that letter, Mr. Carnegie originally gave $15,000.00 for the building and then later increased the donation to $20,000.00. This was enough to completely construct the Carnegie library building. A contract for the building was made on April 2, 1902. On June 2, 1902, the decision was made by the Library Board of Directors to build the Carnegie library on a site in the center of the City Park. Ground was broken on June 10, 1902. The ceremony to lay the cornerstone was on July 17, 1902. The Centralia Public Library thus became one of the original 106 Illinois Carnegie libraries.
In 1936, a fire damaged the interior of the building, which necessitated extensive rehabilitation and repairs. In about 1947, ideas for expansion began to be discussed by the Library Board members. At a special meeting held on January 19, 1948, the Library Board adopted a resolution to the effect that the existing library building is remodeled, that additions be made and that certain necessary equipment is provided. An estimated cost was $66,420.00. However, nothing was done until October 28, 1970, when a contract was made for the remodeling of the existing structure and the addition of two two-story wings at a cost of $144,172.00. The total cost was approximately $200,000.00. Ground breaking for the project was on October 31, 1970, and the improvements were completed by August 1972. The improvements included the refurbishing of the central portion of the building, all-over carpeting, new shelving, a modern circulation desk, new drapes, adequate lighting, central air-conditioning and re-arrangement of departments.
In 1972, there were 10 staff members and the Library Board adopted a Policy Manual. The library was a member of the Cumberland Trail Library System. The library owned 20,802 volumes, 8 daily newspapers, 160 magazines subscriptions, and the Centralia Sentinel from its earliest publication date was on microfilm. The circulation was 4,655 and the operating income for the 1971 fiscal year was $51,000.00.
In the spring of 1992, the Cumberland Trail Library System merged with the Shawnee Library System. During this phase, the Public Library updated its online circulation/cataloging system with the Dynix automated library system. Dynix increased the library’s functionality by allowing automated circulation, cataloging, and electronic materials acquisitions. In addition, it permitted patrons to access the library’s database for searching and placing holds on materials from the convenience of their homes.
A Referendum to form a district library was presented to the area voters and was passed in April 1995. As a result, the Centralia Public Library became the Centralia Regional Library District (CRLD) and included Centralia Township, Brookside Township, Grand Prairie Township, Irvington Township, and Raccoon Township. The original branch libraries in the district were the main library in Centralia, Irvington community library, Wamac community library and Central City library. In the beginning, branch libraries were operated within public school environments. With the main library, 3 branch libraries and serving parts of 4 counties and 5 townships, library service was extended to 26,200 residents. Again, by referendum in March 2002, the library district annexed Sandoval Township bringing the total of population served to 28,684.
The library district expanded again in 2003 with the addition of the Village of Hoffman. In the first few months of 2004, Odin Township and the portions of Carrigan Township located in the Odin and Sandoval School districts were added to CRLD’s library service area as well.
With the inclusion of these regions into CRLD, the total population in the library district rose to 31,204. With each addition to the library district, the Centralia Regional Library District became a more diverse and well-equipped library with additional staffing and advancing services. Currently, CRLD has branch libraries in the communities of Irvington, Hoffman, Sandoval, and Odin.
Due to the 2008 financial crisis which gripped the nation and the State of Illinois, the nine library systems in the state merged into three state library systems in 2011. The Centralia Regional Library District became part of the Illinois Heartland Library System when the Shawnee Library System, Lewis & Clark Library System, Lincoln Trail Library System, and Rolling Prairie Library System were merged together. At that point in time, CRLD became part of the largest library system consortium in the nation which currently has 525 member libraries, covering 28, 141 square miles and serving 2,248,634 Illinois residents. In March 2013, the Polaris automated library service system was introduced and became the platform from which all circulation, cataloging and acquisitions services would be conducted at the Centralia Regional Library District and the entirety of the Illinois Heartland Library System.
A unique opportunity presented itself in 2012—the Centralia Regional Library District was able to apply for a construction grant through the Illinois State Library. The grant was to allow for the renovation of its iconic 110-year-old Carnegie building as well as to add on an expansion wing, giving the library district the much needed extra space and ADA accessibility it needed for a new computer lab, activity room, public restrooms, an elevator, and administrative offices. CRLD was one of 15 libraries in the state (outside of Chicago) awarded a matching construction grant. CRLD’s award was $1,951,665 requiring a match of $766,241. Building plans were finalized and a capital campaign to raise the matching funds was devised in early 2013. A ground breaking event was held on October 16, 2013, and work began. The expansion wing was added first and completed in the fall of 2014. Then renovations were made to the existing Carnegie structure with total project completion in late winter of 2015. An open house was held for the community on Sunday, March 15, 2015. Community response was positively overwhelming!
The library has operated continually from its December 3, 1872, beginning to the present day with many advances in library service. The Centralia Regional Library District prides itself on offering these many services to its district residents virtually free of charge. Included in the library services available are programs appealing to a wide range of interests from author presentations to informational programs from non-profits to educational programs on the adult and youth levels; a variety of circulating collections of books, magazines, and videos for adults and youth; the Summer Reading Program for youth; an after school program sponsored by the Illinois Secretary of State’s office for 5 through 8 graders; a modern computer lab with one-on-one assistance appointments, genealogy software and the Centralia Sentinel archived on microfilm; a Learning Center with an interactive play wall for preschool children and their attending adults; air hockey; quiet reading and gathering spaces; FAX and copy printing services for nominal fees…available to all district residents in an ADA compliant facility.
The Centralia Regional Library District’s goal for now and into the future is to provide the best library service possible to the district community it has been charged to serve. The CRLD staff and Board of Trustees are committed to making this goal an everyday reality.