Cleveland Public Library Set to Begin Celebration for 150 Years of Service

Image created by Steve Kocevar

From a citywide street festival to a puppetry exhibit, a flagship Writers & Readers author appearance, neighborhood events, and more, 2019 is shaping up to be a year of celebration and discovery. The offerings this year will honor not only Cleveland Public Library’s 150th anniversary, but the community members who made this milestone possible.

“This celebration is about the people of Cleveland just as much as it’s about the Library they’ve helped us create over the last 150 years,” says Felton Thomas, Jr., Executive Director and CEO of Cleveland Public Library. “This year, we will relive the best of the past, talk about what we’re doing currently, and offer our patrons a look at the future and what we’ll be doing in the next 150 years.”

To share his vision for the Library’s future and to usher in the year of celebratory events marking the Library’s sesquicentennial, Thomas will present a State of the Library address at the City Club of Cleveland on February 27. During his address, Thomas will unveil the Library’s new Facilities Master Plan, which will reimagine all 27 neighborhood branches and outline how the Library can best serve the community in the years to come.

This glimpse of the Library’s future will precede a year of free events for the Cleveland community. On March 23, the Library’s puppetry exhibit, The World of Puppets: From Stage to Screen, will open in Brett Hall and run through the end of 2019. At once playful and educational, this exhibit invites the public to explore the ancient art of puppetry—and have fun in the process.

Summertime will usher in special branch programming to acknowledge the community’s role in making the Library a strong presence in the city for 150 years. Summer Lit League, the summer reading program, runs from June 3 through July 26 and will incorporate offerings related to the anniversary celebrations. And on July 27, save the date for the biggest event of the summer: the CPL 150 Street Festival held downtown at the Main Library campus. The festival will offer family-friendly entertainment for all ages, including live music, virtual reality gaming, puppet shows, activities and crafts for children, and more. Select neighborhood libraries will offer free trolley rides to and from the festival to increase access for those without transportation.

A couple of photographers heading into a crowd at jazz street festival

After the summer season wraps up, Cleveland Public Library will present a distinguished keynote author appearance through Writers & Readers, a series the Library revived in 2018 to enthusiastic community response. Writers & Readers will be bigger and better than ever in 2019 in honor of the sesquicentennial year, and the special featured event will be free and open to all. Details will be forthcoming on, so stay tuned to learn more.

But this year is about more than singular events. Two ongoing projects in 2019 will deliver a lasting gift to the community. First, through a partnership with the Cleveland Print Room, the Library will present Cleveland 20/20: A Photographic Exploration of Cleveland. This community-based photography project enlists local photographers to document Cleveland “through the lens of its neighborhoods, its communities, its residents, its diversity, and the many talents of its inhabitants.” Cleveland 20/20 sets out to share the city’s story from the unique perspective of residents, give voice to a diverse range of local photographers, offer photography workshops, welcome a nationally renowned photographer-in-residence, and foster community pride and cohesion.

Next, a partnership with ideastream will capture and present the audio stories of everyday people living in Cleveland across the full socioeconomic spectrum, with the intent to build social connections and inspire compassion. To capture oral histories, “story stations” will be set up in branch libraries to gather a wide array of patron stories, and select stories will be developed more extensively and broadcast on the radio and online. All Clevelanders are invited to participate by sharing their own stories.

“Through these photography and oral history projects, we’re committing to capturing life in Cleveland as it is right now, in 2019,” says Aaron Mason, Director of Outreach and Programming Services. “These won’t be partner profiles or portraits of city leaders—this is meant to honor our patrons, to share the stories of everyday Clevelanders who make up the fabric of our city.”

The year of celebration draws to a close at the Library’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr., commemorative ceremony on January 20, 2020. At the ceremony, the Library plans to recognize 150 individuals who make a difference in their own neighborhoods, families, or libraries—a fitting way to end a year meant to honor our patrons.

“I can’t say enough about how much our community serves Cleveland Public Library,” Thomas says. “CPL 150 is all about celebrating those community members, and we hope the activities we have planned this year express that gratitude.”

In 2019, prepare to be dazzled by a citywide street festival, gain wisdom from a renowned author, explore a puppetry exhibit, and share your story with the greater community— because this year is all about you.