Emporia State University was founded March 7, 1863, as Kansas State Normal School in Emporia. The first library was located in the assembly room of the building of 1867. The first library building, Kellogg Library, completed in 1903, stood on the southwest corner of campus. Constructed of brick with terra cotta trimmings, the building stood two stories tall. By 1930, the book collection had overflowed the building with shelves built to the ceiling whenever possible, and ladders used to reach them.
In 1931, the heavy weight in the building caused a corner room of the first floor to be condemned, necessitating steel beams added as reinforcements. Part of the library's collection was then housed for a time across campus in the old cafeteria building, creating the Library Annex in 1934. A new library was desperately needed.
In February of 1950, the ground breaking for the new library building, William Allen White Library took place. The new library was named in honor of the native Emporian who purchased the Emporia Gazette and became a very distinguished journalist. The cornerstone of the new library building was laid on October 30, 1950 and the building was formally dedicated in April of 1952. The structure, constructed of red brick stood four stories tall and had book space for over 300,000 volumes. In February of 1971, the library once again needed more space and an addition was completed doubling the book capacity. At the same time the old building was extensively remodeled and the library was divided into subject divisional areas. Since that time, minor remodeling has occurred in the building but the basic structure present in 1971 is still present today. In the early 1971, the library was reorganized into the current departmental divisions.
The library houses several special collections and is a partial depository for both state and federal documents. The Mary White Room, in the basement of the library, named in honor of Mary White who died tragically at 17 years of age, houses the children's collection. The library is also the home for the William Allen White Children's Book Award and the May Massee Collection.