The Booker T. Washington Library was one of the first lending libraries in Alabama open to black patrons. The institution grew out of efforts by black teachers and principals in Birmingham City Schools… The move to expand the Slater School Library into a public library was endorsed by Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington in 1913. More than $4,000 collected from individual donations and fund-raising concerts by school groups was turned over to the Birmingham Public Library Board in 1917.
The library, originally called the Lincoln Branch, opened on October 9, 1918. There was no ceremony as public gatherings were temporarily prohibited due to a Spanish flu epidemic. In the spirit of Birmingham's segregation ordinances, the library board established policies that kept the resources of the Washington library entirely separate from the institution's other facilities, which were only open to white residents. Only the privately-raised funds were used to acquire materials. If a particular book was requested that was held in the main library, then that copy would be transferred permanently to the Washington branch. A new copy for the main library would then be purchased to replace it, using the "Negro Book Fund" which has been raised in the black community…
In 1956, the library's collection was moved to the newly-built Smithfield Library on 8th Avenue West, which was the first structure built for the specific purpose of housing a library for black patrons.