In 1832 the first Guelph circulating library began operation in the backroom of a store on Wyndam Street. Eighteen years later on January 14, 1850 the Farmers' and Mechanics' Institute in Guelph was established with a small book collection and a reading room for the use of the members.
In 1882, the Free Libraries Act was passed; allowing municipalities to establish libraries supported by local taxes and the Mechanics' Institute handed over its assets to the Guelph Free Public Library on March 15, 1883 and Library's services were made available to all residents.
In 1905 with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation the first GPL was built on the corner of Norfolk and Paisley to serve the 12,000 residents of Guelph The classic Carnegie building with its dome, pillars and 4 facades, though beautiful, proved too small for Guelph's growing population. In 1964, the Carnegie Library was demolished and after months in a temporary residence, the 100 Norfolk Street main library opened its doors in November of 1965. By 1974 the library had been expanded to 29,500 sq feet on 3 levels. By 2012 over 1,500 people entered the main library every day and checked out over 2 million resources annually. GPL had become the most used recreational facility in Guelph.
During the late 70's and early 80's, a Bookmobile and two neighbourhood branches (Bullfrog in 1984 and Scottsdale in 1986) were added. The West End branch was built in the recreation centre in 2001 and the Westminster Square (the largest branch at 10,000 sq feet) opened its doors in November 2006. By 2012 the Guelph population had grown to over 123,000 residents and the East Side was completed in May of 2010 to serve the expanding south end of town.