You know, for a blog that’s entitled “Lady Librarian” I haven’t included much content about, uh…well, libraries. I aim to improve on the shortage with this entry. I’m taking an online class this semester called Public Libraries, and in one of our first classes we were assigned to report on the history of a public library of our choosing. I was daunted by the options—this survey from the American Library Association states that there are over 9,000 in the United States! …and then I had my light bulb moment. What if I wrote about the library that fostered my young love of reading and learning? The place where I learned to use chopsticks at a summer children’s program and discovered my inclination toward scary stories in all their shapes and forms?
So that’s what I’m presenting to you here. I did some research via old newspaper articles—thank god for digitization, y’all—and got a fascinating look into how one rural library evolved over the years, along with how its surrounding community offered continual support for the institution time and time again.
For this blog post, I’m reaching into my own past and looking at the history of my childhood library: The Guymon Public Library & Arts Center located in Guymon, Oklahoma. I had great fun digging into the digital newspaper archives, and am excited to report on the library’s humble beginnings along with the persevering spirit and support provided by the local residents.
I first found mention of Guymon’s library in an article dating back to 1909, when the library was less of a permanent fixture in the rural community and more like a nomadic entity. This particular entry stated that the library was being moved from an office of the Savage Drug Company to another office in the Dutch & Son Bakery. For the next several decades the library continued to hop around to a number of locations, which included the Chamber of Commerce and the County Superintendent’s office, and by the 1960’s found itself in an overcrowded and inadequate facility at City Hall. The one constant, it seems, was the willingness of residents to maintain and advocate for the library. Various book committees and ladies’ clubs called for book donations and helped get a subscription library going for $1/year in 1929, which was no small fee at the dawn of the Depression era. It was also community members and the library board who persisted when a sizable bump in the road appeared at a critical time in the spring of 1968.
An initial bid for $75,000 in bonds—money that would be spent converting the old post office into a proper library building—was rejected to see if a higher amount of federal funding could be acquired. Citizens thought this might be the better route to ensure that the library would meet state board requirements. As it were, federal spending for the library was unreliable during that time (shocking…) since the Vietnam War was ongoing and inflation and a 10% surtax were on the horizon. The library board had to make a decision, and quick. A representative from the Oklahoma State Library, Esther Henke, declared in an interview that funding might not be available after July of that year. The board soon went back to city council, revived the bond issue, and it was approved.
By April 1969, the library passed inspection and was open to the public. The cozy building of my memory was located at the corner of Fifth and Quinn Streets, not too far from the downtown area. My own family lived on Fifth Street for a couple of years, which meant I was only a few minutes away! That 3,600 square feet structure and its small, diligent staff served a community of approximately 13,000 people for over 40 years, and some of my fondest memories as a young girl took place there as well.
Most recently, a new facility was opened in September 2013. Once again, it was time to update, expand, and bring in a fresh breeze of change. According to the library’s website, “funds for the new building were generated with a one-cent sales tax for Capital Improvements in the City of Guymon, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through a grant from the USDA and a donation from the Nash Foundation.” The grant amounted to over $650,000, the largest bestowed upon an Oklahoma project for a community facility, which I think is nothing short of incredible.
I hope you enjoyed reading this short history as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I’m including a couple of pictures below so y’all can see both the old and new buildings!
Author’s note: I altered the language slightly from the original forum post to be less formal! I also want to point out that this is by no means a complete history, but I hope I did justice to a place that was foundational in getting me to where I am today. xo
Flickr Site for Old Library Photo Here