Our story starts way back in 1887 when The Library Association of Chattanooga opened a modest library and reading room with 4,200 volumes. Later on, with support from Andrew Carneigie, the first Chattanooga Public Library opened in 1905. Since then, the Library grew in ways that reflected the needs and climate of each era. In 1949, for example, the Chattanooga Public Library became one of the first libraries in the southeast to desegregate, five years before the Supreme Court decision of 1954.
By the 1970s, the community’s needs outpaced what the current library could offer, so a new central library and satellite locations were built, opening as the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library. The award-winning Brutalist design Main Library opened downtown in 1976, with four additional branches opening over the next 2 decades.
In 2011, a sales tax agreement between the City of Chattanooga and Hamilton County expired, and the Library returned to its original status as being governed by a board and funded by the City. The official name changed to The Public Library, and eventually reverted back to its original name, The Chattanooga Public Library, as it is known today.
In 2012, under the leadership of new Executive Director Corinne Hill, the Library renewed its commitment to serve as the community’s anchor and catalyst for lifelong learning for all citizens. In this new era, the Library rapidly expanded its services and resources to bring its entire system into the 21st century. The 12,000 sq.ft. 4th Floor Makerspace opened in 2014, followed by the opening of our Professional Recording Studio in 2017, The Tool Library in 2018, the Seed Exchange in 2019, a new Avondale branch in 2019, and the Noise Closet in 2021.
Today, the Chattanooga Public Library checks out over 1 million items and offers roughly 2,000 educational programs a year to all age ranges. In 2023, the Library hosted Americans and the Holocaust, a traveling exhibition from the American Library Association and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Over 5,000 people attended special events and programs that accompanied the exhibition, including a talk from Auschwitz survivor Michael Bornstein and musical performances from the Likht Ensemble. Overall, the Library hosted 20,014 visitors.
In August 2023, Will O’Hearn join the Library as its new Executive Director. With over 20 years in libraries from Illinois to Oregon, Will has extensive background in just about every area of library operations. The Library staff and the Board both look forward to Will’s leadership and guidance in a world of continuously changing library services and resources.