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About this collection

Omaha Public Library has a long history. An Omaha Library Association was established in 1857 but, lacking funds, failed in 1860. After several attempts another association was formally organized in 1872 by several prominent Omaha men, who opened a tiny library on the second floor of the Simpson Carriage Factory on the southwest corner of 14th and Dodge Streets. On June 13, 1877, the Omaha City Council appointed a library board, levied a tax, and accepted a gift of 4,500 books from the disbanded association. At that point the Omaha Public Library was born.

For 17 years the library moved from one location to another until real-estate tycoon Byron Reed donated land and his vast collection of coins, books and manuscripts to the library. On July 5, 1894, the Omaha Public Library opened in its first permanent home in a stately new Italian Renaissance-style building (designed by renowned architect Thomas Kimball) at 1823 Harney Street.  A year later, Omaha Public Library set itself apart as one of six public libraries in the nation to establish a separate children’s section.  For many years, the library also housed a museum, which began as a repository of souvenirs from the Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition held in Omaha in 1898 and grew to include “items of interest and value” of all kinds, from Native-American relics to paintings to mineral specimens, donated by individuals and organizations.

Over the years, the Omaha Public Library system expanded to include today’s 12 branches, several of which began as independent libraries.  In 1977, the main branch of the library moved from Harney Street to a modern new construction of Bedford limestone, occupying 124,500 square feet of space across from Gene Leahy Mall Park at 14th and Farnam Streets. The new main library, designed by the architectural firms of John Latenser & Sons and Hellmuth, Obata, Kassabaum, Inc., was named for W. Dale Clark, longtime banker and library board member.

 

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