The roots of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library can be traced to 1891 when, during a period of Charlotte history characterized by boom and civic pride, a group of prominent citizens organized the Charlotte Literary and Library Association. This subscription library operated in rooms above a bookstore on South Tryon Street for nine years, under the direction of Librarian Bessie Lacy Dewey.
In 1901, directors of the Association transferred control of the Library to the City School Commissioners, so that the general public and students would have access to the collection. The Library was now the Charlotte Public School Library, located in two rooms in City Hall at the corner of North Tryon and East Fifth Street. The arrangement lasted two years, with Librarian Sallie H. Adams in charge.