Decatur’s first library opened in 1875, though it had its roots in the local Ladies Library Association that was founded eight years earlier.
The first librarian was Richard L. Evans, who saw nearly immediate success. Book borrowers numbered 1,524 in the first year and 2,100 in the second. Evans reported 53,153 visitors at the end of the second year, with more unregistered.
Evans was assisted by his wife, Alice G. Evans, who took over after he died in 1881 and ran the library for more than 50 years until 1925. In her contributions, Alice Evans’ portrait is prominently displayed on the wall outside the library administrative offices on the second floor.
The library's first location was the M.E. Schroeder building on East Prairie Avenue, which housed 1,600 books and a few magazines and papers, according to newspaper archives.
In 1901, Andrew Carnegie announced he would donate $60,000 for the construction of a new library in Decatur, which was built at 457 N. Main St. The city of Decatur paid a remaining $19,000 in project and site costs. It opened on July 1, 1903.
In need of a larger facility, the library moved in 1971 to the former Sears building at 247 E. North St. The former Carnegie library was torn down the following year.
The library moved again in 1999 to its current location, also a former Sears store, at 130 N. Franklin St. In June 2015, the library celebrated the opening of a new local history room. In May of this year it opened self-checkout kiosks, another step toward what City Librarian Rick Meyer described as a modernized system to help customers.