Inside Joplin’s Carnegie Library

In the early nineteen-hundreds, Jopliners appealed to the philanthropic sensibility of one Andrew Carnegie, who granted Joplin $40,000 to establish a public library. (You may read of the details of this endeavor on the Historic Joplin website: From the National Register of Historic Places’ 1977-79 inventory of Joplin’s Carnegie, I gather that its interior is quite impressive. Some features include the main entry’s original molded tin ceiling, oak flooring, doors, stairways and molded oak door frames, as well as a turned spindle balustrade which ascends from a columnar newel post, topped with carved, laurel garlands that rests beneath an egg and dart molding. The Library was arranged symmetrically around the central stairwell on all three levels.

Completed in 1902, the Carnegie’s original main level floor included the Librarian’s Desk, the stacks, a general reading area and a high school room. On the second floor were the Ladies’ Reading Room, the Fine Arts Room, a general reading room, an inactive storage room and the toilets. The basement housed the Men’s Reading Room, the stacks, a storage room and the boiler room. A 1916 addition brought a Children’s Library to the basement and offices and more room for the stacks on the main floor. The photographs following are likely from the early 1900s:

Librarians' Desk

Librarians’ Desk


By the mid 1960s, the library’s staff was advised to use the upper level for nothing more than a reading room, as structural specifications did not meet the requirements of a heavy book load. In addition to this problem, the heating and ventilating system needed upgrading, as did the plumbing and electrical systems. Thus the Joplin Public Library outgrew its Carnegie upbringing and sought relocation.

By 2001, the privately owned Carnegie’s Children’s Room, Librarians’ Desk and Reference Room appeared as follows, respectively:

Presently, Joplin’s Carnegie Library building sits on its corner at 9th Street and Wall Avenue, where its future remains unknown. Over the decades it’s undergone changes aplenty, most of which are not aligned with maintaining the building’s historical integrity, such as acoustic ceilings, paneling and partitions. Yet another saddening and maddening narrative of yet another building listed with the National Register of Historic Places (which is a story of intrigue in and of itself) that, apparently, is being allowed to deteriorate into disrepair.

Finally, a comparison: Librarians’ Desk, early 1900s / Librarians’ Desk, 2001:



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