Southfield Public Library History

In 2023, the Southfield Public Library celebrated its 20-year anniversary of its current location. Have you ever wondered how the Library began? Check out the timeline below and hover over the light blue timeline markers to discover even more historical information about the Library.

Southfield Library Historical Timeline


Town 1 North Range 10 East was surveyed. 


For 17 days, the new township was named Ossewa, then was changed to Southfield Township. 


Early settler David Stewart arrived. He loved books and would loan them to others.


The township started to pay for books. The early library system relied heavily on the school districts. Records show that school inspectors had received from the township treasury a total of $25 for the township library. These monies were paid to a man from Detroit. 

June 7, 1845

The first library book was withdrawn. The Library included 300 books.

May 2, 1846

Benjamin C. Gunn, the first librarian, swore oath.


The rules were amended by the school inspectors that allowed books to be distributed to parents. 


700 volumes were in use by local schools, rotating every 3 months. It is unknown where the library was located, but it was probably in the home of the librarian.


Most of Southfield Township became the City of Southfield, and a group of citizens requested a library. This group later became the Friends of the Southfield Public Library.

February 1, 1960

The first Library opens with a collection of 10,000 books in the Old Brooks School on the southwest corner of Lahser and Eleven Mile Roads. 


The Civic Center opened, including City Hall, Police Building, & Recreation Center. The Library moved to the David Stewart Memorial Library in the Southfield Civic Center. 


The Library expanded with the opening of the Children’s Room. The Library had a staff of 20, and 45,000 books were circulated. 


The Beech Woods Reading Center opened as one of the first paperback facilities in the country. McDonnell Towers also had a small branch library. 


The U.S. Census recorded 75,568 residents. The Library expanded by opening the lower level. Other media was added, including records, cassettes, and microfilms. 


The Library adopted bar coded library cards.


The Library celebrated its 25th anniversary. The Friends of the Southfield Public Library established a sister library in Hino, Japan.


The Library installed an automated bibliographic control system.


U.S. Census 75,728 residents. The Library’s card catalog became automated.


The Library introduces the InfoNet dial-in catalog service.


Library Circulation and other services are automated with the Innovative Interfaces, Inc. Integrated Library System.


The Beech Woods Reading Center was relocated to the John Grace Community Center.

March 9, 1999

Southfield voters approved a millage to finance the construction of a new Library building.


Circulation exceeded 500,000. The library recorded over 424,000 visits, and computers were used almost 165,000 times.

April 11, 2001

Groundbreaking for the new library building began.

June 15, 2003

The new Library opened. The building is over 127,000 square feet, houses over 250,000 volumes, 250 computers, and 1,000 wired Internet connections. 


John Grace library branch closes.


A few golden library cards were issued to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the library buildingThe Library reduces hours due to the economic downturn and reduction in tax revenue.


The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. bust is permanently installed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Task Force and their annual Peace Walk held every January.


The Bear and Boy statue by Marshall Fredericks was relocated to the Library’s Tower Lobby from Northland Mall.


The Library increases hours open to the public.

March 2020

The Library closed the building due to COVID-19, but boosted the digital library offerings and started virtual programming. 

July 2020

The Library reopened for phone and drive-up service and opened a computer lab in the Meeting RoomOutdoor programming and take and make kits are offered. 


The building opened fully for in-person use in June.  A Library of Things was introduced with Hot Spots and Raspberry Pi kits available to checkout.


Full hours were restored to the library.


The Library became fine free and celebrated 20 years at its current location.

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The Library had 19,603 visitors and circulated 127,100 books.

The official name of the Southfield Public Library is the David Stewart Memorial Library.

David Stewart was the great-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. 



Architectural drawing of the new Southfield Public Library.

The Library opened with a grand ceremony featuring May Poles that everyone was invited to cut.



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.

A leather-bound ledger contained the “rules for regulation of the Southfield Township library adopted by inspectors May 3, 1845.” The ledger was dated from 1845-1859. (The Southfield Sun, 22 Sept. 1966, Sec. 1, p. 1.)

One rule 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.).



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.

The building had been newly renovated from a two-room schoolhouse. Today the building is the Southfield Transportation Center. 

Mae Berne was selected as Chief Librarian. 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.

It was free to residents, non-residents paid a $10 fee for library cards.