Celebrating 200 years serving the people of North Carolina

History of the State Library

In the 19th century, at a time when access to learning was a luxury that few could afford, and libraries were rare and mostly private, the State Library acted as a library for the public.  For many years, books from the collection circulated freely to members of the community, though the primary focus of the Library remained on serving the needs of state officials.

By the early 1900’s, the State Library had expanded to more than 40,000 volumes, benefiting from both a vigorous exchange campaign with other states, and a concerted effort on the part of the Library trustees to increase the range and quality of the collection on behalf of the public.  The beginning of the 20th century saw other developments that affected the Library as well–the collection was cataloged in Dewey Decimal order at the turn of the century,  an Assistant Librarian (Carrie Broughton) was appointed in 1902, the NC Library Association was formed in 1904, and the State Library Commission was established in 1909.

As the century progressed, the State Library grew and evolved, as new needs were recognized  and new technologies became available.   Already richly eclectic in scope, the collection was further expanded by an increased concentration on genealogical material, as library staff noted an escalating demand for assistance with family history.   The staff, small though it remained until mid-century, continued to innovate and provide extra services, such as indexing the News & Observer and abstracting and publishing 19th century marriage and death notices.  With the merger in 1956 of the State Library and the Library Commission, both staffing and programming expanded dramatically.  Multiple initiatives and services–administration of state aid for libraries, library advocacy and delivery for the blind, IN-WATS reference service, the Library Processing Center, strengthened interlibrary lending and consortial agreements–were implemented in rapid succession in the next 2 decades.

As the Library approached the end of the millennium and the  beginning of its third century, new media and forms of information sharing were being created at an accelerating rate.  The Audiovisual department transitioned from 16 millimeter films to videotapes to DVDs.  Books for the blind, originally limited to Braille and large print items, were gradually augmented by books on phonograph records, books on tape and then digital recordings.  Hardcopy government publications gave way to born digital documents, podcasts, websites, and a variety of social media formats.  The State Library has adapted to these changes, providing expertise on policy, infrastructure, metadata and cataloging, and technology, with such statewide initiatives as NC ECHO, the Access to State Government Information Initiative, the Ensuring Democracy through Digital Access project, NOBLE, and NC CARDinal.