Library History

Brief History of the Manatee County Public Library System

Early History:

  • 1898: Mrs. Julia Fuller’s millinery store carries books that could be rented for 5 cents each. The book rental operation soon moved to Miss America Sudbury’s dressmaking store.
  • 1904: the Village Improvement Association starts a library committee. Dr. J.C. Pelot donates a lot at 12th St. West and 6th Ave. West.
  • 1907: Mrs. T. J. Bachman loans $500 for small library construction. The one-room structure operated as a library until 1914.

Palmetto Carnegie Library:

  • 1914: $10,000 is granted by the Carnegie Foundation to build the first Carnegie Library in the area, in downtown Palmetto (now part of the Palmetto Historical Park). 
  • 2017: the Palmetto Carnegie Library undergoes extensive renovation funded by the State of Florida and City of Palmetto, including replacing the original large arched windows. 

Bradenton Carnegie Library:

  • 1918: the Bradenton Carnegie Library opens on 15th St. West.
  • 1956:  An addition is made to the Bradenton Carnegie Library building, served as headquarters for first bookmobile and the beginnings of the County Library System 
  • 2018: The Bradenton Carnegie Library continues to operate as the Historical Records Library and celebrates its 100th Anniversary

County Library System:

  • 1963: plan approved for countywide system with cities of Bradenton and Palmetto joining with Manatee County
  • 1964: Mrs. Catherine Ramsey, the first county library director, seeks federal grants for bookmobile and construction of branch libraries. Learn more about the library's early history from a speech she gave in 1977
  • 1965: Bookmobile service begins
  • 1966-1969: South Manatee Branch Library and Island Branch Library storefront locations open. Each later had a new freestanding building.
  • In Palmetto, a new library building opened in November 1969, located just across the street from the original 1914 Carnegie Library building. The Palmetto Library closed for two years in 2006-2007 for renovations, to re-emerge as an energy-wise green building.
  • Administrative offices moved to Perrine Plaza on Old Main Street, while SCORE Senior Citizen’s Library Branch also operated on Old Main Street
  • A 1,500 square foot temporary library opened in a trailer along State Road 70 in 1989. This building served as a library branch for nearly eight years until it was moved to Myakka for use as a child care center. The much larger new Braden River Library opened to the public in June 1997. In 2021, this location underwent renovations and now includes Studio 70 makerspace.
  • The library division moved from its original department, Recreation Services, to Information Services (IT), then Neighborhood Services (2009-2022), and is now part of Community and Veterans Services.
  • Reciprocal Borrowing began between Manatee and Sarasota counties in early 2000. Later expanded to over 20 counties, whose libraries are members of the Tampa Bay Library Consortium. 
  • 2011: Rocky Bluff Library moved from a small storefront location to a renovated building that had once housed the Roaring Twenties restaurant. A cafe was incorporated into the new library. 
  • 2013-2021: the library system wins multiple awards, including the Innovation Award (twice!), the Betty Davis Miller Youth Services Award (twice!), the Library of the Year, Librarian of The Year, Libraries Mean Business and more from the Florida Library Association.
  • Beginning in 2017, the library system began offering "Library of Things" items including musical instruments, tools, telescopes, binoculars, cake pans, hotspots, and museum passes.
  • In December 2021, ground was broken on the new library branch in Lakewood Ranch (name to be decided). This library will be located adjacent to the Premier Sports Campus.

Downtown Bradenton Library (formerly known as Central):

  • Early 1970s: idea proposed for larger centrally-located building to bring together scattered offices, Bradenton Carnegie collections, SCORE's large print, records and art prints, and Talking Books from Palmetto
  • April 24, 1978: the newly built Central Library opens to the public. It was once the home of Wade Stanton, who died on the Titantic, and whose family owned steamboats that brought visitors to Bradenton
  • A 2001-model Bookmobile, replacing smaller, earlier vehicles, served until 2010.
  • The Central Library was renovated in early 2015. The renovation was prompted by the construction of a new energy-saving chiller plant in downtown Bradenton; the library was the first building to connect to it. Other improvements included new ductwork, fire alarms, ceilings, updated Wifi and charging stations, a new teen area and creative lab, a mobile demo kitchen, new youth and information desks, and new study rooms.
  • In 2022, a recording studio was built at the Downtown Library.

Elizabeth Eaton Florida History Room:

  • Designed for Florida and local history books, maps, magazines and microfilm, with file cabinets holding ephemera and the Historical Society’s archival negative collection
  • 1981: Genealogy collection moved out of the room to its own special section
  • 2002: Historical Society turns copyright of their archival negatives over to Library System and USF Digital Collections begins digitizing over 32,300 negatives for cataloging and uploading to the internet, the beginning of the Historic Image Digital Collection.
  • 2013: Historic Image Digital Collection is no longer hosted by USF, and the Library Foundation funds the transfer of images to ContentDM, a digital collection management software produced by OCLC.
  • 2015: the Eaton Room was moved to another space in the Central Library and features local history materials, unique objects, and rotating exhibits of local historical interest.
  • 2017: full-text of speeches, interviews and other miscellany collected by the Manatee Historical Society are now available online via the Historic Digital Collections


  • 1990: books and other items were cataloged via a small OCLC terminal.
  • 1992: a stand-alone, text-only computer was linked to the Bradenton Herald newspaper, with access to its index software.
  • 1994: one public computer was available for word processing and educational software.
  • 1996: the first online catalog computers were installed for staff. They replaced the large wooden card catalogs. A few terminals were soon added for public use.
  • February 7, 2000: a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation placed twelve Windows-based PCs in the 2nd Floor Computer Lab.
  • 2008-2009: a PC reservation and print management system was installed in all libraries. Many more PCs were installed at Central Library
  • 2010: Extended use PCs for special tasks, such as job search and social services, were installed at all locations, and were funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
  • 2012: Laptops, iPads, and eReaders were purchased with Knight Foundation funds to support staff training, and technology programming for the public.
  • 2015: the entire Wifi system of Central Library was updated, equipment added to the new creative lab, and new Business Incubation Center. Touchscreen card catalog stations purchased for all locations, with Manatee Library Foundation funds.
  • 2020s: equipment continues to be added to the Area 52 lab in the downtown library as well as other locations, including a 3-D printer, Mac, robotics, video cameras, and more. Smart TVs that can connect wirelessly to laptops are installed in most library meeting rooms.
  • Hotspots made available for checkout to the public in 2020.