About the Library

The Central Library

Prior to the construction of Central, the Cossitt and Main locations, at one time or another, served as the hub of the Memphis Public Library System. Cossitt began its existence in 1888 as the Cossitt-Goodwyn Institute, the first public library in the fledgling City of Memphis. On April 23, 1893, at 33 S. Front Street, an original sandstone structure was constructed on the Downtown Memphis Promenade and the Cossitt Library began service. At that time, and for nearly 62 years, Cossitt was the headquarters for Library administration. Named for its founder Frederick Cossitt, and updated in 1959, Cossitt still serves as one of 18 library branches and remains at the same location in the bustling Downtown community.

In 1955, the Main Branch Library opened at 1850 Peabody. Upon opening, the 147,000 square foot building became the main offices for the system. Main was replaced in 2001 by the Central Library.

The Central Library opened its doors to the public on November 10, 2001. This 330,000 foot facility is located within the Midtown Corridor East (Binghampton/Chickasaw Gardens) Area and boundaries at 3030 Poplar Avenue. A collection of 800,000 books, magazines, videos, CDs, and other materials, 204 computer stations for use by the public, wireless Internet access, study rooms, and 3 meeting rooms with a maximum capacity of 350, are beautifully housed in the five-story building. Programming for all ages includes Toddler and Preschool Storytimes and special programs for children, teens, and adults, as well as Computer Training classes for the public.

Below is brief chronology of one of Memphis’ prominent landmarks and handsome public buildings.

Groundbreaking held for Central Library
November 10, the 330,000 square foot Central Library opens to the public
Memphis City Council officially names Central the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library after longtime civil rights activist and native Memphian.
Memphis Public Library’s Health Information Center is recognized as Best in State and among top ten in the country
SIRSI Dynix recognizes Memphis Public Library & Information Center for “Building Better Communities”
Memphis Public Library & Information Center’s Central Library featured in new book “Heart of the Community: Libraries we Love”

Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library Vital Statistics:

Looney, Ricks, Kiss (Memphis), Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott (Boston), Frank Ricks, Principal
Hunt Construction Group - They also constructed the Pyramid and Baptist East Hospital in Memphis.
Five floors, with a total of 330,000 sq. ft. The garden level is partially underground, giving the appearance of four floors above ground.
Population of Memphis & Shelby Co. 897,000
Service area (Shelby County) 772 square miles
2002-03 Budget $20,329,607
Number of library branches 22

Public Art:

This is the first public building in Shelby County to have a public art component. There are nine public art installations:

Location Artists Donor
Grand Lobby Sculpture Ed Carpenter Kristi and Dean Jernigan/Storage USA
Memphis and Shelby County Room Jeane Umbreit Links, Inc.
Exterior Walkway Brad Goldberg & Garrison Roots Plough Foundation
Vestibule Floor Alonzo Davis & Pinkney Herbert J.Kevin & Sara Adams and in honor of Kimberly Wales Blankenship donated by Brent, Preston, Elizabeth, & Earl Blankenship
Children’s Area Nancy Cheairs Jabie & Helen Hardin
First Floor Courtyard Sherri Warner Hunter Jabie & Helen Hardin
Storytelling Room Iris Harkavy Junior League of Memphis
Donor Recognition John Salvest Charles and Evelyn Leonard and in Honor of Virginia S. Deyo by Kathy and Dean Deyo
Rotunda Burton Callicott Friends of the Memphis Shelby County Public Library

Building Layout:

The building has three “fronts” but only one entrance, located on the east side of the building. Vehicle access is available from Walnut Grove and Poplar Avenues.

Entry Level
Information Desk and Check-in/Check-out
Popular Library
Children’s Area
Outdoor Courtyard
Current Magazines
Personnel Office
Volunteer Offices and Café Area
Meeting Rooms and Gallery
Staff and Public Training Rooms
Second Floor
Humanities (art, music, literature, religion)
Young Adult
Third Floor
Business and Sciences
Administrative Offices
Fourth Floor History
Memphis and Shelby County Room
Social Sciences
Garden Level
FM 89.3 WYPL
Closed Stacks
Delivery and Distribution
Print Shop and Graphic Arts
Automated Services
Staff Lounge

Architectural Features:

  • Design exemplifies and epitomizes Memphis as a community
  • Building conveys library’s role as a welcoming, inviting and accessible place of information and learning
  • Public art incorporated into nine areas
  • Ease of movement for visitors
  • Reading areas on each floor
  • Ease of access to all materials
  • Clean sight lines for easy way-finding and safety
  • Landscape that defines exterior space, provides visual interest and frames views

Project Funding

A unique public/private partnership helped to make the new Central Library a reality.

  1. City of Memphis $38,000,000*
  2. Shelby County $12,000,000
  3. Foundation for the Library $20,000,000
  4. Total $70,000,000

*Includes donation of Library property.

Private Funding:

Private donations have enhanced the new Central Library in a number of ways. Here are just a few of them:

  • Nine (9) works of public art
  • Technology (Federal Express)
  • Furniture and fixtures (Plough Foundation)
  • Teen collections and programs (LHS, Inc.)
  • Health Information Center (Assisi Foundation)
  • Children’s materials (J.R. Hyde Senior Family Foundation)
  • WYPL TV•Channel 18 studios (Time Warner Cable)
  • Memphis Music collection (NEH challenge grant)
  • Computers and databases (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
  • WYPL FM 89.3 studios (Barnstable Broadcasting)
  • Small Business Center (First Tennessee/First Tennessee Foundation)