|| In late 1899, several distinguished local citizens convened to discuss the need for a public library for the citizens of Covington. At that time, the only library service in Covington was in the form of subscription libraries. Anyone wanting to use these libraries were charged a $3 annual fee.
After numerous attempts to establish a public library in Covington, the Mayor of Covington appointed a board of prominent citizens to organize a free public library for residents of the city. This first board included Senator William Goebel, Judge James P. Tarvin, Bradford Shinkle, Professor Melchor Abele, and Dr. J. T. Dodd. The deaths of Senator Goebel and Dr. Dodd resulted in the reorganization of the board in early 1900 and the board began the work of creating a library. Joseph L. Rhinock was nominated to serve on the library board and was selected as the new Board president.
In the 1900's an enterprising philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, embarked on a nationwide campaign to fund public libraries. The Library Board used this as an opportunity to request funding for a public library in Covington.
Mr. Carnegie agreed to contribute $40,000 for the construction of a library in Covington provided that the city budgeted support for library operations. The Kentucky General Assembly responded by passing a special act requiring perpetual support of the library by the city.
While plans for the new library were being developed, the board found temporary quarters for the new library in Ideal Hall at the corner of Seventh and Madison Ave. Rules passed in March 1901 that declared there be free library service to every man, woman, and child in Covington, making the Covington Library one of the first in the south to provide racially integrated service. Kenton County residents were offered service for $2.00 per year with free service provided to students and teachers at any school in Kenton County. Users were allowed one book at a time. Fines for non-returned items were 2 cents per day. Mrs. Helen Lansdown was head librarian and Mrs. Anna Spears was assistant librarian.
The temporary quarters at Ideal Hall, however, were less than ideal. The fire marshal called the new library "a fire trap" and threatened to close the building unless an additional exit was opened. The book stacks were open only to staff and only adults were permitted to enter the main reading room. The first book catalog was delayed at the printers and was not delivered until late 1901.
It was determined that more money was needed to create a state-of-the-art facility. Mr. Carnegie was approached twice more by the Board and gave a combined total of $75,000. Board members purchased the property at the corner of Scott and Robbins to house the building. Architects Boll and Taylor were hired to design the library. Construction began in April 1902.
As the new library neared completion, the Librarian informed the board that the library had an inadequate catalog, an inaccurate accession book, and incomplete borrower records. The library in Ideal Hall closed on December 19, 1903 to work on these problems and to prepare the collection for moving to the new library. While closed, the library staff carefully examined every book in the collection, which included 8,017 volumes. Membership at that time was 8,196. Fines collected during 1903 totaled $275.90.
The cornerstone was laid on Tuesday, August 5, 1902. The new Carnegie Library, constructed at a cost of $87,170.94, opened on March 16, 1904. The new library boasted plenty of space for books, a rotunda resembling the version in the Library of Congress, and a grand auditorium. The first program in the auditorium that evening was a performance of the Polyphonic Choral Society. The first books were circulated from the new library on March 28, 1904. At the time of the library's opening, there were six employees, with Mrs. Spears as head librarian. More than 1,000 people registered to borrow items at the new location.
Throughout this first decade of the 1900's, the library continued to grow. In 1906, Librarian Anna M. Spears asked the Board to modify the rules to allow users to check out two books - one fiction and one "solid reading." In June 1908, the board asked the local health officer to fumigate the library as often as seemed necessary for protection of the public. In December 1908 the library began story hours for boys over 12 years of age. The librarian reported that these story hours were very popular. In order to accommodate increased usage, the board retained an architect to develop plans for remodeling the auditorium in 1909. Unfortunately funds were not available for the renovation.
Both the number of items available and the number or users grew throughout the 1900s. By 1910, 14,867 volumes were available to the 10,590 registered borrowers. The library was only in its first decade of operation and was growing ever popular as the 1920's approached.