We Have 130 Years to Celebrate!

Did you know that 2014 is St. Thomas Public Library’s 130th Anniversary? Imagine that! After much digging in our dusty archives, I have a copy of a handwritten bylaw that City Council passed in 1884, stating that a free library would be established January 1885.

St Thomas Free Library
First St. Thomas Public Library location

The first public library in St Thomas was opened in rented rooms above what is now Mortin & Locke Insurance. In order to borrow library books you had to be recommended by another member, and you had to buy a membership for 5 cents per year – that was a lot of money in those days.

Once you had a membership, you could only borrow one book at a time, and you could keep it for as many weeks as it had100s of pages – so you could keep a book for a week if it was 100 pages long, and one that was 500 pages you could keep for 5 weeks. Very sensible!

In those days all the books in the library’s collection were listed in printed catalogues. The books in the catalogue are mostly classic fiction, titles by Victor Hugo, Nathanial Hawthorne, Washington Irving –  and some reference books organized by subject. Books were jealously guarded, and there was often no direct access to the collection. You selected your book from the catalogue, and one of the staff went to find it for you.

St Thomas Carnegie Library
Carnegie Library – Currently the Engineering Department of City Hall

Libraries used to have only books. Soon there were also magazines and daily newspapers, for the public to browse. Later music was also available, in the form of records –old 78 and 45 LPs, then movies on VHS, and now DVDs. We also have an entire collection of electronic content that’s virtual – it’s in the library but isn’t on any shelves!

Nowadays, a library isn’t just books. Libraries are destinations, places where people gather, learn from each other, rather than places where people borrow books. Libraries are people places, and people space is now just as important as space for collections.

To celebrate our Anniversary, we’ll have a number of special events during the year, and we’ve already had our first. On January 2nd, the first day we opened this year, we honoured the 130th person who came in. Catherine Barnes, a regular library user, received a gift package including 130 in Downtown Development Dollars.

Keep your eyes open for the BIG bus ad, sponsored by the Friends of St. Thomas Public Library. We’re also planning a Victorian tea, and some special events out in the community! Come by and celebrate with us. There are 130 reasons to celebrate!

-RD

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