Among the first in America, Cincinnati's public library dates from March 14, 1853. A public reading room opened in 1856, but funding remained a problem until 1867, when local school board president Rufus King II secured legislation for a renamed Cincinnati Public Library. In 1869, King lured leading librarian William Frederick Poole to organize Cincinnati as a national model for the growing public library movement. Poole designed 19th century America's most advanced library at 629 Vine Street, which fully opened in 1874. Becoming a countywide system in 1898, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County was a pioneer in the 20th century with special services for the blind and for children, bookmobile services, and circulation of audiovisual materials.
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The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County's new Main Library that opened in 1955 at the corner of Eighth and Vine was post-war America's first major central public library. It was dedicated as a memorial to the servicemen and women from Hamilton County killed while in the Armed Forces. Its boldly modern "International Style" exterior was the work of local architect Woodie Garber, and its consumer-oriented "department store of knowledge" layout was the creation of Librarian Carl Vitz. The 1955 "New Main" garnered national attention and architectural praise for its sidewalk "store" entrance, generous use of glass, bright colors, rooftop terraces, and serpentine brick garden wall. Additions in 1982 and 1997 quadrupled the size of the Main Library.