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Library History

Library service has always been important to the people of Emporia. In fact, on December 14, 1869, the original Library of Emporia was brought into existence. This was twelve years after the founding of the town. A group of leading citizens formed the first library association. They set it up to work on a subscription basis. Dues were $3 a year and $2 a year for women.
Preston B. Plumb, one of the founders of Emporia, was the first president of the library association. The first directors met on January 19, 1870, and decided to rent the front rooms over the Bates and Perley Drugstore at a price not to exceed $15 a month. Miss Blake is believed to have been the first librarian and was paid the handsome sum of $100 every six months.

The library was popular from the very beginning. By March of 1871 the Library Association had 31 life members and 145 annual members. They had 764 books and took six monthly magazines including one on how to read the bumps on your head. It was entitled "Lippincott's Phrenological Journal."

But the road wasn't smooth for the new library. By 1874 the annual report showed a debt of $140. Many fundraising projects such as a strawberry festival were held and raised enough money to buy 49 new books. In December of 1875 a masked ball netted $96. But hard times continued and the membership sank to 75 while at the same time the debt continued to increase until it reached $203. In 1884 a city ordinance was passed establishing a tax-supported base, thus giving Emporia a public library in the modern sense.

The library was growing and needed room for expansion. Mrs. Amanda Wicks, the new librarian in 1893, had both courage and foresight. While she was on vacation in Detroit in 1901, she learned of the Carnegie funds to establish public libraries. On her return she immediately submitted papers for a grant. However, because of the Carnegie Library already located on the College of Emporia Campus, the request was denied. A second application to Mr. Carnegie resulted in a $22,000 donation for a building. Mrs. Preston B. Plumb donated land at 6th and Market for the building site, as well as money for the architectural services.

The new facility was opened to the public February 23, 1906, with a reception for the townspeople. Unfortunately, Mrs. Amanda Wicks had moved to Montana by this time and never got to see the library she had tried so hard to bring about. Mrs. Martha Whildin was librarian during that first year in the Carnegie building. Miss Nora Daniel replaced her in 1920.
Miss Daniel had begun working at the public library in 1907. Mrs. Marjorie Kerns, a good friend of Miss Daniel, remembered the qualifications Nora claimed helped her get the job: Marjorie said,

"I asked Nora how she got started working for the library one day and she said that a Mrs. Weldon who was on the library board asked her one Sunday after church if she would like to work at the library. Mrs. Weldon said to her: I've noticed you always come to Sunday School and church and you never whisper. This was in 1907. Nora said with her dry sense of humor always chuckled and said that those were strange qualifications for a job - a job that was to last her 50 years."

Miss Daniel did, however, attend library science classes at Emporia State Teachers College. These classes and Miss Daniel's experience helped smooth the way through the depression years. Miss Daniel and those who worked with her always put service first. In fact, a 1930 report stated that Mrs. Otto Kramer, librarian at the Mary Herbert branch, gave her resignation because she believed that when work was so scarce it should be given to a woman who needed to earn her living.

During Miss Daniel's tenure many exciting developments came about. Dr. Clyde Meredith, an Emporia State music professor, began the record collection by donating both records and money. Also during this period the microfilming of newspapers was begun. Nora Daniel saw the annual budget increase 12-fold from its original $2,000 to $27,000. Her impact upon the community is still being felt. Many of Emporia's citizens remember her with great appreciation.
Architect Trevor Lewis felt Miss Daniel was all business, but always willing to help. Artist Mary Kretsinger had the following to say about her: "Miss Daniel had this absolutely marvelous, wry sense of humor. She'd never crack a smile but she'd make all these cracks and remarks and little observations about life."

Mrs. Kerns remembered her in a more serious way: "All the students knew she didn't want any noise. She was very helpful in finding any materials you needed. Much of her time was spent in mending the books so that they could be put back in circulation. Also, she said their budget was very, very tight in those days…

She was small and didn't weigh over 125 pounds. She was a bundle of energy. She got the idea very well across that we were to be quiet here. This was not a place to roughhouse around. You didn't even whisper. If you did she would frown at you and that's all she had to do was just frown…

Another thing I remember her saying was that the library was used a lot for farm children to come and stay until their parents got time to pick them up in the evening. She said sometimes in winter time the buckles on their galoshes made so much noise that it just really made a disruption in her library."

Former Gazette employee Tess DeLong remembered most her love for books: "I recall we had a librarian at one time who burned a lot of books. Miss Daniel was so shocked that anyone would destroy a book that she almost cried."

Architect Trevor Lewis remembered this: "Miss Nora Daniel would bring books over to us. I can remember in 2nd grade she would read to us different kinds of books that made us want to go see what the library was all bout. We would come over and you had to be very, very quiet." Books and service to those who used the library were important to Miss Daniel.

But as fondly as she is remembered, so is the Carnegie building where she worked. Although the building holds different memories for different people, the glass floor seems to have provided the most fascination. Trevor Lewis said, "We got up there on that old library stacks where you walked up the stairs and on that old glass floor and I still couldn't believe it. The thing that stood out in my mind as the greatest thing I thought since the invention of the wheel was to go up and walk on glass. When someone first came up and told me that, I said there's no way you can walk on glass. They said come down to the library and we'll show you."

Emporia photographer and historian Walt Andersen remembered dragging his feet to pick up electricity and touching someone's ear to shock them. He also remembers the librarian either making them be quiet or to get out.

But the glass floor wasn't the only attraction to the library. Some even came for romance! Mrs. Ruth Douglass, retired schoolteacher and Emporia native, recalls using books and pictures of different countries. In addition, Mrs. Douglass admits to meeting her boyfriend at the library to study. They later went on to get married!

Mary Kretsinger reported: "I just remember it was hot in the summer with these fans going around and when they got new books they'd put them on the pay shelf to pay for them. I don't think they do that now but they did. My mother was always wanting me one and having to wait. I remember. I think it cost, I can't remember, a nickel or a dime. But that's how they got new books."

Another vivid memory for Miss Kretsinger was the old men reading the newspapers in the periodical room.

Mrs. Ruth Douglass remembered how peaceful the library was. "At the age of 6 I came to the library for an hour on Saturday evening until my father closed up on Saturday night. It was such a quiet place. I think I learned to keep quiet in the library and in church. I knew that those were the two places you had to keep quiet."

The building held a lot of beauty for the citizens of Emporia. The drinking fountain and leaded windows contributed to the feeling Walt Andersen described as "homey."

He further suggested that Emporia's citizens knew the compassion of their librarians. Indeed, several women dedicated their lives to their jobs here.

The Emporia Gazette nominated Mrs. Durell Read and Miss Myrtle Buck as their "Women of the Week" on May 27, 1971. This article announces their retirement and states they had a combined total of 83 years of service to the community! Mrs. Read began work as an apprentice in 1913 and was a circulation librarian at the time of her retirement. She had completed 48 years with the library.

Miss Myrtle Buck was head cataloguer and had been employed at the library for 35 years.

Mrs. Virgil Hurt was also a longtime library assistant. She began work in 1945 and replaced Mrs. Read when she left. Mrs. Hurt worked until she was 72 years old.

Interviews with members of the community revealed great respect for Mrs. Read, Miss Buck, and Mrs. Hurt. They were all said to be resourceful, dedicated, willing, gracious, and unassuming women. Mrs. Douglass reports that they always had a smile on their faces. Mary Kretsinger adds:
The emphasis was on loving books and caring about people rather than on getting everything just right."

She further says that the library wasn't the highly organized big business that everything is today.

With the advent of federal funds, libraries did attempt to become all things to all people in terms of information resources.

Mrs. Beryl Liegl was the director of the library when the first of these federal funds became available. She reported that this money allowed her to begin many new services for Emporians. She instigated a framed art reproduction service of quality prints. She updated the record collection started by Dr. Meredith. Mrs. Liegl started the services for the homebound and increased the books with large print. Telephone books were added to the reference section. The genealogy, business and reference departments were also upgraded under Mrs. Liegl's guidance. She added a Xerox copier.

An accomplishment Mrs. Liegl remembers with pride is beginning the memorial book program. Community members donated funds for special events such as marriages, births or deaths. The memorial book program continues today and enables the library to purchase many extra books of high quality.

Mrs. Liegl stated that she began to weed and update the library's book collection. Even so, books were piled on top of each other. Tess DeLong says: "It finally got so our poor library didn't have room for all the books at all. They were all over everything you know. Just everyplace."

Mrs. Liegl decided something had to be done. She invited several people in the community to organize a Friends of the Library. Betty Tholen, who has also served on the library board, was a member of this early Friends group. Mrs. Tholen recalls that Mrs. Liegl wanted a regularly organized group who could raise money, work on publicity, and coordinate activities with the Board of Directors.

Mrs. Tholen was a member of this early Friends group in 1973. She reports they had a membership drive and got 237 members who paid $1 for membership. Their first summer book sale cleared $479.

From these funds the Friends invested $700 in a film projector and screen. They began brown bag lunches accompanied by a film. The Friends and the brown bag lunch bunch established a building fund. They managed to raise $500 toward the new building.

Through the dedicated efforts of many individuals the bond issue for the current Emporia Public Library was passed in 1976.

When Mrs. Liegl retired in 1975 librarian Dan Masoni replaced her. Mr. Masoni had the great pleasure of overseeing the construction of the much-needed facility.

The architect selected was R. Russell Seacat of Denver. From his preliminary drawings J. Trevor Lewis did the engineering and supervised the physical building construction. He reports that it was with a concerted effort on everyone's part. The builders faced many unexpected difficulties in constructing the building. Mr. Lewis explains:
"When we first started to excavate we got down three feet and we ran into approximately 18 inches of manure because this corner was the old Newton Garage. They sold Buicks here for years and years but before that the Newton's father had stables here - livery stables. During the years dirt had been tossed on top of it.

We got to the foundation for the basement columns and we ran into an old well. And in this well were about 20 earthen jugs, which used to contain whiskey in those days. Course the whiskey was gone but they used to put the jugs down in the well to keep them cool in summer and somebody just never got them out."
After the building was constructed the formidable task of moving the contents of the old building to the new one became the next hurtle. Advertisements were placed in the newspaper and the citizens of the community rolled up their sleeves.

The new building has a spacious atrium, the checkout desk, the children's room, a technical processing area, a magazine and newspaper reading space and meeting room downstairs. Upstairs is the adult collection, which includes fiction and nonfiction, audiobooks, music cds, videos and dvds, the Spanish language collection and reference. Another upstairs features is the Kansas Room, which houses the genealogy section as well as books about life in Kansas. The newest service of the library is the computers for public use, including Internet access. The electronic world has made libraries as valuable as ever, connecting people and information in fast and efficient modes.

Howard McGinn replaced Dan Masoni as director in 1992. In 1995 Sue Blechl was hired for the position. She is pleased to be celebrating the 135 year anniversary as well as the 25 years of service in the present building with the community. "The people of Emporia had the foresight and generosity to plan for expanded library services. We must carry on by maintaining and enhancing the collection, by utilizing technology to its best advantage for information provision and exchange, by caring for the library building, and by evaluating how best to serve the citizens of our area. Libraries are the best bargain around. No one could ever afford to buy the books, videos, tapes, magazines and electronic databases that are in the library. I wish every person had a library card, and used it!"

Future generations will always reap the benefits of the collection of the ideas of their ancestors. By having a free public education and a free public library available to them they learn from the past and add to the storehouse of knowledge already amassed.

 

 

 

©2004 Emporia Public Library. Last updated 16 April 2004 by D. Wang.