The Main Library Turns 54

Back (wayyy back) on November 1, 1905 the Carnegie Free Library, the first dedicated library building in the then town of Waterloo, opened for business. The Carnegie Library still stands today, opposite the current Main Library. It was immediately a success, lending over 800 books to the residents of the town of Waterloo in its first month alone.

Use of the Carnegie Library grew steadily along with the expansion of Waterloo itself and, 60 years after its opening, it was declared too small a structure for its users.

In 1964, a site for a modern, new library was chosen…35 Albert Street, right across from the Carnegie Library in UpTown Waterloo. The land at Albert & Dupont Streets had originally housed the old fire hall and Market House (Waterloo Market). Coincidentally it was in Market House that back in 1875 the meetings for the Mechanics Institute, the first organized lending library in Waterloo, took place.

Construction of the new library began. The two-story building, designed by architects Horton & Ball and engineers Walter, Fedy, McCargar, Hachborn, boasted 17,000 square feet of floor area, an auditorium-gallery, adult, children’s and reference departments.

On June 11, 1966 the new Waterloo Public Library opened its doors. Since that day, the building has seen many changes including:

  • 1987 to 1989 – construction and opening of an expansion on the Dupont Street side of the building
  • 1991 – the traditional “card catalogue” was replaced by the Dynix computer system
  • 1999 – free internet service was available at both the Main Library and the McCormick Branch and in all departments
  • 2000 – computer workstations were made available to the public
  • 2001 – as the library celebrated 125 years in the community, its first website was launched on Canada Day
  • 2003/2004 – a major redesign of the Main Library included moving Borrower’s Services downstairs to the Dupont Street lobby
  • 2007 – for the first time in the library’s history, over 1 million items were borrowed in just one year
  • 2009 – new RFID technology meant goodbye to “date due” cards
  • 2012 – over 2 million items were borrowed by WPL customers

The library is still a busy hub in our awesome community with over 62,000* active members and a fourth location joining the WPL family in the near future. And, of course with the COVID-19 crisis, WPL To Go, our curbside service, is starting on June 15th.

If you’ve enjoyed this walk down memory lane as the Main Library turns 54 years young, browse the library’s history online. On Flickr you can enjoy photos of the Main when it first opened and, if you want to simply enjoy thousands of photos of Waterloo itself over the years, visit OurOntario. And of course, if you have a local history question, you can always just ask us.

Oh, and one very important date was missed. May 29, 1986. The day I was hired to work at the Main Library. Happy birthday, WPL Main!

— Sandi H.

*2019 – 62,265 members