Mid-Continent Public Library is a consolidated library district and a tax supported political subdivision that is governed by a twelve-member board, four each from Jackson, Platte, and Clay Counties.
A New Start
After World War II, Jackson, Clay, and Platte counties created their own public library districts to separate public libraries being defined by their attached school district. The three library districts began working together in 1964 in an effort to combine and multiply the educational effects the library could have on residents of all ages. After years of partnership, the county districts of Jackson and Clay combined their administrative services in 1965. Platte County joined the, then named, Mid-Continent Public Library Service in 1968. All three districts kept their own governing boards and budgets.
Founded on the belief that people should be able to go the nearest library and receive great service, this partnership allowed for a sharing of administrative costs and the ability to expand the service area to many growing rural areas that had never had public library service.
Jackson County Librarian, James A. Leathers, was influential in the creation of a regional library system and became the first Director of Mid-Continent Public Library Service. He worked tirelessly to create an advanced library system that was built on the solid pillars that still stand today. Focusing on providing the education, information, and recreational activities that people desired, Leathers and the librarians at Mid-Continent Public Library Service expanded what was once thought of as a school dependent industry into a tri-county system aimed at providing a continuing education service to all individuals “from the cradle to the grave.”
In the first two years of Mid-Continent Public Library Service, the institution worked hard to create more partnerships with surrounding areas in an effort to provide the most complete library service for the entire metropolitan area. With this in mind, they created a reciprocal agreement for free borrowing privileges with the Johnson County and Kansas City, Kansas Library Districts.
The year of 1968 was full of changes for the fledgling library system. The name Mid-Continent Public Library Service was shortened to Mid- Continent Public Library and a new administrative and technical services building was completed in November 1968, at 15616 East 24 Highway in Independence. This allowed for a centralized location for distribution, cataloging, and system-wide services.
In 1971, the Missouri Legislature passed the Consolidated Public Library Law. Seven years later, on December 27, 1978, the Clay County Library District fully consolidated with the Jackson County Library District forming Consolidated Library District No. 3. And on February 20, 1979, the Platte County Court voted to consolidate the Platte County Library District with Consolidated Public Library District No. 3, also known as the Mid-Continent Public Library. In 1981 the Frank Hughes Memorial Library of Liberty merged with Mid-Continent Public Library, and the library system was now composed of 24 branch libraries in three counties.
The Mid-Continent Public Library became fully automated in 1994 with circulation, intra-library loan and in-branch online public access catalog modules. Dial-up access to the online catalog was instituted in 1995. The Mid-Continent Public Library website was launched on December 1, 1995. It was one of the first public library websites in the state of Missouri. Access to the Internet and additional electronic databases was made available to the public in 1996 and 1997. In 1998, the web-based online public access catalog was added.
In 2001, WorldCat was added to the online databases. WorldCat allows patrons to see which other libraries hold titles and then permits the patron to place a request for an inter-library loan. Audio-visual materials were also added to the items that could be requested. The result was a substantial increase in activity for the Inter-Library Loan and Delivery departments.
A new library service platform ‘Library-To-Go’ was introduced in 2008 and 2009. The first two Library-To-Go installations were established at the Hillcrest and Marlborough Community Centers in partnership with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. A third site was added in 2011 at the Platte City Resource Center in Platte County. Each facility offers public Internet access through the library, an automated system that allows patrons to pick up reserved materials, return checked out materials, and a browsing DVD collection available for check out. The system received an ImpacT award from the Kansas City Business Journal in 2011 for their creative client interface.
The new MCPL website was unveiled in 2010 at mymcpl.org. The site featured a more visual interface including branch created content, the ability to register for reading programs online, and a public forum for library ideals. Also, in 2010, the North Independence branch was renovated. Highlights of the branch include an Independence living history theme, a drive-up window, and a bistro.
Going to the People
In 1984, an ambitious building program was begun with the goal of either building new or remodeling 25 branch library buildings including a presence in Lone Jack. The first new building was constructed in 1984. By 1992, twenty-five branch libraries were completed totaling 275,000 square feet.
In 1991, it was apparent that the building program was coming in under budget and there were sufficient monies still available in the building fund to construct additional facilities, but operating income was insufficient to staff them. It would be necessary to ask the voters to support this. On June 4, 1991, the electorate approved tax levy shift which increased the operating levy. The library system built four additional between 1992 and 1994 bringing the total number of branches completed to twenty-nine.
Due to increase in growth, larger branches were constructed in Kearney and Lone Jack with completion in 1998. In April of 2003, a 14,496 square foot addition to the Administration Center was complete. In 2006, property was acquired to build a replacement Smithville branch. The new branch opened in December 2009.
In 1996, a 12,000 square foot Genealogy Branch was completed adjacent to the North Independence Branch to house the genealogy collection. In 2002, the Heart of America Genealogical Society donated its circulating collection of over 7,000 volumes to Mid-Continent Public Library.
In 2006, MCPL acquired property to build the largest, free standing, public genealogy library in the United States. The Midwest Genealogy Center opened on June 21, 2008. The facility is a 52,000 square foot, state-of-the-art library with all the resources and amenities desired by genealogical researchers. The MGC features a significant browsing collection, advanced technology, classes, and available one-on-one appointments.
The new 15,638 square foot Platte City branch complete with a drive-up window was complete in 2006. The 15,638 square foot building featured many firsts for the library system. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide more natural light, a drive-thru window provides added convenience, and a partitioned programming space provides greater functionality. New services were added in 2005 and 2006 including after hour book drops, public Wi-Fi, word processing software for the public, Library-By-Mail (for homebound patrons), downloadable audio books, Live Homework Help tutoring services, and language learning web based services.
In November 2012, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the future site of the Woodneath Branch. Named for the wooded area surrounding this lush, 33 acre farmland, the Woodneath Estate was built by Elbridge Arnold in 1855-56 as a family homestead and farm. MCPL has contracted and worked closely with Sapp Design Associates to create a branch that combines the love of history with the modern desires of library users. The Woodneath Branch will include features to please the past and future of Clay County, including: room sensors for automatic lights, period authentic greenery, drop-off and pick-up windows, and café and food services.