It all began in August, 1944, when a petition to create a library district, signed by 300 Whitman County taxpayers was presented to the county commissioners. In the November, 1944 general election, the voters approved the formation of a library district. 1,743 voted in favor of the new district and 1,462 votes were cast against the measure.
The first library board appointed by the county commissioners included Roy Peringer, Belmont: Mrs. W.S. Redman, Palouse; Mrs. Bert Davis, Rural Pullman; Mrs. Gilbert Ferris, Lacrosse; and Ernest Hemingway, of Thorton. Gladys Bowles, Lewiston, Idaho, was selected to be the library’s first new director.
The library had its beginning in the county courthouse, a temporary location until a rental agreement could be worked out at the site of a former tavern located on Main Street, which presently houses Hickman’s Boot and Saddle. The furniture was war surplus, the floor had no covering and, understandably, some patrons wandered in for a brew, not books.
In both years, 1946 and 1948, there was a measure on the county ballots to abolish the library district. Fortunately, the measure was voted down each time. In fact, the library gained in popularity and service. In 1948, this was shown as there were then 25 branch libraries in the county and close to 44,000 books were circulated. Hay had the honor of having the first branch.
In February, 1949, Bruce Carrick from Brandon, Alberta, was appointed librarian. Following his resignation in September, 1950, he went to the Spokane County Library and, later moved on to the Spokane Public Library, where he stayed for many years as head man.
Florence Biller, the children’s librarian, succeeded Mr. Carrick as director of the system. She recognized the need for a bookmobile to provide better service to the people and, in October, 1951, a bid was accepted. The bookmobile arrived in February, 1952, and it was soon on the road. This addition resulted in the closure of many of the smaller branches.
In January of 1955, George Droste became the director and began planning for a new building to house the expanding library facilities. During that same year, the City of Colfax contracted for library services.
Don Bell of Dawson Creek, British Columbia, followed Mr. Droste as director in January, 1957. He continued the work of finding, or building, a new library headquarters. A building on the corner of Main and Spring Streets was destroyed by fire and, in the summer of 1959, the District hired Warren C. Heylman to design the new building. The lot, now the location of the present Colfax branch, was purchased, Sceva Construction Company of Spokane was awarded the bid and the work began. The total cost of construction was $99,630.96.
Moving the new library building was made much easier with the help of the Colfax Jaycees and other volunteers, who formed a “book brigade,” passing books from person to person down the block.
Robert Kirchgraber became the director in August 1960, and was followed by Margaret Clow in January, 1962. The average cost of a book during the 60’s was $15.95, novels averaged $5.50 and paperbacks, 95 cents.
With service expanding to most of the schools in the county, the need for a replacement bookmobile became evident. One was ordered and went into service in August, 1964.
When the new library was built, the basement was left unfinished in order to save money. Then, in 1966, that job was completed, adding a large meeting room, an office, kitchen, store room and public rest room facilities. In 1968, for the sake of comfort, air conditioning was added. Also, added to the library’s inventory was a collection of large print books and the first of the books-on-tape, both very popular additions.
Margaret Clow retired in April, 1982, and was succeeded by Nancy Benson, who was the director for only a short time. Gail Warner became library director in November, 1982, She began the job of compiling the information and documents necessary for joining the towns with branch libraries to the County Library District for taxing purposes. Up to this time the towns were served through contracts and several of them opted for this inclusion.
A valuable addition to the Whitman County Library came about in 1983, for it was at the time the Friends of the Library group was organized and established.
1984 was busy and productive year for the library. Director Warner began looking at the feasibility of lifting the lid on levies and placing a special levy on the September primary ballot. Both measures were approved by the voters in that year’s primary. Other projects were underway, as well. The search for a new bookmobile began, plans were in the making for a remodeling of the building and the move toward computerizing the library system was begun.
The plans made in 1984 began to be implemented in 1985. The S.G. Morin & Sons Construction Company was awarded the bid for the remodeling, which began in July. All library functions were moved to the basement for the duration of the upstairs work. At the same time, a computer committee was formed to analyze the three companies that offered library computer systems. That done, the library staff began entering the book collection into the computer system. The new bookmobile went into service late in August and a great deal of work was being done on a packet radio system to link the branches to the Colfax branch. Gail Warner, and her husband Mike Hughes, worked tirelessly on this project. All in all, a busy year.
By 1988, the computer system was up and running and connected to each of the branches by radio. The remodeling was completed, with the addition of the mezzanine serving as the work area.
Timeout now for the game of “musical directors.” Gail Warner resigned in April, 1988 and was followed by Andy Waters, who hailed from the Chicago area. His tenure started in September, 1988. He was followed by Anne Getman in 1991. She moved on to an Oregon library and was replaced by Catherine McKinney in February, 1994. She left the latter part of 1994 and was followed by Steve Kenworthy, who became the library’s director January, 1995. When he left in 1998, long time staff member Kristie Kirkpatrick became the interim director. She was appointed director in 1999.
All during the history of the Whitman County Library, children have been number one on the priority list. From the very beginning, Storytime and Summer Reading programs have been held throughout the system. Bookmobile service was provided to many of the schools and the library staff has worked with children, encouraging them to become lifelong library users. It has all been an outstanding effort, but a valuable labor of love.
In addition to children’s services, book deliveries are made to nursing homes and mail services are maintained for shut-ins. The library has built a large-print section for those who are troubled with smaller, or regular, print books. Books-on-tape and books on CD are provided for those patrons who enjoy listening to a book. The video collection has grown immensely. In 1999, these where checked out 24,626 times.
There are 6,303 registered library patrons in the county, using the 14 branches. In 1999, 127,879 items were circulated. The library has on inventory 73,370 books, videos, etc. The average cost of an item added last year was $38.25. Attendance at storytime for 1999 was 11,720 children.
Much of the success in library service can be attributed to the work and devotion of the staff members. From the shelver to the clerk to those who manage the branches, many of whom have devoted years to building a system that meets the needs of the citizens of Whitman County.
From the pencil daters to computers – the first fifty years has been one of progress. What will it be in 2045? Onward and upward!