Preparations for a construction of the Public library in Brno started after the issue of the Library Code in the year 1919. The library council assembled for the first time in the Brno city hall led by Žofie Zvěřinová, a business school director and a latter longtime chairwoman of the council, on the 5th of October 1920. The library council decided to work out a list of all society libraries in Brno and to write out an audition for a librarian. The Brno Public municipal library was founded on the 1st of February 1921 and at the same day the librarian Antonín Vančura - Jiří Mahen entered into that position.
The Library was given two rooms in the ground floor in the German ordinary school on Veveří Street Nr. 26. One room was for administration purposes and the second one for a delivery room and a stock.
On the 20th of November 1922 the central library was open. It contained 13,228 of books. Right after fourteen affiliated branches were added (however the greatest library branches Křenová and Královo Pole were added to the central library in the year 1923) and 3,700 book volumes were given there out of the head office. A public reading room situated in a building of the city school on Křenová Street initialized its activity with 67 magazines. The whole library had three paid laborers and one worker without remuneration. A work of librarians was stroke by long-lasting troubles: low financial grants, perpetual postponements of moving the library into a better place and a fight over every crown. In some seasons new books could not even be bought and actually the State Ministry had to intervene into disputes between the library and municipality.
In 1926 the library moved out of the unsatisfactory premises up to the corner of Rašínova and Jakubská Street into a German girl’s school where it got five rooms. On the 1st of February 1926 a central reading room was opened as well. It was at least a partial improvement. At that time the library had over 30,000 book volumes, 14,583 out of them in affiliated branches. In the year 1927 first printed list of books that every reader had to buy was edited.
The year 1928 was very significant for Brno because an Exhibition of the contemporary culture which encouraged the city into an unusual cultural activity took place. At the congress of culturally pedagogic employees which took place during an occasion of the exhibition in Brno, Mahen presented a report named Library as a national institution. A library was not more a place to issue books. It was supposed to be an institution that was systematically educational and pedagogical.
At the end of the year 1939 the library moved into nine rooms in the building at 12 U solnice Street (Solniční Street today). Jiří Mahen did not live to see this change for the better. The illness, tragic misfortunes of the country, and other problems which complicated the realization of his plans pushed him to end his life voluntarily on 22nd May 1939. PhDr Ladislav Řezníček who came to the library after the German occupation of Znojmo took over his place. But from the very beginning of German occupation all the activities were subordinated to the supervision of a German librarian. The library council was suspended. About 140 “unsuitable” books were taken away from the library and other marked books were forbidden to lend but fortunately remained in the library. The Nazi town administration closed some branch offices of the library and municipal reading-rooms from October 1940.
After the liberation the library was gradually changing. It put emphasis on educational influence on readers, its location, equipment and personal security were step by step improved. In the year 1951 the library was placed into the Schrattenbach Palace, near Liberty Square in Brno, and its head office has stayed up to now. The name of Jiří Mahen has been connected with this library since the year 1959.
The library gained its present appearance at the beginning of the 1970s. The network of branch offices extends the central library and these are located in the different parts of Brno - in the old built-up area, in new housing estates as well as in some integrated communities. The 1990s represent the expansion and modernization of services. The public reading-room with an enquiry office and music library were built, book resources are complemented with some new kinds of documents, especially CDs and CD-ROMs. Computer technology is applied to the record-keeping and to the elaboration of book resources as well as to the record-keeping of readers and book-loans which at the same time makes the development of services of information easier. In autumn 1997 the operation of public internet station begins in the central building of the Jiří Mahen Library, at 4 Kobližná Street.
Between 1998 and 2001 a complex reconstruction of the central library was realized and the library became a basis for building a modern information institute – The Library for 21st century.
Further information from the history of Jiří Mahen Library can be found in the book “Library for a city” in the property of Jiří Mahen Library.
It is hard to imagine more precious ideas than those to be found in books!
(The Library as a national institution, 1928)