As early as 1853 the Kenton Library Association was formed to establish a public library and to bring noted lecturers to the town. The first lecture was given February 21, 1855 by the celebrated Horace Mann, the great educator. On February 11, 1856, Sunset Cox lectured in Kenton. Later lectures were given by Schuyler Colfax, Dr. Parke Goodwin and others of national reputation. The Civil War caused interest to wane, and not until 1866 did some of the leading citizens meet to discuss plans for opening a library. E.P. Dean was made Chairman and W.M. Beckman, Secretary.
In August, 1886, a large room was opened on the second floor of the old Ingman Block, over the McCoy Drug Store at the northeast corner of the square, with a fair supply of fiction, biographies, and historical works. A charter was secured for the Kenton Library Association from James S. Robinson, then Secretary of State. The incorporates were: G.J Carter, F.D. Bain, H.C. Koller, E.P. Dean, F.O Hanson and Robert S. Innes. For a time funds and books were solicited from citizens, and public entertainment's given to support the library, until the state law gave cities a one mill tax for library purposes.
When Andrew Carnegie made liberal gifts for public libraries, Kenton obtained a donation of $20,000, and work on the Kenton Public Library was soon begun. The location, formerly the old Wm. M. Chesney home at 121 North Detroit Street, was the gift of Lewis Merriman. Late in 1904, the books were moved from the old location: and on February 17, 1905. The formal dedication was held with fitting ceremonies.
On December 7, 1936, a resolution was passed by the Kenton Library Board, to extend the facilities of the library to all people in Hardin County in order to participate in the classified property tax (on stocks and bonds) collected in Hardin County. The name of the library was then officially changed to the Hardin County District Library.
In the early 60's, it was evident that the Carnegie Library was outgrown. Miss Mary Lou Johnson, who was a board member, offered a substantial gift to the library for a new building if the remainder of the money needed could be raised by private subscription.
The drive for funds for a new library building began in September of 1966. The drive was very well organized and promptly carried out, and by the end of 1966, the entire amount had been raised in either cash or pledges. The next problem was an appropriate site for the building. The old high school building at the corner of East Columbus St. and High St. was no longer being used for school purposes, and this was determined to be a suitable location for the new library as it would provide adequate parking space in connection with the building.
Through negotiations with the school board, the site was obtained and the old building was demolished. While many people in the area were reluctant to see the building torn down for sentimental reasons, it could no longer be used for a school and would soon become an eyesore to the community. The current building does tribute to its predecessor on the site, however, a pillar from the old school is located on the northeast corner of the north terrace.
Construction of the current building began as soon as possible and was completed in record time. The move to the new building was made on March 17, 1968, with a formal dedication on April 19, 1969. Many volunteers and several organizations assisted the staff in preparing and moving the books and materials to the new building. The building cost $450,000 of which $300,000 was raised in the county. A large plaque was put in the building upon which are inscribed the names of many of those contributing toward the new building.
The library was dedicated to Mary Lou Johnson after her death in 1977 due to her extensive work in making the building a reality.
Frederick Machentanz, a noted Alaskan artist and native of Kenton, donated one of his original paintings for hanging in the library.
Miss Pansy Pearce was the first Librarian, from 1886 to 1892: Miss Margaret Rogers from that time until February 1906, when she was succeeded by Keziah Moore, Miss Winifred Decker, Miss Mary Eloise Simpkins, Mr. E. Stanley Beacock, (the first man to be appointed librarian in Kenton), Mr. Stephen Ewing, Mr. Robert Blevins, Mr. John Sheldon, Miss Judith Wilson, Mrs. Sue Wright Petty and Mrs. Heather O'Donnell.
In 2009, O'Donnell was succeeded by Mr. Sam Norris. He became library director in July 2009 and he continues to oversee the library.
From its humble beginnings, the Hardin County Library has certainly gone through many changes. The library gains more patrons each year, utilizing the many resources the library has to offer, including the internet, circulating hotspots, software programs, books on CD, DVD's, Playaway's (educational tablets, pre-K to adult), CD's and many new books added regularly. Book memorials and book endowments continue to be a popular way of honoring a loved one, a friend, a neighbor, or a favorite teacher. The library has a Reference and Genealogy department, with interlibrary loan service, microfilm/microfiche reader printers, a maker space with Ellison Die cutting machines, a 3-D printer (Dremil), and a Sprout station. The library also has its own website, e-mail address, and monthly calendars as well as in house Notary service available by appointment.
Mary Lou Johnson-Hardin County District Library has a staff of 16, governed by a 7-member Board of Trustees. Board members