Omaha Public Library

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The Omaha Library Association, established in 1857, failed in 1860 when its funding ran out.  Several prominent Omaha men opened a tiny library on the Simpson Carriage factory’s second floor (14th and Dodge Streets) in 1872.  The Omaha Public Library was established as a free public library when the Omaha City Council appointed a library board, levied a tax, and accepted 4,500 gift books from the disbanded library association on June 13, 1877.

For the next 17 years the library moved from location to location.  When real estate tycoon Byron Reed died in 1891, he donated land and his vast collection of coins, books, and manuscripts to the library.  The Omaha Public Library opened its first permanent home, a new stately Italian Renaissance-style building (18th and Harney Streets) designed by Thomas Kimball, on July 5, 1894.  A year later, the Omaha Public Library became one of six U.S. public libraries to establish a separate children’s section in its building.

The Omaha Public Library opened a new Main Library just west of the Gene Leahy Mall Park (14th and Farnam Streets) on February 16, 1977.  It was named for W. Dale Clark, a library board member who was president of the First National Bank in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  Mr. Clark was instrumental in the financial backing of Peter Kiewit Sons (a Fortune 500 company) and helped maintained local ownership of The Omaha World-Herald (currently owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Company).

The Omaha Public Library has grown to 12 locations across Douglas County.  The W. Dale Clark Main Library’s collection includes 7,000 genealogy books; 2,000 photos of the 1898 Trans-Mississippi International Exposition; a cuneiform collection; thousands of old postcards; and a rich collection of Omaha and Nebraska history resources.  The library’s most infamous artifact is the scalp of William Thompson who was attacked by a Cheyenne warrior near Lexington, Nebraska in 1867.

Thompson’s scalp was on display for many years and scared generations of Omaha school children during their library tours.  It was recently displayed to celebrate the Omaha Public Library’s 145th anniversary in 2012.  The Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum program showcased the scalp on its Season 3 premiere on November 29, 2012.

For more historical information, visit our Gateway to the West digital collection.

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