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For a fuller history of the library system (from which this brief version is adapted), you are invited to read 100 Years of Library Service: A History, which originally was written for this website on the occasion of the library system's 100th anniversary.

The present Atlanta-Fulton County Library System began in 1902 as the Carnegie Library of Atlanta, one of the first public libraries in the United States.

In 1935, the City of Atlanta and the Fulton County Board of Commissioners signed a contract under which library service was extended to all of Fulton County. In 1982, Georgia voters passed a constitutional amendment authorizing the transfer of responsibility for the library system from the City of Atlanta to the County. On July 1, 1983, the transfer became official, and the system was renamed the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library.

In May 1980, a new Central Library was opened to the public under the leadership of Ella Gaines Yates, first African-American director of the library system. Marcel Breuer, a participant in the innovative Bauhaus Movement, planned and designed the building, working closely with his associate Hamilton Smith. The Central Library was dedicated on May 25, 1980. Breuer was unable to attend the dedication ceremonies and died a year later on July 1, 1981 at the age of 81.

In 2002, the centennial of when library service was first offered to the public, a major renovation of the Central Library was completed. In April 2004, the Library System instituted Sirsi's Unicorn, a state-of-the-art library automation system including iBistro, a virtual portal to resources in AFPLS and throughout the world on the Internet.