Central History


Explore the history behind your local branch.

Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library

It’s a whole new world in here…

Central Library Grand Opening brochure

The Library of tomorrow

Soon after her arrival as library director, Judith A. Drescher remarked, “if libraries are going to promote themselves as an information service, they’re going to have to turn into one.”  She recognized that the current library facilities were inadequate to best serve the quickly advancing technology and information needs of the Memphis community. With that in mind, Drescher ushered MPL through a period of assessment, leading to the grand opening of a new, decidedly more modern Central Library located at 3030 Poplar Avenue. 

Who is this building for? It’s for the 10-year-old girl who has lots of smarts, but not many resources; who has initiative but not much support; and who walks in the library door, stops dead in her tracks, and says to herself, ‘This is all for ME?’

Judith A. Drescher, from An Insider’s View of the Library of Tomorrow, October 21, 1999.

Library – brochure. Perre Magness Collection, DIG MEMPHIS, Digital ID PM0056.

Plans for a new central library began with a question – “could the main library at 1850 Peabody be expanded on the current site?”* The question was examined by a team of library consultants along with experts in engineering and facilities management.  According to Judith Drescher, “every study concerning operational costs, construction costs, and renovation costs showed that all of these options were more expensive and less efficient than construction of a new, larger facility.”  Armed with that knowledge, MPL set out to build the library of tomorrow, one that could meet the community’s immediate needs and also adapt to the changing future.

Preparations for a new building began in earnest in 1991, with the library setting a 10-year goal for completion. After years of planning, fundraising, and construction, the new $70 million, 300,000 sq. ft. Central Library opened its doors to the public on November 10, 2001. In the first week alone, nearly 35,000 people visited the impressive new building. One of the more notable aspects of the new library was its 9 public art offerings located throughout the building, which was funded by $2 million in private donations. You can explore the stories behind the art below! 

In 2005, Memphis City Council officially re-named the Central Library the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, in honor of the noted civil rights leader, lawyer, judge, and Baptist minister.  In the subsequent 15 years, Central Library has continued to evolve, upholding its standard as the “library of tomorrow”.  In 2015, the library unveiled what Director Keenon McCloy has called “a game changer” – CLOUD901, a 8,300 sq. ft. state-of-the-art social, creative, production, research and performance technology lab where teens ages 13-18 can develop 21st century skills. 

In its first twenty years, the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library has welcomed nearly 14.5 million visitors, checked out 11.2 million items, and provided computer services for over 6 million customers. As Director McCloy has said, the library is “a place that has sole focus on encouraging people to find their dreams and their paths outside of traditional institutions. [Hooks Central Library] is our flagship. It’s stood the test of time.”* MPL’s flagship and those invested in its success strive to “do everything to the highest degree possible and be a model” for libraries everywhere. ​

Central library art

Explore the stories behind the artwork found at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

To view full screen, CLICK HERE.

THE Central library archival COLLECTION