Birmingham Public Library

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The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is the public library system for the City of Birmingham. It consists of the Birmingham Central Library and Linn-Henley Research Library downtown, as well as sixteen regional and branch libraries located throughout the city with around 285 total employees. The Birmingham Public Library is a major part of the Jefferson County Library Cooperative. It is supported by the city, by the Friends of the Birmingham Public Library, and by the Birmingham Public Library Foundation.

The director of the Birmingham Public Library is Janine Langston, who began her term in December 2021.


The first "public" library in Birmingham was established in 1886 by John Herbert Phillips, the superintendent of Birmingham City Schools. It consisted of shelves of books made available to teachers and students in a room adjoining his office in the Enslen Building. In 1891 the school library was made into a public lending library through the sale of $2 annual subscriptions to the public.

In 1898 a second school library, for Black teachers and students, was established at the Slater School with Phillips' approval. By 1902 the main library held around 10,000 volumes, with a monthly circulation of 1,500 items. Its reading rooms were furnished with, "all the leading periodicals of the day."

In 1903 the growing main collection of books was relocated to the 4th floor of Birmingham City Hall on 4th Avenue North at 19th Street. The subscription fee was abolished, and it was made a "free and forever after," under the auspices of Birmingham Public Library Association, effective in 1909.

The Association was succeeded by a city-created Birmingham Public Library Board in 1913. In addition to the central library at city hall, the new board took over operation of the Avondale Library, the Ensley Library, and other suburban institutions which had been annexed as part of the "Greater Birmingham" legislation that took effect in 1911. Other neighborhoods also petitioned the Board to open new libraries, such as the East Lake Library, which was dedicated in February 1914.

With the support of Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington, the Slater School library was also turned over to the Library Board in 1913. After more than $4,000 in private donations were handed over, the board rented a storefront at 1715 3rd Avenue North and opened the "Lincoln Branch" to serve black patrons in October 1918. In 1924 the first county-wide library services program was initiated when the Jefferson County Board of Revenue contracted with the Birmingham Public Library Board to offer Bookmobile service to rural communities.

The main library was destroyed in the 1925 City Hall fire. A new library building, built in part with donated funds, opened in Woodrow Wilson Park on April 11, 1927. Bookmobile service resumed in 1952, thanks to an $11,000 donation from Mrs Horace Hammond. In 1956 the Smithfield Library opened as the second branch available for the use of Birmingham's African-American residents.

In the early 1970s, following guidance from the Alabama Public Library System, Birmingham Public Library director George Stewart began meeting with other public librarians in Jefferson County to discuss unifying their services. The Jefferson County Librarians Association was established in 1974 and oversaw the drafting of a cooperative services document that led to formal creation of the Jefferson County Library System on October 1, 1980.

After a long debate about where to construct a new library, the present Birmingham Central Library was built across 21st Street North in 1984, designed by KPS Group. The 1927 building was completely renovated and reopened in 1985 as the Linn-Henley Research Library.

In 2010 Mayor William Bell requested that the library propose a plan to save $900,000 in the system's annual budget. The board proposed closing three neighborhood branches. Public pressure led the Birmingham City Council to save two of those locations, with only the Slossfield Library closing.

Much of the Birmingham Public Library system was closed to the public during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. Library staff continued to provide remote services, such as providing homework help and assistance to parents teaching at home; managing digital borrowing; scanning materials for researchers; and coordinating curbside pick-ups. In his 2021 Birmingham budget proposal, Mayor Randall Woodfin proposed cutting the city's direct appropriation to the library by $2.5 million. He also sent notices to most of the library's 230 employees that they would be furloughed from work from September until libraries could reopen. The library board disputed the Mayor's authority to furlough workers and told staff to ignore the letters they had received. After negotiations, the Mayor's office agreed to restore some of the lost funding, but Woodfin later announced even more drastic cuts, to $6.2 million for the fiscal year, leaving it up to the board to determine closures and furloughs. The following week the board approved the director's recommendation to furlough 158 of the system's 211 employees. Those that did not take retirement returned to work in December after the City Council agreed to take more money from the emergency fund to expand curbside library service to all neighborhood branches. Funding for library staff was restored to $13.1 million in the mayor's 2022 budget.

Prior to the 2021 budget announcement, the closure of the Eastwood Branch had already been announced.


The Birmingham Public Library houses numerous notable collections in its archives, including the Tutwiler Collection of Southern History and Literature and the Rucker Agee Collection of Maps of the Southeast.


The system's operations are governed by the Birmingham Public Library Board. The current director is Janine Langston.



The Birmingham Public Library has the following branches:

Regional branches

Neighborhood branches

Former branches

In preparing to submit his 2011 Birmingham budget, Mayor William Bell asked Library director Renee Blalock to provide a list of five of the city's 19 branches that she could recommend for temporary closure in order to cut costs. The initial list included the Slossfield, North Avondale, East Ensley, Inglenook and Ensley branches. Blalock subsequently developed a plan to cut $900,000 from the library's budget by closing three of the branches (Slossfield, East Ensley and Inglenook), cutting part-time staff, reducing utility costs, and ending Saturday hours except at the Central library and regional branches. Public outcry led the board to preserve two of those, East Ensley and Inglenook.


  • "The Public Library" (May 26, 1902) The Birmingham News, p. 1
  • Alabama Historical Association. (2001) "The Birmingham Public Library" Historical Marker. Linn Park. [1]
  • Wolfson, Hannah K. (December 26, 2009) "Main Birmingham library's map collection ancient, 'priceless'." The Birmingham News
  • Wolfson, Hannah (June 18, 2010) "Three Birmingham library branches to close by end of July." The Birmingham News
  • Williams, Roy L. (October 23, 2017) "Birmingham Public Library hires Floyd Council as executive director." The Birmingham Times
  • Prickett, Sam (October 9, 2018) "Birmingham Public Library Atmosphere 'Toxic' 'Hostile,' Employees Say. Leadership 'Not for Faint of Heart,' New Director Responds" BirminghamWatch
  • "America Has a Digital Skills Gap. Libraries Can Help Fix It" (November 2019) Ideas on Main (The Atlantic and Grow with Google)
  • Prickett, Sam (August 26, 2020) "City Notifies Birmingham Library Employees of Furloughs; Library Board President Contests City Authority." BirminghamWatch
  • Prickett, Sam (August 28, 2020) "Furloughs on Hold, but Maybe Not for Long." BirminghamWatch
  • Prickett, Sam (September 16, 2020) "Woodfin’s Revised Library Budget Lower Than Expected, With $3.6M Remaining Until June 30." BirminghamWatch
  • Wright, Barnett (September 21, 2020) "‘Gut-wrenching’ furloughs wipe out 75% of Birmingham Library workers." The Birmingham Times
  • Johnson, Roy S. (October 14, 2020) "Now, Birmingham library system must create evolution it ‘should have embraced 10 years ago’." The Birmingham News
  • Prickett, Sam (February 1, 2022) New Library Appointments "New Library Board Taking Over as Birmingham Council Replaces Five Members" BirminghamWatch

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