Libraries can be surprising places. We expect books and these days computers, but what do we find? Sometimes, as at the Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library, we find art and architecture, and more. Perhaps most striking here are the many areas with decorative ceilings. There are marble columns, mosaics and other art, huge murals and more. Lovely wrought iron gates of incredible beauty can be found at the entrance to some rooms.

Detail from "The Landing of Cadillac's Wife"

Detail from “The Landing of Cadillac’s Wife”

Many of the areas, much of the art and architecture, loom large and impressive as well as historic. A guided tour is offered to show and explain some of this art. Discover the Wonders of the Detroit Public Library: An Art and Architectural Tour. This is a docent led experience. The website for the library is As you might expect it is a treasure of information.


This year is the 150th anniversary of the library: March 25, 1865-March 25, 2015. This building was built in 1921 and Andrew Carnegie’s generous aid hastened its completion. Here’s an important Carnegie quote, “ a library outranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people.”

Enjoy some of the sights. First the Pewabic Pottery fireplace in the room that was the original children’s room. The tiles depict children’s nursery rhymes.


detail of a fireplace tile

detail of a fireplace tile

Then the current children’s room.



The beautiful iridescent blues of this Pewabic Pottery vase from the 1920’s capture the spirit of the library.


This library holds many wonderful collections. Perhaps the most well known is The Burton Historical Collection which began as a private collection of the historiographer C. M. Burton. He assembled documents, papers and books pertaining not only to Michigan history but of the Old Northwest. This is a pertinent collection for all those researching American history in the Midwest, once known as the Northwest. He donated his collection to the Detroit Library in 1915.

There are other well-known collections. Among them, and pictured here: items from the Ernie Harwell collection. He was a beloved long-time sports announcer most closely associated with the Detroit Tigers. Another is Kate Greenaway’s beautiful illustrations. Her early artwork is much loved by many of us who know something of children’s literature.




These hornbooks are examples of books used by children in 17th and 18th century.


There is much spectacular viewing as one walks about the library. The lovely woodwork of the shelves and benches, so warm and inviting, I wanted to stretch out my hand to touch the wood, sit and linger. And there were words of wisdom among the myths and symbolism. A closed book is knowledge, an open book is access to knowledge.

So I guess we’d better get those books open.

Perhaps some of you will join me in becoming better acquainted with the main branch of the Detroit Public Library. The address of the building is 5201 Woodward. It is located in the cultural district facing the Detroit Art Institute with entrances on Woodward and Cass Aves. Its history is fascinating.

There’s much to see and learn here.


  1. Reta Dahlen

    Very interesting visit to a beautiful library. Would it be possible for you to visit all the Carnegie libraries.

  2. Bernadette Mainzer

    I love the way this library thinks – as well as Andrew Carnegie when it was built. Beautiful building and great historic value. Glad to see it is being kept up.


Leave a Reply