Answered By: eBranch - Alachua County Library District Last Updated: May 04, 2017 Views: 265
History of the Alachua County Library District
Like many others, our library began in the Women’s Club movement that swept the country around the turn of the century. America owes those groups of civic-minded women a huge debt: they founded thousands of libraries.
Following that trend, in 1903, a group of Gainesville women organized a literary society called the Twentieth Century Club (forerunner of the Gainesville Woman’s Club) and issued a call for donated books and money to start the town’s first library.
Two years later, Gainesville had not one but two libraries, but like most libraries at the time, neither one was a free public service. They were “subscription libraries”—members paid an annual fee.
In January, Nora Norton opened the Gainesville Circulating Library in the office of the Gainesville Sewing Machine company. She charged borrowers $5.00 a year. In March, the Twentieth Century Club opened their library in the Miller Law Exchange with 200 donated books. They charged only $2.00 a year—perhaps competition was already bringing the price down.
On January 8, a newly formed Library Association opened the Gainesville Public Library on West Liberty Street. The 800-book collection combined the Twentieth Century Club’s books and the library of the East Florida Seminary. In March, C.W. Chase bought Miss Norton’s 200-book collection and donated it to the new library, bringing all local libraries together under one roof.
Hours were 2 to 5 Monday to Saturday. Membership still cost $2.00 a year.
After relocating several times since 1906, the Library moved to a small building owned by Attorney B.A. Thrasher next to Holy Trinity Church. A subscription still cost $2.00 but Library hours were up to 15 a week.
The Library Association approached the City Council and the Carnegie Corporation about building a free public library. To get Carnegie funds, the City had to provide a site and $1,000 per year—a lot of money in those days. The Council deeded a site at 419 East University Avenue and on October 13 (by City Ordinance No. 323) established the Gainesville Public Library.
The first Library Board was: Dr. A.A. Murphree, Captain C.R. Layton, Hon. W.M. Pepper, Hon. George P. Morris, and Dr. H.W. Cox.
On October 15, the city held a referendum on a Library property tax of up to 1/3 mill. The vote was for the library, 200; against, 85; spoiled votes, 7. There were 6,522 Gainesville residents—but of course only men could vote.
The City signed a contract with the Carnegie Corporation and received $10,000 for a Library, but several changes in the choice of an architect caused delays in completing the building. Mrs. Jessie S. White was appointed Librarian.
On February 25, the new Gainesville Public Library opened at 419 East University Avenue with 1,588 volumes. It was (at last!) a free library. People only had to give their name and address to get a card.
In the first year the Library circulated 10,788 books to 991 borrowers. Story hours for children were started by a volunteer, Mrs. E.C. Beck, who taught a storytelling course at the University of Florida.
Library problems in 1920 were very similar to those of today. Two years after World War I, the book collection (2,360 volumes) was declared “entirely inadequate.” A year later, at the urging of Librarian Jessie White, the Chamber of Commerce asked the City Council for a bigger Library appropriation.
The 7-year-old Gainesville Public Library had grown to a whopping 5,189 books, 4,600 borrowers, and a circulation of 24,000 a year.
Jessie White retired and Miss Mary B. Swinney was named Librarian.
Two-thirds of the way through the Roaring Twenties, the Library budget was $8,750, the collection numbered 8,041 and circulation was up to 50,000 a year.
Mrs. C.A. “Annie” Pound was first appointed to the Library Board—she was to serve a record term of more than 40 years.
The 11-year-old Library building was renovated to handle heavier use. A second staff member, Miss Mabel Blackburn, was hired as Miss Swinney’s assistant and library hours were extended to include two evenings a week plus Sunday afternoons.
The Library boasted 12,575 volumes. Public schools didn’t yet have libraries so students were encouraged to use the Public Library. The Library served them whether they were Gainesville residents or not, but suggested that, just possibly, the County ought to contribute to library funding, too.
During the Depression library use boomed nationwide, both because people had no money for other entertainment and because reading was a refuge from hard times. In Gainesville, annual library circulation went up to 72,951 and the City had to finance still more improvements to the building.
World War II brought a decline in library use. Miss Swinney’s annual report said, “Adults read less, preoccupied with Red Cross or other war work and with the difficulties of business and housekeeping under war conditions. Lack of transportation makes it difficult for many readers to get to the library.”
Circulation was only 68,917—quite a drop from 1936. The City’s budget for the library was $4,800 (down from the $8,750 in the boom year of 1927) and there were fewer books—only 10,588, compared to 12,575 back in 1930.
The war must have delayed needed library repairs, because Miss Swinney fell into a hole in the library floor and broke her hip. Mabel Blackwell, the library assistant, became Librarian. Circulation was down to 49,462.
Best sellers popular with Gainesville readers included “The Big Fisherman” by Lloyd Douglas, “Crusade in Europe” by Dwight D. Eisenhower, and “The Naked and the Dead” by Norman Mailer. Western novels were popular with men but the Librarian reported that too few were published to meet demand.
The Library became a department of the City of Gainesville and the Library Board was replaced by a five member Library Advisory Board to advise the City Manager and Commission.
Circulation was up slightly to 57,761 from a collection of 13,276 volumes.
A group from the Twentieth Century Club, led by Mrs. Ida K. Cresap and Mrs. F.W. Kokomoor, started a campaign to upgrade the 34-year-old library building. They studied the situation along with the Library Board and proposed dramatic changes: a $100,000, 4,000 sq. ft. addition, an operating budget of $18,000 a year (about four times the existing budget) and a staff of five to allow 12 hours of service daily. The City Commission committed itself to looking for more funding, but in October they decided that building an addition would require a bond issue.
The Twentieth Century Club kept lobbying for a new library to house at least 50,000 books, since the library’s 16,000 volumes were far below the 54,000 minimum recommended by the American Library Association for a city of 27,000 people. By now, the 1918 building was so crowded that books had squeezed out all but two tables, made browsing impossible and even jammed window sills.
The Carver Branch Library for colored people opened at 536 N.W. 1st Street.
Mabel Blackburn who had worked at the Library for 24 years, died, and Miss Emily Johnson was made Interim Librarian. In September, Virginia Grazier became the library’s first director with a degree in library science.
The City Commission earmarked $50,000 for the Library. Architect Myrl Hanes recommended that the Carnegie building not be remodeled. Instead, a new library would be built on the site of the old one.
A children’s room was finally opened when the Junior Welfare League donated 600 books, increasing the children’s collection by 50%. Story hour was again offered by a volunteer, Barbara Webb Larkin, a librarian at the University of Florida. Summer reading program was begun and 250 children participated.
The City Commission approved a bid of $68.771 for the new building. While it was being built, the library temporarily moved to a house at 411 N.E. 7th Street.
The Gainesville Friends of the Library was organized and held their first book sale to raise money for books for the new library.
After two openings of the new building were postponed, the temporary library finally closed in December for the move.
The new 6,000 sq. ft. library (beside Sweetwater Branch at 419 E. University Avenue) opened on January 6. The Library had a budget of $25,850 and 20,000 books. Library hours included one evening a week and Saturdays.
Library use immediately zoomed: circulation went from 56,872 in 1955 to 86,434 in 1956. Volunteers from the University provided story hours for children.
Because 35% of Gainesville Public Library users now lived outside city limits, the city began charging non-residents a $2 per year fee. That finally sparked interest in county-wide library service. In November, City and County Commissioners and citizens attended a workshop featuring a bookmobile and a talk about federal grants for rural library services.
Volunteer Thelma Ford presented afternoon story hours at the main library and the Carver Branch.
The Gainesville Sun added a column entitled “In the Book” that covered library news and new books. Since the 2-year-old new building was already crowded, the Sun suggested starting a branch or expanding the existing library.
County-wide service to all residents began October 1 by agreement between City and County Commissioners. Two County representatives joined the Library Advisory Board, the County contributed $15,402 for library services, and $10,517 was provided by a federal grant. Residents of High Springs, Micanopy and Hawthorne began planning library buildings.
The High Springs, Hawthorne and Micanopy Branch libraries opened and the library’s first bookmobile was dedicated in April.
In September, Bradford County joined Alachua County to create a regional system: the Santa Fe Regional Library. Bradford had a branch in Starke and also received bookmobile service from Gainesville.
Library use grew dramatically in the late 50’s. Circulation in 1956 was 91,218. By 1959 it rose to 130,215, including the four branches and the bookmobile. The library budget was $55,000, county population was 90,000, there were 10,000 registered borrowers and the library owned 27,000 books.
In January, a tiny 540 square foot building for the Micanopy Branch was dedicated (it housed 3,000 books) and a workroom was added to the overcrowded Gainesville library. The Hawthorne Branch was relocated to the Hawthorne Women’s Club building.
After seven and a half years, Virginia Grazier resigned and Beth Daane was appointed Library Director.
On October 1, Union County joined the Santa Fe Regional Library system on a two year trial basis.
There were now 42,732 books in the collection and the building was very crowded (again!). The Library Advisory Board proposed a $126,000 addition to the Library in 1962 and another $185,600 addition in 1965 to keep pace with growing population. The City Commission took no action on this proposal although the library was still under par: it had 2 books and $1.25 per capita funding, far below the American Library Association standard of 4 books and $4.00 per capita.
On February 11, citizens approved a bond referendum that included $250,000 for a 10,000 sq. ft. addition to the 6,200 sq. ft. Library. The City also applied for a $175,000 federal grant for the library project.
An editorial in the Gainesville Sun on May 10th suggested a study of whether to expand the existing building or construct a new building, called for increased operating funds for the library system and challenged Alachua County (which was contributing less than half a mill) to match Union and Bradford County’s one mill.
The City Commission decided to build a completely new main library.
From 1965 to 1968 the Library project was constantly revised to conform with bond funds available and spiraling costs. Many delays slowed construction. Worse, the Library building plan was reduced from a 40,000 sq. ft. building to only 17,500 sq. ft. The Junior Woman’s Club of Gainesville donated $2,500 to furnish the children’s wing in the new building. In June, children’s story hours moved next door to the American Legion building because the library was so crowded.
Annual book checkout was up to 390,000.
A new $22,478 bookmobile began serving the Alachua-Bradford-Union circuit in May, but in July Bradford County withdrew from the Santa Fe Regional Library system, deciding to fund its own library in Starke and to do without bookmobile services.
Library service to the Alachua County Detention Center began with twice a month Bookmobile stops.
Library Consultant Louis Nourse, hired by the Friends of the Library to study the library situation, proposed increasing the local funding of $1.75 per capita to the minimum Florida standard of $5.00 per capita, transferring the library from the City to Alachua County (if the County could provide adequate funding) and doubling the size of the new building (still under construction) as soon as possible.
The new $439,293 Library at 222 East University Avenue opened December 9. Only 17,500 sq. ft. and with a book capacity of 88,000 volumes, it was already crowded when it opened. The public complained about insufficient parking.
A new record collection was initiated with the opening of the building.
Library Director Beth Daane resigned in September. Gainesville schools were being desegregated, so Lilly Carter, Acting Director, quietly closed Carver Branch, the Negro branch just a few blocks from the main library. There was no announcement: the branch was simply “closed temporarily for repairs” and not reopened when there was no public outcry about blacks using the main library. For the first time, the library served all citizens equally.
A 3,000 sq. ft. Hawthorne Branch Library building was completed. Library service to nursing homes began.
Union County withdrew from the Santa Fe Regional Library system because their Commission decided they could not afford library service. (In 1990, after 21 years without library service, Union county finally got its own library.)
Jane Patton, hired as Director in late 1969, resigned in May and Director Thomas E. O’Malley arrived in October.
Mr. O’Malley’s goals for the library were: (1) increase service hours from 54 to 68 hours a week including Sunday hours; (2) expand the collection of 82,000 books; and (3) immediately plan for an expanded main library, a High Springs Branch, and branches inside the City of Gainesville.
Bookmobile service to low income neighborhoods in east Gainesville was dropped for lack of money. One bookmobile continued to serve communities outside Gainesville.
Since the 1968 building was overcrowded, the Library Advisory board proposed: (1) taking over the old library building down by the creek to expand library collections and services and (2) including a neighborhood branch in planning for a northeast neighborhood center. Neither proposal was approved.
Bookmobile service to east Gainesville resumed in February.
Library Director O’Malley recommended constructing a 40,000 sq. ft. facility to replace the 17,500 sq. ft. building built in 1968. By this time there were 87,000 volumes in the collection and an annual circulation of about 440,000 books, so more space was sorely needed. Gainesville and Alachua County were now splitting library funding: In 1973, Gainesville paid $180,600 and Alachua County $121,000.
Library service to the homebound and handicapped was started. In August, bookmobile stops were cancelled because of the demise of the old bookmobile shortly before the arrival of its $39,500 replacement, bought with a federal grant.
The 70th birthday of the Gainesville Public Library was celebrated October 30. One of the special honorees was the venerable Mrs. Annie C. Pound, who had served on the Library Advisory Board from 1928 to 1969.
A second new bookmobile was bought for $36,000 from a state grant, so January saw the reinstatement of two bookmobiles serving Gainesville and Alachua County.
A plan for downtown redevelopment included a new main library just west of City Hall. The library was quickly dropped from the plan. In February, budget cuts required dropping two of the four weekly story times at the main library.
In November, the library sponsored a Festival of Children’s Books at the Gainesville Women’s Club. Many authors and illustrators of children’s books autographed books and the children’s staff provided puppet shows.
In February, a branch library opened in the new Alachua County Adult Detention Center. It was staffed by trustees and stocked by the main library.
After years of fund raising by community organizations in High Springs, ground was broken for a new 3,000 sq. ft. High Springs branch in May.
Library Director Thomas O’Malley died in January and Thomas E. Meyers was appointed the new Director.
The new High Springs branch opened January 3rd, with a collection of 6,500 books. High Springs’ children moved the book collection from the old library to the new with a block-long human chain.
The Micanopy Branch moved into the first floor of the renovated historic school building which also housed the Micanopy City Hall.
The Main library closed from January 3-9 to conduct the first complete inventory of the library collection ever made. When the library reopened, a new $12,000 security system purchased by the Friends of the Library prevented book theft.
A survey in 1977 showed 58% of library users were residents of Gainesville, 37% residents of Alachua County outside Gainesville, and 5% from out of the County. The survey was the result of the search for more equitable City-County funding of the library. After years of annual budget arguments, the City funded library services fully in FY 76-77, while the County funded Transit fully to avoid double taxation.
The County funded the library through its general revenue from 1977 to 1980. From then until 1986, they used a new taxing mechanism, the Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU), a property tax on the residents of the unincorporated areas of the County. This meant that the smaller cities in the County were not contributing to operating the branches, bookmobiles and the main library (except that the cities of Hawthorne, High Springs and Micanopy provided maintenance of their library buildings) so equitable funding was still not a reality.
Overdue fines were eliminated after a study showed that handling the $13,000 annual income from fines cost the library $21,000 in staff time. As predicted, eliminating fines did not cause any substantial change in the number of books returned.
Two new children’s programs were added: a toddler story time for children 18 months to three years and an evening family story hour attended by kids in pajamas.
The library budget was $614,521 and annual circulation was up to 619,000.
A library building consultant and architect were hired to study building space needs. Their report recommended a new main library of 71,250 sq. ft. at an estimated cost of $5,072,000.
In February, Thomas Meyers resigned as Library Director and Assistant Director Loretta Flowers was named Acting Director.
On April 20th a new service began: Bookmobile III, a mini bookmobile designed to serve the homebound and small rural communities in the County which had been dropped from service in 1978 when rising gas prices made them inefficient for the two larger vehicles. Bookmobile circulation had reached 120,000 books a year and circulation was 725,000 system-wide.
In February, Loretta L. Flowers resigned, and Ann Williams was named Acting Director.
Citizens in the City of Alachua opened a volunteer library on February 20th in a loaned trailer. An Alachua Library Board and Friends of the Library group spearheaded efforts to make it a branch of the Santa Fe Regional Library.
The Alachua City Library was not funded by the County as part of the library system. County staff proposed criteria for branch libraries, and there was a public hearing on the issue but the criteria were not adopted. Eventually, the County funded a book budget for Alachua but not operating costs or staff.
Mary (Polly) J. Coe became Library Director in May.
In the fall, the City Commission established a committee to study and recommend expanding or replacing the very crowded main library building.
The Library undertook the American Library Association’s planning Process for Public Libraries, which included studies of other library resources in the area and surveys of library users and nonusers. The result was the Library’s first five year plan for development.
The City Commission held several hearings on space needs for the main library and a new site, finally settling on the original site of the Carnegie library building across University Avenue from the 1968 building. They also selected an architectural team consisting of Gainesville architects William Hunter and R.A. McKellips, plus William Turnbull of San Francisco.
The City and County Commissions also named a citizens committee to study Library funding options. The Committee recommended establishing an independent taxing district to finance and govern library service county-wide.
The City and County Commissions and the Library Advisory Board drafted several versions of legislation for a library taxing district.
At the American Library Association’s annual conference, the Library’s branch in the County Jail and library service to the homebound won two out of five awards given for innovative outreach services.
In November, the first automated library system was installed to provide much needed circulation control and to replace the card catalog with an on-line catalog.
In the fall, the Santa Fe Regional Library initiated the first reciprocal borrowing agreement in the state, with the Putnam County Library System. This agreement allowed residents of Alachua and Putnam counties free access to both library systems.
In December, after considerable public debate (particularly in the area of censorship of potentially controversial books) the library materials selections policy was officially approved by the City commission for the first time.
The City and County Commissions were discussing a library taxing district but had not reached a consensus so State Representative Sidney Martin, with the support of other local delegation members, submitted legislation for the Alachua County Library District to the state Legislature. It was passed.
On October 15, the citizens of Alachua County approved the library taxing district in a special referendum by a vote of 63% in favor, 37% opposed. There was a low voter turnout—only 10% of registered voters—but the nearly two-to-one margin was a strong vote for a tax increase to finance better library service.
In October, a new weekly library column “Off the Shelf,” written by Carol Hole, began in the Gainesville Sun. The column discussed interesting library books and used humor to make the library unintimidating and understandable to citizens.
In March, Alachua County Commissioners signed agreements to turn the Santa Fe Regional Library over to the special Library District.
The city agreed to rent the 1968 building to the new Library District and also sell the library the site for a new library. The City and County sold the library system’s books and other property to the new District for $2.
On April 1, the Santa Fe Regional Library became the Alachua County Library District.
The library district’s governing board—City Commissioners Gary Gordon and Jean Chalmers and County Commissioners Tom Coward, Leveda Brown and Jane Walker—named the first Board of Trustees: Thomas Rider, Martha J. Weismantel, Gustave Harrer, Cornelius Bonner, Arthur Marshall, Nicole Whitney and Victory Ramey.
In July, the library started issuing new library cards with “bar code labels” for the new computer system and on December 15 the library introduced the first on-line computer catalog.
Library Director Mary “Polly” Coe resigned effective January 16. In March, thanks to a $25,000 donation from Huntley-Jiffy, Inc., the Library District bought an old store in the City of Alachua to house an Alachua branch.
After some debate, the cities of Hawthorne and High Springs voted to donate their branch library buildings to the new Library district.
Cox Cable’s 1st Annual Lap for the Library was held. “The Lap” was a one block walk, jog, or run around the library block to raise funds for a video collection.
After two stints as acting director, Ann Williams was named the new Library Director in May.
In August, the library got its first tractor-trailer bookmobile which was not only much larger than the previous one, but was low to the ground for accessibility by the elderly and handicapped.
On September 15, Alachua County voters approved a $19 million bond issue for a new main library and four branches. Turnout for the special election was 11.7%, with 56% voting for, 44% against.
For the first time, the Library provided a paid librarian at the Jail Branch.
In November, the new branch library in the city of Alachua opened. Residents had been without a library for a year after fire inspectors closed the old trailer because it did not have adequate fire safety.
Ground breaking at the new main library site was postponed until August 6 because of asbestos in old buildings on the site. The cancer-causing asbestos had to be removed before the buildings could be demolished.
The Library’s inter-office computer network was begun with the purchase of several Macintosh computers. This allowed instantaneous communication with the branches fore the first time.
Construction of the new 78,000 sq. ft. main library—four times larger than the 1968 building—was underway.
The Library District purchased a site for the Archer Branch Library in Archer, a site for the Northwest Branch on NW 43rd Street, and a site on Tower Road for the Southwest Branch.
A second tractor-trailer bookmobile was bought to handle heavy circulation. The District established a second reciprocal borrowing agreement, this time with Columbia County.
In September, the Governing Board unanimously approved its tentative budget for 1989-90 in a public hearing that lasted only 22 minutes. (This is probably some kind of record for American Public Libraries!) The proposed budget was $3.7 million.
Construction of the new Headquarters library proceeded on schedule, much to the relief of library staff and patrons. The old building was so crammed with books, furniture, computers, papers and people that it had become difficult for either patrons or staff to function.
Plans were drawn for new 15,000 square foot branches in Northwest and Southwest Gainesville. The District bought a site for a branch in Newberry.
The Hawthorne and High Springs branches were closed for several months while they were completely renovated and expanded from 3,000 to 5,000 sq. ft. System-wide circulation missed topping a million only because of the temporary closing of Hawthorne and High Springs.
In December, the main library closed for the move to the new building.
The new Headquarters opened, giving the library a really adequate building for the first time in its history.
Millhopper and Tower Road Libraries opened November 21st.
Archer and Newberry Libraries opened August 14th.
Alachua County Jail Libray re-opened in a new location.
Internet access made available to the public for the first time.
Waldo Library opened up on June 30th with the agreement to pay $1 per year to the City of Waldo.
All locations were made compliant with the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act.
A new Alachua Branch Library opened with 5,000 sq. ft.
Cataloging system upgraded from GEAC to SIRSI.
Reciprocal Borrowing privileges extended to all Florida Residents.
Micanopy Library got a full-time manager and an interior update.
Second Bookmobile launched to test possible building sites for new locations.
Director Ann Williams retired; Sol M. Hirsch appointed as new director.
Library District established new logo with tagline "Thinking Outside the Book" submitted by Georgia Young, a Circulation Services Library Assistant.
Library adds 24 hour automated phone service for customer convenience.
Alachua Branch Library renovated, adding 6,000 sq. ft.
Millhopper Branch Library renovated, adding 8,000 sw. ft.
The Library Partnership was opened June 9th.
Library District extended its online presence with the introduction of the eBranch.
Director Sol Hirsh retired. Shaney Livingston was appointed new Library Director.
John A. H. Murphree Law Library was added to the Headquarters Library in August.
Cone Park Branch opened in November in a modular unit which was the second partnership that the library had undergone in providing library services.
Cone Park Branch ground breaking for new permanent building was held in March.
Cone Park Branch permanent building was opened in December.