Century Library staff members were joined by City Librarian Rita Hamilton (front right, holding proclamation), Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego (center) and Councilman Kevin Robinson (back row, far left) as the branch celebrated its half-century mark on Dec. 16 (photo by Kathryn M. Miller).

The city of Phoenix’s Century Library, located on Highland Avenue just east of State Route 51, celebrated its 50th anniversary Dec. 16 with an open house celebration featuring family-friendly activities, giveaways and remarks from city leadership. In addition to the branch staff and community members, City Librarian Rita Hamilton, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Councilman Kevin Robinson joined in the festivities.

We caught up with Robinson, who represents Council District 6, at the event, and he talked about the importance of libraries and general and his own personal connection to the Century Branch.

“Libraries have always been a mainstay in our communities,” Robinson said. “They’ve been there in times of need for people. [At the event] one young lady spoke about when she first moved here. The first thing her mom did was get them a library card. They couldn’t afford a lot of things, DVDs and things like that. So, they were able to check it out at the library. That’s so important.

“I have a background in law enforcement, 36 years, and I know, especially with young folks, that they have to have something to do, because if they don’t, they’ll find something to do, and we would much rather them be using their time in a more productive way. The libraries have always been there for that very reason.

“For me personally, this library specifically, I used to come here and study for the sergeant’s exam. That was in 1986, I think. It was several months, several hours a week hunkered down in the corner. It’s been remodeled a few times, but I would hunker down the corner and just study.”

These types of stories are familiar to many in the community, and as the Phoenix Public Library system celebrates its own milestone — 125 years — we talked to Lee Franklin for some history and perspective. Franklin is not only the public information officer for the Library Department but is a major cheerleader for libraries in general.

“Anything that anybody’s got going on or wanting to figure out — always start at the library.” —Lee Franklin, City of Phoenix

Century Library in the early years (photo courtesy of City of Phoenix Public Library).

Opened Sunday, Dec. 16, 1973, the Century branch was the seventh in the library system. The library is currently located within the Camelback Colonnade, in 1973, it was known as the Sears-Rhodes Mall. This branch came about because of a 1969 study done by the Phoenix Growth Committee, which recommended adding a library to the fast-growing area, and the Phoenix City Council agreed. The area has seen a lot of changes since that time, most dramatically, SR51 being built immediately to the west of the building in 1990, and the library itself is a historical snapshot of our communities at the time Franklin says.

“If you look at our Phoenix Public Library system, we have kind of a clustering of our library branches that came into existence during this window,” Franklin said. “And one of the concepts at that time was to include a library facility either as part of or very closely adjacent to shopping centers or malls, as the mall concept evolved and came into being.”

The name “Century” has double reference. Most of the Phoenix library names are inspired by desert plants, Franklin added. Century is a desert plant, but also the library was the first new library built during the second century of the Phoenix Public Library’s history — it was officially established in June 1898.

Fast forward to 2023 and the Century Library serves as something as a commuter library, due to its convenience along the 51. Currently, all libraries are seeing an increase in foot traffic and Century welcomes more than 5,000 visits per month, with around 6,000 items checked out each month. And the future is bright for Phoenix libraries with a Bookmobile, 24-hour book lockers and more in the works, thanks in part to ARPA funding.

At the end of the day, though, Franklin says that libraries do so much more for communities than just providing a place where people can check out a book. They are also a place to access the internet, to gather with neighbors, to find enriching and entertaining programs and resources. And sometimes, just a place to be. And it’s all offered free of charge.

She added, “We are that open access to information, and we literally have something for everybody. If somebody needs to get information, start at the library. If we don’t have that book or we don’t have that piece of information, we know where to go find it. Anything that anybody’s got going on or wanting to figure out — always start at the library.”

Century Library is located at 1750 E. Highland Ave. To learn more about this and other branches in the Phoenix Public Library system, visit www.phoenixpubliclibrary.org.


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