Library History

Our Beginnings

In 1916, the Women’s Council of Clubs was organized, representing 18 women’s clubs in Cape Girardeau. At the first regular meeting of the council, member clubs were asked to consider the city’s greatest need. The answer was almost unanimous: a public library.

Communication with the Carnegie Foundation was started at once and the foundation pledged to give $20,000 for a library building. Soon after the project was initiated, however, World War I began and the effort was discontinued. It was resurrected by the women’s council again in February of 1921. This time, the Carnegie group was asked to supply $30,000, the increase coming from higher construction costs. Carnegie agreed to give $25,000 to the project if the local organization would raise $5,000. Another condition was that the city would have to support and maintain the library through a special tax. The women accepted the offer and secured the $5,000 with additional funds pledged. The Carnegie Library was built in Common Pleas Courthouse Park. It formally opened on June 15, 1922, with a collection of 3,000 books.

According to, Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy was responsible for the founding of 2,509 libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries throughout the English-speaking world, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Of these libraries, 1,679 of them were built in the United States. Carnegie spent over $55 million of his wealth on libraries alone, and he is often referred to as the “Patron Saint of Libraries.” In Missouri, 33 Carnegie libraries were built. The Cape Girardeau Public Library was one of the last in the state.

Cape Girardeau Carnegie library building
Cape Girardeau Carnegie library building

A Change of Scenery

In 1980, a new public library was opened at 711 North Clark St. and the old facility was converted into government office space.

Cape Girardeau Clark Street library building
Cape Girardeau Clark Street library building

Our Destination Library

In February 2007, voters of the Municipal Library District of Cape Girardeau voted for a $.15 tax increase to build and equip a new state-of-the-art destination library. The new library was designed by Clark & Enersen of Lincoln, Nebraska, and was constructed by Kiefner Brothers Construction Company. The doors to the new facility were opened on May 16, 2009.

The architecture of the library building took its inspiration from the Mississippi River. At the grand opening, architect Lowell Berg of Clark & Enersen offered a succinct description of the river elements that may be found in the building:

“On the outside of the building, there are three different brick colors…a color stratification similar to the banks of the Mississippi. The outside facades of the building include bands of limestone…representing high water marks from history’s many flood events. The flaring out at the high roofs are evocative of the flared smokestacks of the paddlewheel steamships that used to travel the river. As you look at the window walls, the blue glass in the middle is the river, the higher yellow glass, the sun. The river also metaphorically flows through the building. In the main circulation spine traveling west, you will see it in the wall behind the service counter, and in the carpet that is visually active, like the sun reflecting off moving water. Or, in the blue glass tile that climbs up the bottom of the walls as if wakes are hitting the bank; a bank that is represented by limestone above the tiles. On top of the limestone bank, bamboo paneling is the forest, vertical and sepia like the trunks of trees. Above the river is a cloud ceiling, and at night, the layout of the can lights in the cloud accurately represent the constellations.”

Current library building
Interior of current library building

A Century of Service

On June 15, 2022, the Cape Girardeau Public Library celebrated 100 years of dedicated service to the community. An Open House celebration was held to commemorate the milestone, and members of the community showed up in droves to show their support and appreciation. 

What began as a collection of 3,000 volumes in 1922 has grown into a true community hub that boasts nearly 100,000 physical items (including many items in our Library of Things), plus an additional 22,000 ebooks and audiobooks available as digital downloads.

Additionally, many services are offered now that librarians in 1922 couldn’t have even imagined: public computers, passport services, and the lending of a vast collection of non-book items (such as telescopes, cake pans, ukuleles, and WiFi hotspots, to name just a few).

We're proud of the legacy we've worked diligently to build and are committed to striving to be the community's first choice for information gathering experiences through social interaction, programming, technology, and the written word for all ages. 

Ribbon cutting at the library's 100 Year Celebration
Handcrafted wooden model of library building