What does the New York Public Library and the Montgomery Area Public Library have in common? They were both founded in1911, thus marking this year their on hundredth year anniversary. The New York Public Library is renowned as one of the largest in the world, and in spite of its small size, the Montgomery Area Public Library has likewise served a vital function to the neighboring communities.
The Montgomery Library was initially begun as the result of a motion from the Parent-Teachers Association of Montgomery High School on November 10, 1911, to start a Free Public Library. It was first housed at the high school itself with a collection of used books from local citizens. Realizing they needed to raise some funds, a special film was shown on December 8, 1911, at eh Decker Opera House, netting $23.40.
It was a humble beginning. The board hired the first librarian, Mrs. J. L. Shuler, to work three hours per week that the library was open. Desiring to add new books, however, would require more funds. Five devoted women volunteers canvassed the town door to door. The effort brought in $127.55, which enabled the library to make its first purchase of 110 books.
From 1911 and on into the 1920’s, the library continued to expand by drawing on the good-will in the community. The local churches donated many of their books which were used in their Sunday School programs. One area businessman donated a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. By 1918, the volume of traffic in the library increased to the extent that the hours needed to be extended and the board realized it needed to raise the salary of the librarian – to one dollar a week!
In January of 1926, the library moved into the former First National Bank building on Main Street, where it would remain for the next six decades. During this time, the library continued to add to its inventory. In an age before entertainment like radio and television, the library served a critical function for amusement and recreation for the citizens of the borough and surrounding townships.
Likewise, today the Montgomery Area Public Library not only offers patrons a wide variety of literature, magazines and DVDs, it also provides free computer access and serves as a convenient location for local organizations to meet. The librarians have been asked to proctor for special examinations, and it is not uncommon to see private tutoring being conducted.
A Lasting Legacy
This community involvement is also evident in the practice of compiling signatures for commemorative books that were signed by local patrons during the 35th anniversary of the Montgomery Borough, in 1923, and again in its 75th anniversary in 1963. These books are also currently on display, showing and interesting reflection on the changing demographics of the community. Again, in keeping with the heritage of the past century, the board initiated a project known as the Centennial Book. All visitors to the Montgomery Area Public Library are encouraged to sign the book, marking their participation in this landmark year.
In 1986, the First National Bank moved and the public library was again fortunate enough to acquire their building at the corner of Main Street and Houston Avenue. The Library moved into its new home. In 2005, major renovations and improvements were conducted. Today, visitors to the Montgomery Area Public Library are often surprised to walk into the entrance and see a huge vault in the rear of the main foyer. The Vault holds four computers as well as the reference section, and also provides and ideal quiet environment for research.
As of 2010, the library had 15,246 cataloged items (books, DVD’s, tapes, etc.), yet in the same year the volume of materials checked out of 31,997. The current librarian, Susan Thomas, stated that in her fifteen years of tenure, the library has seen an increase in circulation every year. In the past four years alone, the library has seen a twenty-six percent increase in circulation.
The Montgomery Area Public Library recently conducted a contest for a logo to mark the centennial. The art department of the Montgomery Area High School, under the direction of Chris Ulrich, resulted in nearly forty entries. Library patrons were given a month to vote for their favorite, and the winners were Casey Smith for the logo and Emily Ghergehel for the letterhead. These students were recognized for their achievement on Wednesday, April 13th, at a ceremony held at the library.
The Montgomery Area Public Library will continue to hold various anniversary activities throughout the year, capping off its celebration with a grand banquet to be held at the Genetti Hotel on Friday, November 18, 2011. The guest speaker will be Professor Dennis P. McIlnay, author of The Horseshoe Curve: Sabotage and Subversion in the Railroad City. An auction will also be held during the venue, featuring autographed books by such authors as Janet Evanovich, Robin Cook, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Linda Fairstein, Rosemary Wells, Dean Koontz, Wanda Brunstetter, Catherine Coulter, Patrick F. McManus, and many more.
Two libraries were founded one hundred years ago – one in the leading city in the nation and another in a small hamlet along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. Both the major cities and the small communities have found that the community library serves an invaluable function in spite of current financial challenges. Visit your local library and offer your support.