The History of the Towanda Library Compiled by Judy Zimmermann, 2007 The organization of a public library in Towanda was begun in 1939 through the federal Works Project Administration (WPA). On February 29, 1940, a meeting was held at the home of Mrs. A. C. Cary and the following persons were elected to the first Library Board: Mrs. W. L. Hirst, Chairman; Bob Spence, Secretary/Treasurer; Mrs. S. S. Boulton, Publicity Secretary; and Members Ed Wesley and Mrs. Labon. The Quensel Garage showroom was secured as a location for the library. Community volunteers readied the facility and the Town Board agreed to pay for heat, light, and rent until 1943. Mrs. Annabel Cary was installed as librarian and custodian. The Chicago Public Library donated books and magazines, money was donated by individuals and local groups, and an Antique Glass Tea (5 years or older was to be classified as "old glassware") fundraiser was used to purchase new books. In April, 1940, 744 adult books and 351 juvenile readers were checked out. In January 1942 the WPA Library Project name changed and the library became the War Information Center. Under the new system the library was required to close during June and to purchase pamphlets and books on War Information at a cost of $5 a month. A year later WPA rules made it necessary for the Village of Towanda to decide whether or not it wished to maintain a library. All WPA books and furniture would have to be returned if they did not. It was decided to continue the library and the sponsorship was assumed by Mayor Ed Wesley, who was also President of the Library Board, and the Towanda Library became affiliated with the State Library in Springfield. The library moved to the Masonic Building. In 1944, Mrs. Edith Shelton became librarian and community sales were held each year to raise money to support the library for the following year. An April 13, 1945 Pantagraph article described an annual all day library benefit that included lunch of chicken and noodles, salads, hamburgers, pies and coffee. Ralph Crose was auctioneer, Leslie and Merle Sutter donated 24 bales of clover hay which sold for $1 per bale. Mrs. Jerry McKay and Mrs. Ed Luster brought in $42 for their booth of aprons, dish towels and hot pot holders made of sacks and scraps. Mrs. Bill Martin milled among the crowd clad in gay colors with beads and ribbons as a fortune teller of the past and future, with fortunes tied in peanut shells. Voters approved in 1946 a regular amount of $12 to $15 for the purchase of new books. Books/items in circulation totaled 4043 with 2735 adult and 1338 juvenile items. In 1948 the library was open 2 � days a week and about half of the persons in the community were patrons. By 1949, the library had 7149 assorted books and items available to the public. Of this number, 4547 items in circulation included: 1410 adult books, 1850 juvenile books, 873 magazines, and 354 readers.
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By 1955, the annual library sale was not very successful, so it was decided to try to pass a library tax (no record of the outcome was located). Since the library was barely meeting expenses it was decided to open the library only one day a week and the librarian, Edith Shelton, also agreed to a cut in salary of $10. She was being paid $35 per month. The Library Board in 1964 began making plans for a more permanent means of operating the library. There was no income for the coming year, as the money from the township was no longer available. The library was to be closed the month of August because of a lack of funds. Mr. Eldon Schum purchased the library site located in a building downtown and converted it into a laundromat. Plans to move the library to the Ratliff Building (old post office) fell through due to the condition of the building. The rent was to have been $25 per month. In 1966 Mrs. Ratliff leased the old restaurant building downtown to the library board for $300 per year. In June 1967, the township tax was passed and the library became known as the Towanda Township Library and became affiliated with the Corn Belt Library System (CBLS). As a member of CBLS, books could be borrowed, get qualified help to answer questions the librarian might have and CBLS would help obtain books requested from other libraries in the state. The Library Board decided to join the McNaughton Plan in 1969 at a cost of $15.43 a year. This Plan provided seven books that could be rented per month except in July and December when only four could be rented. There was an option for the books to be purchased for 25% of their cost. If not, they were to be returned to the McNaughton Plan. Around 1974, the Library Board set up a reserve fund for construction and equipment of a building for the library. In 1977 the library moved from its Main Street location with 720 square feet to the former Village Garage in the south end of the Towanda Community Building on Jefferson Street. In April 1980 the Library extended its hours by opening from 10:00-12:00 on Wednesdays and Saturdays and from 6:30 to 7:30 Tuesday through Thursday. The library depended on volunteers for part of the operation of the library. One day a week, the library was open and operated by adult volunteers. Junior Friends of the Library, elementary and junior high aged young people, volunteered on a regular basis during much of the 1980's. Statistics listed in the April 1983 library newsletter included the following information: FY73 tax rate was 6 cents/$100AV. The library was open 8 hrs/wk and the librarian was not paid minimum wage (less then $2/hr). The library had 2,187 adult hardback books, was able to add only 21 books and had 300 cardholders with a total of 3,775 transactions. FY83 tax rate was less than 8 cents/$100AV. The library was open 19 hrs/wk, and the librarians salary was $6,182 and $4,729 was spent for books. The library had 6,719 adult hardback books, 20 magazine subscriptions, 111 records, and had 617 cardholders with a total of 11,865 transactions. As of March 1985, patrons had the ability to use their library cards in 22 other libraries.
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On June 28, 1987, the Library Board hosted a tea for retiring librarian, Eleanor Hensley who had served since 1971. Under her direction, there was a dramatic growth in circulation. The type of information that was available included records and videocassettes as well as magazines, soft back and hard cover books, and a wide variety of reference works. Kari Shelton was appointed librarian. In the fall of 1987 the Library Board applied for a Construction Grant from the State of Illinois and received $78,240 of the $195,400 estimated cost of the building. The grant was supplemented by two anonymous gifts, a mortgage and the library boards own building fund. On February 10, 1988 the library expanded by referendum to become a district library (as allowed by State law) and its name was changed to the Towanda District Library. Secretary of State Jim Edgar presented the Construction Grant for the new building at a program on February 25, 1988, at the Towanda Community Building. Participating in the event were 88th District State Representative Gordon Ropp, Library Board President Hank Thomassen and Dick Nice of Young Architects, Bloomington, the architect for the library. On June 5, 1988, construction began on the 3,362 square foot building site located on the southwest corner of Adams and Taylor streets, across the alley from the Towanda Elementary School. . On a very cold Saturday, February 6, 1989, volunteers from the Charles Levy Transportation Co. of Towanda, the Lions, Scouts, and other friends moved library materials and supplies to the new building. The Towanda District Library served Towanda Township, Money Creek Township, Sections 28-33 (including Indian Creek) and Normal Township Sections 1-2 and 11-13. On April, 16, 1989, a Dedication program was held and the new Towanda District Library officially opened. During the open house, a plaque was presented to John P. ,,Jack Jenkins for his many years of service and assistance in making the new facility a reality. Mr. Jenkins served as Trustee for the Towanda Township Library, 1970-1989, and was President of the Board of Trustees, 1970-1975. During his tenure on the Board he also served as President of the Board of the Corn Belt Library System and was Chairman of the Illinois Library Systems Presidents Organization. A near-monthly library newsletter was published from 1982 � 1989 and mailed to everyone with a Towanda mailing address (575). Besides library information about new books and programs, it included information from the areas clubs and organizations, a calendar of events, directory of area organizations and timely news. Gail Ann Briggs was the volunteer editor/publisher of the only publication of this type during that time. Mary Williams became Library Director in 1999. In 2001 a new volunteer program was begun and DVDs were introduced into the librarys circulating collection. The librarys website was created and volunteer Helen Mogill became its webmaster.
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At the end of 2001, the Library Board placed on the ballot a referendum to annex Blue Mound Township (including the village of Cooksville). With its passage the library districts population increased from 1516 to 1989 patrons. In 2002, the library became an online member of the Resource Sharing Alliance at the Alliance Library System. The library took part in a system-wide grant to receive a computer, bar code reader and receipt printer. In April 2003, the library adopted the automation system Carl Web, which was a major step in migrating from manual to automated checkout. The library instituted overdue fines at the same time. Beginning in 2003, the Library Board authorized the publication of a quarterly library newsletter to be mailed to all households in the library district (910). A tax referendum for a 2% Building and Maintenance Fund was passed. The Friends of the Towanda District Library formed to support fundraising and organize a book group. In 2006, funded by the Friends, the library printed plastic library cards. Donations of used computers expanded to six the number of public Internet stations, four staff workstations and two game computers for children. In the fall of 2006 the Towanda District Library and Towanda Area Historical Society was awarded $19,141 for a Library Science Technology Act (LSTA) digital imaging grant from the Secretary of State and Illinois State Library to digitize 1500 images and develop a searchable website. On April 17, 2007, voters in the library district approved a five-cent tax rate increase (to $.20 per $100 of assessed valuation) on the corporate (general) fund. Library Directors Annabelle Cary Edith Shelton Ruth Calvert Eleanor Hensley Kari Shelton Diane Porter Mary Williams 1940-1944 1944-1967 1967-1971 1971-1987 1987-1994 1994-1999 1999-
Library Board Presidents Mrs. W. L. Hirst Ed Wesley Keith Stein Emmett Wheeler William Quinn Mrs. Pearl DeVore incomplete records 1940-1942 1942-1951 1951-1953 1953-1954 1954-1956 1956-
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Mrs. George Kelley Jack Jenkins Ruth Parsons Hank Thomassen Wilma Stevenson Ottilie Womack Ruth Parsons Diane Mueller Carolyn Bouck Ruth Kraft Marsha DeMay Sheila Donald Diane Mueller Tim Mogill
1967-1970 1970-1975 1982-1983 1983-1989 1989-1990 1990-1991 1991-1993 1993-1994 1994-1998 1998-1999 1999-2000 2000-2001 2001-2002 2003-
This history is a summary of information compiled in 2007 by Judy Zimmermann from handwritten documents, notes, albums, and the librarys newsletters. The full history can be found in the Towanda District Library.
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Illinois State University, Milner Library, Normal, IL, 61790 - for the Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
Towanda Area Historical Society/Towanda District Library
The images in the Towanda Area Historical Society digital library may be viewed, downloaded, and printed for personal or educational use, but any commercial use is prohibited, without permission. Questions may be directed to the historical society at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Towanda Illinois District Library at (309)728-2176.