Southfield Public Library History

Many people might believe that the Southfield Public Library opened in 1960. However, early records show that library services in the Township of Southfield began as early as 1844. In the earliest Southfield Township Record book, dated March 26, 1844, is the following:

Old Brooks School in 1968.

“The school inspectors then rendered their account by which it appeared that they had received from the treasury twenty five dollars for the township library & that they had paid said money to A. McFarran of Detroit for books for the library & also presented a bill of the books & receipt for payment.” (p.72-3) Another leather bound ledger contains the “rules for regulation of the Southfield Township library adopted by inspectors May 3, 1845.” (The Southfield Sun, 22 Sept. 1966, Sec. 1, p. 1.)

The early library system relied heavily on the school districts. In 1845, there were 10 school districts in the township, and each district had a director. The director withdrew books every three months from the library and took them to the schools for use. The number of books withdrawn depended on the number of children in the district. In 1845 there were 300 books and by 1854 there were more than 700 titles. It is not known where the library was located, but it was probably located in the home of the librarian or perhaps in a public meeting place such as the town hall.

By 1847, the rules were amended by the board of school inspectors that now allowed books to be distributed to parents. One of the rules stated that “no person shall be allowed to have more than one book out of the library at one time and shall be required to return the same to the director within one month from the time it is drawn out…” (The Southfield Sun, 22 Sept. 1966, Sec. 1, p. 1.)

Some of the early titles included Scripture History, Fremont’s Exploring Expedition and Optical Illusions. Early library fines were six cents for the first day and one cent for each additional day.

The first library account ledger dates from 1845-1859. It is not known at this time what type of library services were available from 1859-1960.

In the mid 1950s, a group of citizens began to campaign for a public library in Southfield. (This group eventually became the Friends of the Southfield Public Library, incorporating in May 1961.) On Feb 3, 1960, the Library opened in the old Brooks Elementary school, a two-room red brick schoolhouse, located at 11 Mile and Lahser. The original school, built in 1834, was a wood frame one-room schoolhouse known as Beddow School, named after a local farmer and cheese maker. The name was eventually changed to Brooks after the Brooks family of Southfield. Classes were held in the school until June, 1959. In late 1959, the city of Southfield leased the school, renovating for library use by turning the two rooms into one large room and adding a picture window to improve the lighting.

Architectural drawing of the new Southfield Public Library.

The Chief Librarian in 1960 was Mae Benne, and additional staff consisted of one other full-time librarian and three part-time librarians. The library was 3,000 square feet, had a collection of 7,400 volumes with a circulation of 71,194, and was a member of WOLF, the Wayne Oakland Library Federation.

The official name of the Southfield Public Library is the David Stewart Memorial Library. David Stewart was the grandfather of Mary Thompson, former owner of the current Civic Center complex site. David Stewart had the best collection of books in the area at the time and generously allowed other people to use his book collection. Part of the sale agreement between Mary Thompson and the City of Southfield was that the library would be named in honor of David Stewart.

On March 9, 1999, voters approved a Charter Amendment allowing for the sale of bonds to finance a new public library. On June 15, 2003, the new Southfield Public Library, located just northwest of the City of Southfield municipal offices, opened to the public.