Main Library · About the Building

The 1874 Building
1874 building—J.W. McLaughlin, Architect

The Main Library has occupied a prominent position in downtown Cincinnati since 1874, when a new building was constructed on the west side of Vine Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets. Labeled the most magnificent public library building in the country, the library featured one element similar to today’s library: a towering atrium with a skylight ceiling.

The 1950s

The 1955 Building
1955 building—200,000 square feet

The Library occupied this site until 1955, when the Library opened the first post-war main library building in the U.S. Located at the corner of Eighth and Vine Streets, the building was designed by noted Cincinnati architect Woodie Garber and was widely recognized for its contemporary design and use of open space. The 1955 building, dedicated to Hamilton County residents who were killed in World War I, World War II and the Korean War, today serves as the cornerstone of the present Main Library complex.

The 1980s

The 1982 Building
1982 building and renovation—360,000 square feet

In 1982, an addition was constructed encompassing the entire block formed by Eighth, Ninth, Vine and Walnut Streets, forming one of the largest public library buildings in the U.S. While the 1955 building was remodeled to create one integrated facility, several original touches such as the serpentine brick wall surrounding the garden, the Venetian glass tiles on the columns and central service core, and the memorial plaque honoring Hamilton County veterans, remain and can be seen today. The 1982 addition wraps around the 1955 building and forms an impressive atrium, providing Main Library users with a view of all five floors of the building, including closed stack areas.

The 1990s

The 1997 Building
1997 building and renovation—542,527 square feet

In 1995, work began on an addition to expand the Main Library across Ninth Street, with a dramatic four story bridge linking the North and South Buildings. The opening of the addition, known as the North Building, took place on January 15, 1997 and renovation of the existing building (the South Building) began immediately thereafter. Renovation of the South Building was completed in December 1997.

The 21st century

In order to better meet the rapidly changing needs of customers, a dynamic new service model emphasizing convenience and increased access to services and technological applications was developed in 2007. Under the new plan, resources previously divided among Main Library subject departments were drawn together into the Information and Reference Department. The Popular Library was created by merging the Fiction and Films and Recordings Departments and the Atrium Collection. In addition, four new departments were formed:

  • Research level resources and services in local history and culture, river history, African American history, and genealogy are provided by the Genealogy and Local History Department.
  • The TechCenter offers access to a broad spectrum of technological applications.
  • TeenSpot features a high-interest collection of teen print and audiovisual material, the latest technology, and an inviting and comfortably furnished floor plan that supports a wide variety of group and independent activities.
  • Homework Central supports the educational needs of Hamilton County primary and secondary students by providing homework assistance in person, by telephone, and via the Internet.

The Children’s Learning Center and Magazines and Newspapers Department remain in their current locations.

Tour Information

If you would like to schedule a tour of the Main Library, please call 513-369-3173.