More Library History

Tempe Public Library

-- written in March 1971 by Dorothy E. Weiler, who was Library Director at the time

The first available written record of the Tempe Free Reading Room and Library Association is contained in the minutes of a regular session held on July 11, 1908; the president, Mrs. Windes, in the chair. In the absence of the secretary, Mrs. Flora Finch was appointed secretary pro tem. Mrs. Franklin was the librarian, at a salary of $5 per month.

At this meeting, it was impossible to read the minutes of the previous meeting, because a fire at the Southern Methodist Episcopal parsonage, on West Eighth Street at Mill Avenue, had destroyed the secretary's book. It was moved by Mrs. Finch and seconded by Mrs. Stewart that the Secretary purchase a secretary book; It was also decided that another meeting be held the following Saturday to draft a constitution and bylaws to govern the Association. This meeting was held on July 18, 1908; the constitution and bylaws were read and adopted after one bylaw was amended. Also, the Reverend Mr. Check resigned his position as secretary, and Mrs. I.V. Stewart was elected to fill the vacancy.

The Tempe Free Reading Room at this time was located in the Kingsbury Building and was maintained by funds contributed by local individuals, clubs, and merchants. On May 1, 1909, meeting in regular session, the Association membership approved the moving of the Tempe Free Reading Room from the Kingsbury Building to Tomlinson's on the first of June. At a June 5th meeting, the Association voted to pay Mrs. Tomlinson $10 per month rent.

On September 4, 1909, a motion was made to ask the W.C.T.U. to take the management of the reading room. Mrs. Finch was requested to present the subject to the W.C.T.U. The Tempe Free Reading Room and Library Association met again on October 2, 1909. The minutes are very brief: meeting called to order and the usual business transacted. Box rent due $.75. Lacings for Papers $.10. A number of collections are also listed, and the minutes are signed by Mrs. I.V. Stewart, Secretary. There are two more entries dated only 1911, one lists various names and sums identified as paid in. The other, or perhaps a continuation of the first, lists names and sums paid out.

No further records are available until May 11, 1917, when a meeting was held at the Brown Mercantile Company store. One more meeting was held in 1917 on September 8th. Lack of funds and lack of library use were discussed. Mrs. I.I. Haynes, librarian, was paid a salary of $5.

The annual meeting of the Reading Room Association was held on March 4, 1918, at the home of Mrs. Mary Craig. Mrs. Haynes reported that there were only nine books out; there were no daily papers and very few readers, just a few boys of about 12 years came and read magazines, and are quiet and orderly.

At the annual meeting on March 6, 1919, the librarian reported Reading Room more generally in use past four months than ever before. Also order good. On March 13, 1920, Mrs. Emma Kearley was appointed librarian. Mrs. Haynes had left Tempe. By October, circulation had increased and the Association decided to open the Reading Room from 7:00 to 9:00 every evening. Mrs. Stewart offered to donate the light globe and Mrs. Buck the cord. The secretary was instructed to see the Electric Light people about donating light.

In 1921, the date of the annual meeting of the Tempe Reading Room Association was changed from the first Thursday in March to the last Wednesday in October, and it was specified that quarterly meetings be held on the first Wednesday in November, February, May and August.

At the May, 1922, quarterly meeting, members of the Association decided to talk to candidates for the new council on subject of the Library and its needs, and members of Board urged to use all means in their power to secure a favorable expression from the candidates. The minutes of an informal meeting held May 17th end with these words. Warrant $20 from Council. The November meeting was not a very cheerful one. The difficulty in securing attendance at the meetings was discussed at length, and the annual meeting date was changed again, this time to the first Wednesday in January. Notice had been received from Mr. Kingsbury that the rent would be $20 beginning November 1st. Finances were discussed, but seemed as far from solution as ever. Discouraged, but still unwilling to give up, the meeting adjourned.

No records are available again until July, 1932, when the Board, appointed by the City Council, met at the home of Mrs. Howe Williams (July 18, 1932, is the first mention of a Board appointed by the City Council). Members of the Board were Mesdames Elizabeth Kendrick, H. Williams, Fenn Harris, J.L. Felton, Walker, Margaret P. Minson, TJ. Cookson, G. I. Gibson, Everett Cummins and Miss Ada Maskrey. Miss Edna Barbre was elected librarian in August, 1932. Arrangements were made for the use of County Library books at this time. In 1934, a permanent rental shelf was started, with a $.10 per week charge. In 1936, Mr. Howe Williams painted and presented three beautiful paintings to the library.

The library was moved into the east wing of City Hall in May, 1941, when new additions were made to the City Hall. The following year, the Board and Miss Barbre sponsored a series of book reviews by well known and capable people of the Valley. These were continued through 1947. Miss Barbre became local chairman of the Victory Book Campaign which began on January 12, 1942. It was organized by the American Library Association, the American Red Cross, and the United Service Organizations with the approval of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps to collect books for servicemen supplementing the library services of the government. Miss Barbres's resignation in May, 1947, was accepted with regret, and she was immediately elected to the Board. When Mrs. F. Grieve resigned as librarian in January, 1948, Mrs. George W. Bowen was appointed, and served in that capacity until June 30, 1964. Board members were: Mesdames R.K Wyllys, Bertha Cornell, G.I. Gibson, Kemper Goodwin, J.O. Grimes, Dilworth Baird, Sr., Miss Ada Maskrey and Miss Edna Barbre. Mrs. Gibson, Mrs. Cummins and Miss Maskrey had served since 1932.

The library made progress; by January, 1951, it was found practical to extend the hours to Monday and Thursday evenings from 7:00 until 9:00 p.m., and at the regular Board meeting on May 9, 1951, the discussion of increased library service was reopened and it was agreed that the library should be open from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. daily, Monday through Saturday, and from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. for five days weekly, Monday through Friday. It was also agreed that a part-time assistant to the Librarian be provided. The Council provided funds and on June 1st, Mrs. Bertha Cornell was appointed assistant to the Librarian.

Just a year later, Board members were studying blueprints of an addition to the library and council rooms. Shelves were to be included in the original contract for the 475 square foot addition. This was completed and dedicated in April, 1953. The library continued to grow; and there was another move to 103 E. Fifth Street. Minutes of May, 1957, mention the proposed move; the minutes of September 23, 1957, note that the move was completed and the City Council authorized Saturday, October 5, 1957, as the date for an Open House and volunteered to pay for the refreshments. The annual report dated June, 1958, states that the library was closed for one month during the year while being moved.

A letter dated January 23, 1960, addressed to Miss Gertrude Thayer, Librarian, Maricopa County Free Library, and signed by Mrs. George Bowen, Librarian, contains the following paragraphs:

Tempe Public Library is one of the larger community libraries receiving books from the County Library. The books are used, not only by the people in the corporate limits of Tempe, but by people from the surrounding area, including Scottsdale, Guadalupe, and some from Phoenix and Mesa. The patrons from the outlying areas are permitted to use Tempe Public Library books on the same basis as county books are used.

Of the 16,000 volumes in the Tempe Public Library, about 2,000 belong to Maricopa County. There were 70,500 books circulated last year, and of this number, about 10,000 were Maricopa County books. There is no fee charged for the use of any of these books.

The minutes of the regular Board meeting, October 2, 1962, mention the very great need for room in the library and state that statistics will be gathered to present to the City Council. These reports are to stress the need for a new library. Thus began the study and planning, the joys and sorrows, the dream which is now rapidly becoming a reality - a beautiful new library building.

Plans for acquiring a bookmobile also began at this same time. A letter dated November 26, 1963, from Flannigan Industries, Inc. acknowledges receipt of an order for one mobile library. The book trailer arrived in January, 1964. At the same time, the Board learned Mrs. Bowen planned to retire soon and agreed that a graduate librarian was needed to guide the expansion program. Miss Joyce Nienstedt was selected to fill the position. Mrs. George Bowen retired on June 30, 1964, after many years of devoted service.

Tempe was growing rapidly and the library would not be left behind. Board members worked hard; the library staff struggled to meet the demand and keep pace with the rapid growth; Friends of the Tempe Public Library organized formally and added their talents and many hours of time to the promotion of the library in the community.

On June 7, 1967, Miss Nienstedt submitted her resignation; and Mr. Harry Bennett became Acting Director, so that progress might not be interrupted. On September 1, 1967, Mrs. Dorothy E. Weiler was appointed Library Director by the Board of Trustees. By this time, the building at 103 E. Fifth Street had long since become too small and offices and technical processing services had been moved to 111 E. Seventh Street. On March 19, 1969, all City offices, including the library, were moved to temporary quarters in Danelle Plaza, 3300 S. Mill Avenue. The deserted buildings were razed and construction began on a new City Hall at the same site, 31 E. Fifth Street, and on a cultural complex at Rural Road and Southern Avenue where a piece of land, approximately 22 acres, had been purchased by the City. The summer of 1971 should see these buildings, both outstanding works of architecture and construction, completed and occupied. But progress will not stop there.