The Jackson District Library traces its roots to the mid-1800's and the formation of the Jackson Young Men's Association in 1854. Shortly after the Civil War in 1865, the YMA opened a "reading room" on Main Street, had 239 books donated, and subscribed to 21 newspapers and four magazines. Three years later, the YMA spent $1,000 on books and the room soon had 1800 volumes and was incorporated as a library under Michigan law in 1869.
On April 23, 1885, the state legislature passed an act allowing two local school district libraries and the YMA's library to combine - forming a tax-supported free public library in the City of Jackson. Prior to the new state law, an annual membership fee of $2 and donations from citizens was used to support the YMA's collection. From 1865 to 1906, the fast-growing library service could be found at four locations in downtown Jackson.
In 1901, Andrew Carnegie donated $50,000 for the construction of a new library building in the city. The Carnegie Library opened to the public in 1906 and was one of 53 Carnegie libraries built in Michigan. All of JPL's collection was moved to the building after construction was complete.
Established in 1929, the Jackson County Library was incorporated to serve residents outside of the city and for the next five decades expanded to include 13 locations throughout the county, thanks in large part to the efforts of Hanover resident Louise Tefft and Miss Maud Grill, a teacher, newspaper reporter, and radio host. Tefft led the charge to have Jackson be one of two Michigan counties chosen to start a county library program and Grill used her radio show to bolster public support for libraries during the Great Depression, when book budgets were often on the budget chopping block.
In August 1977, Jackson County voters approved a tax levy to establish and maintain a single library system in the county, creating the Jackson District Library was we know it today. The Jackson County Library and the Jackson Public Library began the process of merging in January 1978. The process, led by a newly-appointed Jackson District Library Board, took almost a year. After a search, David Leamon was hired as the director of the new district.
In 1993, JDL joined the computer age and a partnership with Jackson Community College (now Jackson College) was formed. Automation replaced the card catalog, collaboration replaced duplication of services, and technology brought the system up-to-date and into the 21st Century. Today, JDL has 13 locations throughout Jackson County as well as a bookmobile and serves tens of thousands of patrons.
For a more detailed history of the Jackson District Library, watch the video below, released in 2015. "150 Years of Libraries" was produced by Lynne Loftis and Diana Agy and highlights their research into JDL's history, along with a group of Jackson Community College students.