Blast from the Past: Celebrate Libraries


Ever heard of the Alachua County Library District's Heritage Collection? No?! The Heritage Collection consists of over 1,100 historical photographs from all aspects of daily life in the Alachua County area. Treat yourself to a journey of amazing historical detail and profound human interest through this annotated photographic exposé of the Alachua region spanning the 1870s through the 1970s. Experience and understand local history in a different way, through the faces and places of the past that still influence the present.

National Library Week is April 7-13. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and Newbery and Pura Belpré-award winning author Meg Medina will serve as 2024 Honorary Chair. She states, “Libraries connect our communities and enrich our lives in ways we may not realize, and one of my greatest pleasures is discovering the unexpected and beautiful things libraries offer... libraries support us wherever we find ourselves on the roadmap through life’s journey. Join me and the American Library Association in celebrating the gift of libraries everywhere and the adventures and opportunities they unlock for us every day.” Enjoy the pictures and history below, and don't forget to celebrate your library. (American Library Association)


Gainesville Public Library 1918

postcard of Gainesville Public Library built in 1918
picture of book stacks inside Gainesville Public Library

In 1903, a group of Gainesville women organized a literary society which evolved over the years into the Gainesville Public Library. The library did not have its own home until 1918. Shortly before World War I, the Twentieth Century Club (the Gainesville Woman's Club) spearheaded a drive to raise $10,000 to establish a new library building, and they appealed to the Carnegie Library Association for aid. The Carnegie people agreed on the condition that the city provide land and upkeep. This was put to a vote and Gainesville's citizens voted to accept a tax-supported library. The Carnegie Library building in this postcard was opened at 419 East University Avenue in 1918. By 1950, the building was too small with no room for browsing and books stacked in windowsills. A new building was built on the same site in 1956. That building was used until 1968 when a new building opened across the street.


Santa Fe Region Bookmobiles

bookmobile 1976 Librarian Katy Dunn with children
Bookmobile 1976
bookmobile 1968
Bookmobile 1967

The first bookmobile was bought in 1959. This new Gainesville Public Library Bookmobile was purchased in 1967 and served the Santa Fe Region (Alachua, Bradford, and Union counties). With two bookmobiles, stops were added to help Gainesville residents who weren't able to come to the library. This bookmobile was funded by a Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) grant to serve residents in East Gainesville. Librarian Katy Dunn is pictured here at one of those stops doing craft projects with neighborhood children in 1976. 




Library Branches - Hawthorne, High Springs, and Micanopy

Hawthorne Branch in 1966
Hawthorne Branch 1969
Hawthorne Branch

In 1959, these three cities opened libraries in donated buildings and spaces to become part of the Santa Fe Regional Library System. The City of Hawthorne had a big celebration when the first bookmobile came on April 17, 1959. They had refreshments and registered over 100 residents. In 1962, the library moved to the Hawthorne Woman's Club. The library then moved into its own small building in 1966. A new building was built in 1969 at its present location. The Hawthorne Branch has been renovated and expanded over the years. 




High Springs Branch 1976
High Springs Branch
Micanopy Branch in City Hall 1976

The High Springs Branch began in the High Springs New Century Woman's Club and in 1959 was moved to a tiny building donated by the North Florida Telephone Company. In 1976, the Loncala Phosphate Company donated land to the City of High Springs for a larger building. In 1977, a human chain moved the books down the street to the new library. The branch has been expanded and renovated several times, in the same location. The Micanopy Branch began in a doctor's office waiting room in 1959. In 1960, the library moved to a small building in the town center. In 1973, the branch moved into the old public school built in 1895. This historic building was renovated to hold the Micanopy Town Hall. The branch has been renovated several times in the same location. 


Gainesville Public Library 1968

Gainesville Public Library built in 1968
Gainesville Public Library entrance 1970s

On December 9, 1968, the new Gainesville Public Library building opened at 222 East University Avenue. Due to bond issues, increased costs, and construction delays, it took three years to complete the building. The size was reduced from the originally planned 40,000 to just 17,500, so when the library was opened, it was already crowded. In 1983, the Gainesville City Commission decided a new library would be built where the old Carnegie Library had been. On August 6, 1988, groundbreaking for a new 78,000 sq. ft. building was held. In 1991, the current building was opened.



University of Florida Libraries

UF Library East 1950s
Smathers Library 1960s

Let us not forget other libraries in the county. The Heritage Collection includes many photographs and postcards of the University of Florida. Here are two postcards of Library East, which was built in 1925. The building has been expanded and renovated many times over the years and has held a variety of collections. A statue of Albert A. Murphree, the second UF president was placed by the library in 1946. After a significant donation from Senator George A. Smathers in 1987, the library was renamed Smathers Library. The whole system of university libraries became the George A. Smathers Libraries in 1991. Smathers is currently home to library acquisitions and several special collections.


Learn more about the history of the Alachua County Library District.

By BethN on April 23, 2024