The Calgary Public Library (CPL) is a distributed library system featuring 21 branch locations including the Central Library. It is the second most used system in Canada (after the Toronto Public Library) and the sixth most used library system in North America. This is despite the fact that the Calgary Public Library has one of the lowest per capita funding in the country, receiving as little as half the money of other Canadian public libraries.
The Calgary Public Library Board of Trustees was established on May 18, 1908. R. B. Bennett, who would later serve as Prime Minister of Canada, was among the five people appointed to the board. The first public library opened on January 2, 1912, thanks in part to the generosity of Scottish / American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
Carnegie funded $80,000 of the $100,000 cost of Calgary's Central Library, (now renamed the Memorial Park Branch), pressuring City Hall to fund the rest.
The building was the first purpose-built public library in Alberta. It was designed by Boston architects McLean & Wright, and built out of local Paskapoo Sandstone (a soft stone that today presents a substantial preservation challenge). This library branch is a copy of a library in Attleboro, Massachusetts.
In 1929 the formal Victorian-style park surrounding the Central Library was dedicated to the honour of those who had died in the Great War. During construction of the original building, the Calgary Library Board sought out a librarian to oversee the opening of its new library. In January 1911, Alexander Calhoun, a thirty-one-year-old graduate of Queen's University, was appointed Calgary's Librarian. Calhoun served as the head of the Calgary Public Library until his retirement in 1945.
When a new downtown central library was constructed in the early 1960s, the original branch was renamed the Memorial Park branch, and still operates today. An addition to the 1960s Central Library was built in 1974, doubling the size of the building.
In 2013, CNOOC subsidiary Nexen donated 1.5M dollars to the Calgary Public Library. The company has secured the naming rights for high tech learning commons in the new Calgary Central Library. CNOOC CEO Li Fanrong reiterated the gesture was motivated by the company's corporate responsibilities to Calgary. There have been concerns of censorship as CNOOC is a Chinese state run company, however McIntyre Royston library foundation head assures that the library's collection won't be censored.
Logo used prior to rebranding in January 2015
The location of the new library is in the Downtown East Village (just across 3rd St. S.E. from the new City Hall). On February 25, 2013, City Hall was approved the master plan to have the new library be built at the fore-mentioned location at Downtown East Village with the overall cost of C$245 million. The 286,000-square foot complex was completed on November 1, 2018.
In 2019, the new library was recognized as one of "The Worlds 100 Greatest Places of 2019" by TIME magazine.
^Nicholson, Barbara and Donna Lohnes: Alexander Calhoun: The Cornerstone of Calgary's "Temple of Knowledge" Citymakers: Calgarians after the Frontier. Max Foran, Shellagh Jameson (ed.). The Historical Society of Alberta, Chinook Country Chapter, 1987. p.152-153