The History of Orange County Library System: Proud Past, Bright Future

December 31, 2022 | Erin Sullivan
The History of Orange County Library System: Proud Past, Bright Future

One hundred years ago, there was no permanent library in Orlando. The only library that existed was a small circulating collection of books owned and loaned by the Sorosis of Orlando Woman’s Club, a philanthropic women’s organization that still supports education and local charities to this day.

Recognizing the demand for a real public library system, the Sorosis Club advocated for the city to support a taxpayerfunded library, and in May 1920, it was put before voters to decide whether they wanted one. Residents voted 417 to 19 in favor of beginning a library, which set the wheels in motion for the area’s first official library to become a reality.

The following year, Captain Charles L. Albertson, a retired New York City police inspector, book collector and winter resident of Orlando made the city an offer: he would donate his collection to Orlando on the condition that the city build a library to house it. The city agreed, and on November 8, 1923, the Albertson Public Library opened its doors, containing more than 21,000 volumes, including almost 12,000 books donated by Albertson, and the Sorosis Club’s entire collection of 3,000 titles.

The library grew quickly, opening new branches and expanding services. The library’s first bookmobile was donated by the Sorosis Club in 1949. That same year, the library’s all-volunteer support group, Friends of the Orange County Library System, was founded.

By 1966, the population of Orlando had grown to the point where Albertson Public Library lacked the space to provide suitable library service. Following a bond-issue election, construction of a new facility was approved. Selected to design the new building was renowned Harvard Five architect, John M. Johansen, who called his Brutalist design a “composition in monolithic concrete.” The Orlando Public Library building was dedicated on August 7, 1966. Architecture for Florida Living, a publication of the American Institute of Architects, said of the building that it, “has a solid massiveness, yet it is of human scale, which invites and requires use by people. And used it is – not in the tradition of tomb-quiet libraries, but in an active, learning, participating manner.”

In the 1980s, the building was once again expanded, and today it takes up 290,000 square feet and an entire city block in downtown Orlando. The rest of the system has grown, too – as of 2023, Orange County Library System operates 15 locations, with two more in the works for Lake Nona and Horizon West.
We like to think that systemwide, we continue to create places that invite and require use by people.

On January 7, we kick off a yearlong celebration of service to the community. Keep an eye on our website for special events, including author events, speakers, events for children, as well as stories about the library’s past. In a place more commonly celebrated for its recent developments and modern amenities, it’s an honor to be able to celebrate our past with you, while looking ahead to a bright future.

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