In the early 1950s, the libraries of Johnson County were run by community volunteers. Some housed small libraries in their homes, some worked out of local buildings – barbershops, schoolhouses, and shopping centers – and others operated traveling bookmobiles. With support from the community, an official Johnson County Library was established in 1953 with funding and a permanent location in Merriam, Kansas. Three years later, the library moved to the location at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Antioch (the current Antioch Library) and designated this the Headquarters Branch.
In 1968, a Central Reference Department was created at Headquarters to provide reference services to the county. Two years later, the Kansas Room opened and the library gained a Local History and Genealogy collection at this location. The Johnson County Genealogical Society agreed to house its collection at Headquarters in 1973, further expanding the collection of historical reference materials. Online resources were introduced in 1976 and the library gained a Business Specialist. In 1979, as the Central Reference Department expanded, the decision to combine the public library branch services of Headquarters with the Central Reference Department was made, and the location was renamed the Resource Library – a library location designed to provide access to specialized reference and advanced research collections.
Building a New Central Library
Preliminary planning for a larger building began in 1985 under the direction of County Librarian Roy Fox. The Resource Library was renamed the Central Resource Library and negotiations began to construct a building at College Boulevard and Quivira, on property owned by the Johnson County Community College. After Fox’s retirement in 1988, newly appointed County Librarian Mona Carmack hired Lawrence-based architecture firm Gould Evans Architects, Inc. to design a building at this site. Negotiations soon faltered and a new site at College Boulevard and US-69 was selected. These plans were redirected in 1992 toward a location at 9875 W. 87th St., in the former Best Products retail building. On November 3, 1992, a $12 million bond issue for the purchase and renovation of the Best Products building was passed by 72% of county voters (100,475 – 39,928). Gould Evans Architects, Inc. developed the plans for the renovation. The building was purchased in 1993 and the groundbreaking occurred in 1994.
Relocation and Opening
Hallett and Sons Expert Movers of Chicago and Seaton Van Lines of Olathe were chosen to move collections and office space from the Antioch location to the new library at 87th and Farley. Antioch closed its doors in early August and the move was carried out from August 11th – 17th. August 29, 1995, the Central Resource Library opened its doors to the public. The final cost for the Central Resource Library was $12,719,000, funded by 12 million from the bond, $450,000 of allocated funds, and $269,000 in interest income. Building renovation costs were $2 million less than previous ground-up construction plans.
Housing over 500,000 materials, the library constituted the bulk of the Johnson County Library’s nearly 750,000 materials. Many behind-the-scenes departments, including Administration, the Business Office, Technical Services, Collections, Acquisitions, and Library Information Technology joined public service staff in the new building.
More than 750 people visited the library in its first four hours on opening day and circulation shattered previous records when 7,396 items circulated. In its first month, an average of 1,000 people a day visited the new facility asking nearly 1,110 reference questions. The highest number prior was a 5,439 record established at Antioch Library on July 6, 1993. Statistics reported 75% more user visits, 34% more circulations, and library card registrations increased by 165% with the opening of the new facility.
Today’s Central Resource Library
Since its opening, the Central Resource Library has continuously been re-envisioned by library staff. In its first 25 years, it has seen the creation of an art gallery, children and teen services space, and the addition of more than 100 public use PCs. In 2008, the large meeting room was named the Carmack Room in honor of the Johnson County Library’s fourth County Librarian Mona Carmack. In 2016, the Black and Veatch Makerspace was added, granting patrons access to 3D printers, laser cutters, a sound booth, and more. The latest remodel includes a new children’s area, more conference rooms, and a brand new dedicated teen space. Even with all these changes, specialized librarians continue to provide the same expert services they did in 1968, and public services staff are always on hand to answer questions and help locate materials.
We look forward to welcoming everyone back February 22, 2022!
By the numbers (2018)
Items circulated: 736,977
Square footage: 90,547
-Johnson County Library Staff