As early as 1914, the City Federation of Women's Clubs gave this report in its bulletin: "One of the clubs devoted much time some years ago to the subject of a free public library for Denton and received from Mr. Andrew Carnegie the assurance that a suitable building would be contributed by him if the city could contribute its part in location and maintenance. The City Council would not guarantee municipal support." Later, Carnegie withdrew his offer.
In the depression years of the early 1930s, the Federal government established many agencies to furnish employment, food, clothes, education and services of various kinds throughout the United States. Among these various services were the WPA programs which included the sponsorship of school libraries. This enabled schools, under the leadership of the Denton County Superintendent, to employ Mattie Pyrene Wilson as the library supervisor and to establish a program of county-wide interschool loans. In order to expedite this loan system, a bookmobile service was inaugurated.
Wilson opened a small 3,000 volume library on the third floor of the courthouse. The bulk of the library material was acquired through two sources: a $10 state teacher allowance for the purchase of library books and gift books donated by the Denton County Parent Teacher Association and other county organizations.
In 1935, the Junior Shakespeare Club started a movement to combine the Denton County School Library with a public library. The club suggested that the county school board, the city commission and the county commission form a coalition to support a library which would be free to all citizens of Denton County. The members of the Junior Shakespeare Club, in an attempt to stock the proposed library, collected more than 4000 books in a house-to-house canvass of the entire city. The city commission agreed to donate $600 toward the purchase of new books and the county agreed to furnish shelves, equipment and utilities. Finally, Denton's first public library opened on June 6, 1937.
Preceding World War II, due to lack of space, the library was moved to the southwest corner of the courthouse. With the advent of World War II, the public library experienced a temporary cessation of expansion in funds, facilities and library materials. Furthermore, the WPA assistants, the salary of the librarian and bookmobile drivers, and the gas and oil funds were terminated. In February 1943, Emily Fowler succeeded McCullar as librarian and library growth began again. Circulation increased to an average of 75 volumes daily.
As the collection grew, new library facilities were needed. In 1949, the City of Denton donated a tract of land on Oakland Street for a new library. A $50,000 bond was passed to build the structure and the Denton Lion's Club raised the funds to purchase the furnishings. The original core of the building was designed by architect, Wyatt C. Hedrick. On July 30, 1949, the Denton City-County Public Library officially opened.
The library was again expanded with funding from a bond issue for $775,000 approved in 1978. The library is currently operating in the 25,000 square-foot library that resulted from the second expansion. The library as presently used was opened on November 1, 1981. In May of 1993, Eva Poole succeeded Joella Orr as library director. In 1995, the Denton Public Library opened the 10,000-square-foot South Branch on Teasley Lane. Adjacent to Fire Station Number 6, the contemporary building has tall ceilings and open spaces, and can be easily enlarged. With a 40,000 item capacity, it has an average circulation of 17,000 per month.
In early 2003, Denton Public Library launched its current online catalog and web-based automation system (Innovative Interfaces, Inc.) The Millennium Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) allows customers to have global access to the library's holdings and their accounts via the Internet.
In 2000, voters overwhelmingly approved a capital improvement program that included funding for a second branch library. Based on the recommendation of the library's published strategic master plan, city administrators elected to convert an old Food Lion grocery store at the corner of North Locust and Windsor into the new branch library. The North Branch Library opened on July 24, 2003 to a giant crowd that enjoyed food, music by Brave Combo, and events all day long. The 32,801 square-foot building includes a cafe, meeting rooms available for the public, a drive-up book drop, self-check machines, a state-of-the-art computer center, and a collection of over 106,000 items. The library site also includes a xeriscape demonstration garden for children.
The Capital Improvement bond package approved in 2000 also provided funding to renovate the historic Emily Fowler Central Library. The renovation, which commenced in June 2003, presented unique challenges in striking a balance between the preservation of an architecturally significant structure and providing modern upgrades that would allow staff to meet changing service needs. The remodeled facility reopened in June 2005, maintaining the integrity of the original O'Neil Ford design, but with the addition of upgraded computer facilities, an expanded genealogy/special collections area and a new meeting space.
A 2009 renovation increased square footage at the South Branch Library to 21,450 square feet. In addition to additional floor space, the renovated facility offers a larger collection, more computer services and more parking.