About the Library
McAlester Library has had many locations over the past 115 years. In 1904, the ladies of the McAlester Fortnightly Club decided that McAlester needed a library. To launch their idea, they held fundraisers, including a play at which the admission price was one book. On April 7, 1905, they opened a library with 750 volumes on the second floor of the Kellogg Building on Choctaw Avenue. They quickly outgrew their tiny space, and city founder, J.J. McAlester, offered them a bigger space in his building. The city council approved a monthly appropriation of $35.00 for the library. In 1907, the library was so busy that the need for a paid full-time librarian was apparent.
Mrs. Phoebe E. Hayden was hired as McAlester’s first librarian. In 1910, the J.J. McAlester Building was sold and the library was forced to move again. This time it was housed in the cramped checkroom of the Busby Theater. The Fortnightly club realized that a permanent building was needed. They looked to philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who was giving grants for library construction all around the country. Their grant application for $25,000.00 was approved with the stipulation that a building lot be provided and that a permanent tax be passed to maintain the library. The ladies found a suitable lot on Grand Avenue (now Carl Albert Pkwy).
In 1913, work began on the new Carnegie Library. The groundbreaking event was celebrated with a parade and the laying of the cornerstone, which bears the name of the library board members. In 1914, the new Carnegie Library opened with a 3000-volume collection. By the mid-1960s, the successful library had once again outgrown its building. Voters approved a bond issue for a new library, and construction began at the present site in 1968. On May 9, 1970 the library opened at 401 N. 2nd Street where it has remained for more than 50 years.
McAlester, Oklahoma was the birthplace of John Berryman, poet and biographer, on October 25, 1914. Mr. Berryman was honored with the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and the Bollinger Prize. This community; the center of his childhood in small town Oklahoma, was designated a Literary Landmark by the Friends of the Library U.S.A. in 2005. In 2015, a mural of John Berryman was painted across from the library on North 2ndSt. and a collection of his works are available at the McAlester Library.
The McAlester Chapter of Friends of the Library and the Puterbaugh Foundation have been a vital contributors to the success of McAlester Library. McAlester Library has been part of the Southeastern Oklahoma library System since the late 1960’s.