More than 300 people attended, contributing 300 books, many from their own collections, and $50. The Library received its Absolute Charter as an Association Library from the State of New York on June 26, 1899, and began operation in a second floor conference room at City Hall on October 7, 1899, where it remained for nearly five years. It was staffed by a librarian who earned $1 a day. Later an assistant, a Kingston Academy student, was hired increasing the payroll by 10 cents a day.
From its foundation the Library has benefited from the interest and generosity of benefactors. Local resident Samuel D. Coykendall, President of the Cornell Steamboat Company, and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie played major roles in the Library’s development. Myron J Michael, first Secretary of the Library Board of Trustees, was instrumental in obtaining a $30,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie to build the Library. The gift was secured when the Common Council voted to appropriate $3,000 annually, 10% of the Carnegie gift, for support and maintenance of the Library, and S.D. Coykendall made an offer of property, with the stipulation that the Trustees raise $2500 toward its purchase price. The Carnegie Library was built on this property on Broadway, opposite City Hall, and opened on February 12, 1904. Of classical design and constructed of narrow brick and stone, this beautiful building, by its architecture and location, established the Library as an institution of importance in the community.
In 1922, an installation of steel book stacks with steel stairs was donated to the library in the will of Mrs. Lizzie (William) Lawton. The gift was known as the “Lawton Alcove” and held 7,000 books.
By the 1930s the director’s annual reports were reflecting change: while the library had reached its highest circulation levels during the later Depression years, a state survey of 1937 commending the library staff for “good spirit and effort” also specifically criticized the library for being “understaffed, underfunded, and overcrowded,” conditions which persisted over the years.
During the 1950s, the Library would join the Mid-Hudson Library System, add a Children’s Librarian and a Reference Librarian, both part-time, and establish a separate children’s collection which moved downstairs to the basement which already housed the fiction and music collections — sheet music! — a walk-in vault, and the Library Office where the Director, the bookkeeper, technical processing and the newly hired reference librarian all worked in the same room with one phone line.
The 1960s saw a period of growth and innovation. The Kingston school district, which had expanded from a City School District to a Consolidated District in 1958, absorbing the student populations of surrounding one room school houses, began contributing to the financial support of the Library. During this period the Library became known as The Kingston Area Library. The collection started to grow, with more emphasis on non-fiction than previously, expanding to include phonograph records and microfilm. Circulation and registration were up, and a bookmobile was tried, but the challenges of inadequate parking and maintaining adequate security persisted.
Interest and involvement of local service organizations had a huge impact on the direction of library growth during this period. Two adjoining properties, the O’Reilly house on the corner of Broadway and Andrew Street and the structure immediately adjacent on Andrew Street were acquired by the Library with funds from the Lions Club of Kingston. The Andrew Street structure was demolished, making room for additional onsite parking, and the turreted Victorian O’Reilly house was renovated to house the Children’s Library and the growing local history collection. In the autumn of 1975 the Children’s Library was destroyed by a disastrous fire. Arson was suspected, though never proved. Once again, local supporters came to the rescue. Triage on what remained of the Children’s collection was done by the staff, and salvaged material moved to donated loft space in the Canfield building where teams of volunteers worked with Library staff to restore the damaged books. Benefactor John Schultz offered space in the Millard Building where the Children’s Library made its temporary home in two rooms on the second floor. This unforeseen turn of events intensified the search for a new location for the Library. Among the sites considered was the Sojourner Truth School building on Franklin Street in Mid-town Kingston. Erected in 1878 and formerly called School Number 8, the building was slated to be vacated by the Kingston School District. An arrangement was reached to the mutual benefit of both the District and the Library whereby the Library would relocate to Franklin Street with a 99-ýear lease on the property. The rent was one dollar a year, and the Library agreed to bear the expense of renovation and maintenance of the building. The School District purchased the Carnegie Library building and property from the Library Association.