As of its sesquicentennial year, the St. Louis Public Library boasts 17 neighborhood branches and more than 2 million annual visitors.
To celebrate, the libray has launched a website of historic images, "SLPL — Then and Now" and visitors can receive commemorative library cards.
But to really mark its 150th anniversary, marketing director Cathy Heimberger said the literary institution wanted to get creative and show it's "not your grandparents' library." So it's partnering with three local eateries to create special, library-themed treats.
Launching Tuesday night is a limited edition "St. Louis Public Library Peated Scotch Ale," courtesy of Schlafly brewmasters. The ale will be available through June. Up next will be a summer custard treat from Ted Drewes; Heimberger said the tentatively named "St. Louis Public Library Chocolate Soiree" will feature hot fudge, caramel and salted almonds. Pi Pizzeria will finish out the year with a special dish available from October to December.
Heimberger said she hopes these palatable partnerships help people rediscover the St. Louis Public Library for the community institution it is.
"We believe in neighborhood, we believe in community, and we just thought it would be just a fun connection to kind of get the community involved in a unique way," she said. "It's kind of unexpected. You wouldn't expect a library to have its own beer."
Here are nine other unexpected facts about the St. Louis Public Library:
- Schlafly's "Peated Scotch Ale" is named in honor of the Scottish heritage of early library patron Andrew Carnegie, whose gift more than 100 years ago funded one of the system's most enduring legacies: its local branches.
- Five of the branches Carnegie's money built, which Heimberger says reflected "his belief that everyone should have access to knowledge and books," are still in use today.
- Before the neighborhood branches were built, "books were actually delivered from the Central Library in horse and carriage to hospitals, train stations, wherever the people were meeting and gathering," Heimberger said.
- The library originally started out as a subscription library through the public schools, before opening to the public.
- For every yearly visitor (2.3 million), there is more than one item in the library's collection (3.6 million). It includes large collections of maps, postcards and St. Louis media history.
- The Library's collection also includes a stereograph - an early version of a viewmaster.
- The St. Louis Public Library boasts one of the largest fairy tale collections in the country.
- It also has an "awesome architectural display" known as the Steedman Room, Heimberger said. In the early 20th century, George Fox Steedman traveled Europe collecting what the library calls "many of the most influential and beautiful architectural books ever published." Steedman's personal study has been recreated and is on display in the Central Library's Great Hall.
- In addition to helping people learn to read, how to use a computer, pass a GED exam, master a program, or enjoy a new book, the library also offers science courses and maker spaces.