Lexington’s library has a long, distinguished history. Established in 1795, it is now the oldest institution of its kind in Kentucky and possibly the oldest in the West. The library was started with 400 books, which were added to the collection that already existed at the Transylvania Seminary. The library was based on subscription whereby people paid for the use of the library holdings. In 1898, the Kentucky Legislature deemed Lexington a second-class city and this classification enabled the city to acquire and conduct a free library.
The Carnegie Library, also known as the Lexington Public Library, was built in 1906 as a gift to the city of Lexington with a $60,000 donation from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation and served as Lexington’s central library for many years. To receive its donation, the Carnegie Foundation required the city to provide a site for the library and to appropriate funds for the library’s upkeep. The new building was constructed of Bedford limestone and was built for a sum of $75,000. Thereafter, the contents of the library were moved to their new home, a beautiful Neo-Classical building at the southern end of Gratz Park.
During the late 1980s the Lexington Public Library built a new, larger central library on East Main Street to accommodate its growing collection. The Carnegie Library then became the home of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning with a mission to create and support programs that foster literacy and learning as a lifelong process for all citizens.