The current Main Library is the latest in a series of flagship libraries for the Durham County Library system, each on the cutting edge of library services for its time.
Durham’s first public library opened in Five Points in 1898. It was the first free, tax-supported library in North Carolina. The library quickly outgrew its original building, and in 1921, it moved to a new building on Main Street, funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation. Throughout the next decades, the library’s offerings evolved with the start of bookmobile service (another North Carolina first), the addition of a children’s reading room, and the opening of branch libraries. The collection continued growing throughout this time, and by the 1960s, the library had outgrown its building again.
In 1966, the library, which had been segregated up until that point, merged with the Stanford L. Warren Library to create a new integrated system. After the merger, a series of bond referendums to fund a new main library for the system failed. In 1976, voters approved a bond for the construction of a new library in downtown Durham. Ground broke for the project on Roxboro Road in 1979, and the new Main Library opened in 1980. The new building increased the library’s space from 5,000 square feet to 65,000 square feet. It included a children’s room, an audio visual room, and the North Carolina Collection.
By the 2000s, the community’s needs had evolved again, and Main Library was in need of renovation to keep up. Thanks to the community passing a bond referendum in 2016, Main was closed for a complete transformation in January of 2017. During the renovation, the existing building was taken down to the studs and foundation and completely transformed. The design, by Vines Architecture, won the NOMA Phil Freelon Professional Design Award and the AIA NC Merit Award. The building went from roughly 65,000 square feet to close to 100,000 square feet and from 3 floors to 4 floors. The renovation added specialized spaces and expanded the library’s capacity for community programming and events.
The renovated Main Library will be a community-centered space for learning and innovation for years to come.