In April 1961, a two county library system was formed by voters in northwest Missouri called the Andrew and Buchanan County Regional Library. On August 17, 1961, the name was changed to the Rolling Hills Regional Library which served all of Andrew County and Buchanan County outside of the city limits of Saint Joseph. The headquarters was located in the basement of the Washington Park Library in Saint Joseph and service was offered primarily by bookmobile to the rural areas of the counties.
In 1963, space was leased at 413 N. Belt Hwy. in Saint Joseph for administrative offices and the growing collection. Space was made for a deposit collection in a Savannah elementary school, and later space was leased in the basement of the Andrew County Courthouse. Mr. James Hawkins offered to build a library for Savannah and lease it to the Regional Library, and in August 1965 the Savannah branch was opened with 2000 square feet to serve the northern portion of the district.
In July 1973, the courts approved the consolidation of the Andrew County and Buchanan County Library Districts officially into the Rolling Hills Consolidated Library district. This action was based on a new Missouri law at the time that allowed this kind of library management structure. During this time, service was offered in Savannah, Saint Joseph, and to rural areas using the “Book Buggy,” a station wagon outfitted with books and materials. Films were also shown in rural towns sponsored by the Library. At this time, the library levy was set at $.10 per $100 of valuation.
In 1975 and 1976, voters were asked to increase the library levy and both times the measure was rejected. Budget woes of both the Rolling Hills Consolidated Library and the St Joseph Public Library were often discussed in the news, although few solutions were found. The bookmobile, which had been limited in service, was discontinued in June 1979 due to lack of funds. In 1982, a successful levy election increased the rate to $.20 per $100. The Library’s administrative offices and southern branch moved in 1983 to 1904 N. Belt Hwy. in Saint Joseph into space rented from the W.M. Grace Construction Company. In 1984, the Library purchased the building at 514 W. Main in Savannah and doubled the space in 1985 to 4000 square feet.
In 1989, the Rolling Hills Consolidated Library and the St. Joseph Public Library entered into a management agreement to create the River Bluffs Regional Library. This contract included the provision of services and allowed the two library entities to share in an automation system. Each separate Board of Trustees continued to exist, and the two Boards met together to manage the system.
In November 1999, voters passed an additional operating levy for the entire regional library district of $.15 per $100 of valuation which would sunset in 20 years. This campaign was based on building a new branch on the east side of St. Joseph and renovating all of the other four branches of the River Bluffs Regional Library. The two taxing districts at the time had two different permanent operating levies, $.16 for Rolling Hills and $.27 for St. Joseph.
To the disappointment of many, the River Bluffs Regional Library was dissolved on November 16, 2001, when the St. Joseph Public Library Board voted to end the agreement and allow the two taxing districts to continue separately on their own. Both the creation and the dissolution of the River Bluffs Regional Library made national library news, first with the innovation and cooperation in creating the agreement and then in the drama and separation details that followed the end of the partnership.
In 2002, Rolling Hills Consolidated Library added another 4500 square feet to the Savannah Branch, bringing the service area to 8500 total square feet. Then in 2003, RHCL purchased the building it had been renting space in at 1900 N. Belt Hwy. and completed a total renovation of the property in 2006. The Belt Branch library occupied the lower level of the building at 1904 N. Belt Hwy. with 20,000 square feet. An additional 3000 square feet of space was used on the upper level for administrative offices at 1912 N. Belt Hwy.
In 2010, a portion of the upper level space was renovated to create a large meeting room and programming area for the Belt Branch, now named "The Upper Story" at 1906A N. Belt Hwy, bringing the total branch square footage to 23,000. Other retail spaces continued to be rented out on the upper level.
A used bookmobile was purchased and put into service in 2013 to serve the outlying areas of both counties, reviving this service with a large donation from the Rolling Hills Library Support Foundation and the Friends of the Rolling Hills Library. In 2014, plans were approved to renovate empty retail space on the upper level to provide the Friends of the Library with space for their bookstore and house the growing outreach collection used in bookmobile services, bringing administrative space to 6400 square feet. In 2017, the library used designated funds to renovate the interior of the Savannah Branch, using bright, new colors and including two study rooms and a new service desk area.
In 2019, the library plans to go to the voters to renew the sunsetting part of the operating levy. The Board will be working on visioning for the future, to make sure that the library system is providing the best possible library service to our users.