History of the Library

Owen County Public Library

From Humble Beginnings to Blasting into the New Millennium


By Tammy Carney

Genealogy Department



The Indiana State Legislature passed a law in 1901 making it possible by popular subscription for small communities to establish a library. It was stated that it should be maintained by public tax. In the fall of 1905 efforts were made to organize a public library in Spencer and meet the requirements. These efforts included bringing in a library worker from Indianapolis to speak to interested citizens and preparing a subscription paper. Through the efforts of less than a hundred citizens, not one contributing over five dollars, they were able to raise $288.05.

In April 1906, John N. Sloan, Clerk of the Owen Circuit Court, filed a subscription list with the Town Board in order to establish a Public Library in the town of Spencer. In June, the Town Board showed their support by assessing a tax of three cents on every one hundred dollars of taxable property and granting the use of two back rooms on the second floor of the Town Hall for library use.

The first library board consisted of seven members; the Judge appointed T.G. Pierson, Alice Milligan, and L.A. Beem; the Town Board appointed Dr. Allen Pierson and Mrs. Swigert; the School Board appointed Louis Schmidt and Mrs. John H. Smith. They faced many difficulties in funding and getting the library going. Between the whole tax for 1907 of $128.37 and the subscription list funds of $288.05, the Board had $416.42 to purchase a desk, shelving, tables and chairs, and supplies, as well as provide a coal stove for heat and electric wiring and hire a librarian. All of this had to be budgeted for before they could even consider books and magazines. The first librarian hired was Gertrude Morgan who remained with the library until about 1911.

The idea of a book shower came about, and through personal interviews, telephone calls, and letters to dozens of former Spencer citizens an appeal was made to donate one or more books to help the library get started. The response was overwhelming as they received hundreds of books. On December 27, 1907, the first annual report showed a circulation of 5,530 with 404 registered borrowers. The shelves contained 1,033 books and 13 magazines could be found on reading tables. The library collection was supplemented by the free use of traveling libraries sent out by the State Library in Indianapolis. The hours of the library consisted of being open three afternoons and two evenings each week.

One of the guiding forces behind the entire effort of bringing a library to Spencer was Mary Eileen Ahern, who grew up in Spencer and graduated from Spencer High School in 1878. Miss Ahern provided the encouragement and advice while attempting to establish the library and donated 500 volumes upon the opening of the library. She continued to provide gifts to the library for many years giving in excess of 2,500 volumes. She is still contributing to the library today through a trust she had set up for the library upon her death in 1938.

After three years, fifty taxpayers from Washington Township petitioned to allow use of the library. Thus began the rural extension work and the growth of the library. As shelf room and space for readers became a problem, it became apparent that something would have to be done to rectify the problem. About this time, Andrew Carnegie was helping small public libraries by providing funds to build. A letter was sent to the Carnegie Foundation with no results, but upon sending a second letter, several months later, Spencer received an immediate response. They were told that if Spencer provided the site for a building and a resolution was passed by the Town Board supporting a tax of at least one thousand dollars a year, Mr. Carnegie would give $10,000 for a library building. All the requirements were met with a lot on the Southeast corner of the Court House square being purchased by popular subscription. After careful consideration, Wilson B. Parker of Indianapolis was accepted as architect of the project.

On July 29, 1911, the contract was let and construction began. The building was finished and opened to the public on January 1, 1912 with Reba Davis as the librarian, the seven board members and Miss Ahern as guest of honor. A local orchestra lead by Walter Coffey provided the music for the afternoon and evening. Many beautiful gifts were received including the Joan of Arc statue presented by the Women’s Club and a picture by Samuel Richards, the noted artist who was born and reared in Spencer was presented by the Hickam family. Mrs. Walker Schell presented two watercolors by Samuel Richards. The Daughters of the American Revolution presented a copy of the “Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers” and Fred Pochin and his sister Agnes presented a steel engraving of the “Signing of the Emancipation Proclamation”.There were many other works of art and many valuable books presented as gifts with great pride being shown by the citizens.

Reba Davis was instrumental in getting three more townships, Clay, Montgomery, and Lafayette, to subscribe to the library. At the end of one year, Miss Davis resigned and Anna Gray of Gosport temporarily filled the librarian position until Miss Ahern sent Laura Slaughter who remained with the library for six years.

During World War I, under Miss Slaughter’s management, the library became the center for war activities along with circulating books. The Owen County branch for French Relief was organized at a public meeting in the library, and the Owen County Chapter of the Red Cross and Junior Red Cross Society were also organized and run out of the library during this period. Some of the activities included lectures on food conservation, drives for Liberty Loans, and collecting books for war libraries making the library a community house. The State Committee chose Miss Slaughter as one of several librarians to go to French Lick to prepare books collected statewide to be sent to the soldiers.

During this same period, through the kindness of T. C. Steele, who was born in Owen County, and the diplomacy of T.G. Pierson, Mr. Steele agreed to sell one of his paintings at half price to the library. The agreement included displaying some twenty paintings of Mr. Steele’s at the library and the board having their choice of one painting after the exhibition ended.

Miss Slaughter left the library in 1919 with Miss N. Sentell taking the position for a short time. Mrs. Tennant became the next librarian in 1920. Mrs. Tennant left in about a year to take a position in Indianapolis. Blanche Barr followed and served until 1924 when her health would not allow her to continue. Miss Ahern sent Hazel Burk who studied the possibilities of expansion and succeeded in one year’s time to bring five additional townships, Jefferson, Marion, Morgan, Taylor and Franklin, into the service area. The idea of a book truck had been pondered, but funding was not available.With a lot of hard work and careful buying, Miss Burk managed to service the rural districts by establishing adult stations in each township and placing a box for books in each school.

In comparison to the first annual report of 1907 where there were 1,033 books and 13 periodicals, 404 registered borrowers, a circulation of 5,530 with a population of 2,500 being served; in 1929 there were 10,737 books and 44 periodicals, 2,772 registered borrowers, a circulation of 67,699 with a population of 10,740 being served.

After six years of service to the library and the community, Hazel Burk resigned to take up another line of work. Rachel Agg took the position for a short time and Martha Hays Weymouth temporarily filled in until the spring of 1930 when through the efforts of Miss Ahern, Floy French was employed. Floy French served the library until 1946.

Later in 1946, Ruth Bourne took the position of librarian and during her span of service she wrote many articles for the newspaper and did a great deal to promote reading in the community. She was well loved by the children. The 1950 annual report showed 20,828 books and 62 periodicals, over 3,671 registered borrowers, a circulation of 57,715 with a population of 11,763 being served.

After the death of Mrs. Walker Schell in 1948, the library received a trust fund named the Schell Memorial Trust Fund.The income from the fund was, and still is, to be used to purchase books in memory of her husband’s family.

In 1952, Mrs. Bourne realized the distinction of the library becoming a Class I Library. In 1956, the library celebrated its 50th anniversary with Ruth Bourne as Librarian and Mrs. Mathey as Assistant Librarian. The seven members of the Library Board at that time were Mrs. A.P. Campbell who had served 40 years and Mrs. George W. (Nancy) Moore who had served 26 years, both appointed by the School Board; Mrs. Paul (Nellie) Egnor who had served 27 years and Miss DeLois Dayhuff, both appointed by the Town Board; Albert Free who had served 27 years, Mrs. Willis Hickam, and Mrs. M.S. Brown, all appointed by the Judge.

In 1960, the annual report showed 23,958 books and 40 periodicals, 4,925 registered borrowers, a circulation of 44,335 with a population of 11,400 being served, all of the increases coming under the direction of Ruth Bourne. Ruth Bourne retired in 1971 after a summer of overseeing the remodeling of the Carnegie building. This remodeling included a new roof, repairs to the front steps, walls and ceilings being painted, and new carpeting laid with funds for this from an anonymous donor. That same summer saw air conditioning added to the building through the generosity of TriKappa and Delta Theta Tau sororities and the Owen Conty Savings & Loan Association. Delta Theta Tau also donated and had installed the book drop on the front steps.

Nadene Woolf was hired to take the Librarian position in 1971. During her span of service, the library saw new additions for the library with audio-visual materials becoming more and more popular. These included records, filmstrips and cassettes. A Friends of the Library group was started during this time as well. The 1971 annual report showed the library having 22,585 volumes and 30 periodicals with 4,902 registered borrowers.

The library received a trust fund from Stephen A. Free in 1973 in memory of his parents. The trust fund is known as the Albert and Juel Free Memorial Trust Fund with the principal being placed in the fund and only the interest to be used.Albert Free was a former Library Board member having served 27 years and Juel Free was a dearly loved teacher in Spencer for more than 40 years.

The library only served those townships that contributed to its support until 1974 when the County Commissioners decided the entire county should be provided services and they would contract library services. In 1975, the entire county, thirteen townships, was served free of charge and it continues to be this way today. A bookmobile was purchased in 1975 and serviced the rural areas of the county.

This same year saw the children’s area move into a room of their very own. The basement of the Carnegie building was carpeted and furnished with the help and support of the community. The Lions Club collected and sold books to raise money for a sign and other needs and the local variety store lent the Children’s Room a tall fan for the summer as there was no air conditioning in the room. The new room introduced more opportunities for programming for children. Some of the programming included Summer Reading Programs, Story Circles and Dial-a-Story.

The 1980’s saw the introduction of videos, computers, and an increasing interest in genealogy and local history. By 1984, the Carnegie building was in need of expansion, so the Library Board purchased property to the south of the Carnegie building to build what would become known as SOPL II. SOPL II was opened in 1985 and housed the fiction, videos, local history, and the Indiana collection. The genealogy collection was housed there also, and was becoming one of the most popular areas of the library. There was now a public meeting room available with the interior being finished by the Lions Club. Figures for the end of May 1985 were a circulation of 43,711 books and other materials and 11,069 registered borrowers.

In 1986, Nadene Woolf stepped down and Doris Beasley became the new Librarian. Doris was very interested in literacy and in 1987 a literacy group was formed. The group was called P.R.I.D.E. which stands for Providing Reading Instruction for Daily Education. It was run by volunteers and lasted into the early 1990s. The Owen County Hall of Fame moved to the meeting room of SOPL II during Doris’ tenure, and in 1993, automation was introduced to the library. The automation process began by converting library holdings to computer readable formats.

Doris Beasley resigned in 1994 with Valerie Savage stepping into the Librarian’s position and remaining with the library for about one year. In April 1994, a CD (compact disc) catalog was introduced to the library and area school libraries.This catalog was known as SHInE, Stone Hills Information Exchange, which links the library to other libraries around the state. During this time, talks began on seeking expansion ideas as growing pains were once again beginning to be felt. The library now had over 45,000 volumes of books, several thousand audiotapes, and about 1,000 videotapes. The determination was made in 1995 to purchase the building owned by the Owen County State Bank at 10 South Montgomery Street at a cost of $750,000. Between the Carnegie building and SOPL II combined, the total area of space was 4,432 square feet compared to 16,000 square feet in the bank building. Once everything was in order, renovation began on the building.

Valerie Savage resigned in 1995 and Lynn Jurewicz was hired as the next Librarian. Mrs. Jurewicz was instrumental in introducing technology to the library. Prior to this, the library owned two Apple computers which were used to maintain library statistics and prepare overdue notices and catalog cards. Then IBM type computers were introduced in 1993 with three computers being acquired. In 1995, barcoding of library materials began in order to automate the circulation process. A Gateway computer was added in the Children’s Department and Mrs. Jurewicz introduced the Internet to library patrons in 1996.

In 1995, the Friends of the Library began for the second time. The group was active back in the seventies and eighties, closing the first chapter in 1986. The Friends group has always been instrumental in helping fund various needs of the library from children’s programs to materials to supplement various collections as well as promoting the library.

The year 1997 saw many, many changes for the library. Vickey Freeland became the fifteenth Librarian after Lynn Jurewicz resigned at the end of 1996. The library was preparing for the big move into the newly refurbished bank building and the Owen County Historical and Genealogical Society donated a new computer to the library for genealogical use. Youth Services received a very generous financial donation from Mr. and Mrs. Jim Vance to purchase furniture and equipment for the new activity room and children’s area, which is on the second floor of the new building.

On July 29, 1997, the Carnegie building was closed and the move to the new bulding began. With close to 50,000 volumes or more, the employees, with the help of the Friends of the Library who made arrangements for a moving truck, library staff, community corrections and volunteers from the community began the big move. The new building was opened for public use on August 26, 1997. The Friends of the Library sponsored an Open House on September 14, 1997 with tours of the new library and refreshments being served. The library received many beautiful fresh and silk floral and tree arrangements from community business organizations along with the addition of a painting by Ken Bucklew, of the Carnegie Building, purchased by the Library Board. This painting hangs behind the front desk receiving many wonderful compliments. Many of the gifts from the opening of the Carnegie library in 1912 can still be found in the library today. The T.C. Steel painting and The Money Changers painting by Samuel Richards hang in the Reference Department along with Joan of Arc sitting next to the vault door.

Once the lines and hook-ups were in place, the Internet was up and ready for public use at the end of 1997 with eight public stations available for patron use. Computer usage is currently one of the fastest growing areas in the library. Automated circulation became a reality in 1998 with books no longer being hand stamped but scanned and the patron being required to show their card in order for the clerk to scan the barcode on the patron card. This began with the Adult circulation, and Youth Services began earlier this year, 1999. The Library’s current holdings include 52,327 volumes of books, 174 periodicals, 2,087 video tapes, 1,018 audio cassettes, 280 music CDs, and 67 computer CDs with a circulation of 62,333 and 6,008 registered patrons.

The current library building houses a meeting room on the lower level with the Owen County Hall of Fame displayed on the landing at the bottom of the stairs leading to the meeting room. The main level houses the adult fiction and nonfiction books, periodicals, adult audio and videos, reference, adult public computer stations, copier, and the Indiana and genealogy collections are housed inside the old bank vault complete with the vault door. In answer to whether the door closes, no it does not. The door is welded open so that no one can be locked inside. The second floor is totally dedicated to Youth Services and includes children’s books and periodicals, children’s audios and videos, a separate young adult room, a study room, three public computer stations, and an activity room. Youth Services offers many programs for the children of the community.

The library is currently staffed by Director, Vickey Freeland; Assistant Director, Debbie Campbell; Front Desk Staff, Laura Wilkerson, Vicki Silva, Lisa Burke and Karen Hughey; Reference Clerk, Beth Williams; Genealogy Clerk, Tammy Carney; Youth Services Staff, Nancy Porter and Jennifer Musgrave; Children’s Programmer, Laura Plummer; and student Shelvers Emily Williams, Danielle Allen, and Shanna Goodall. Housekeeping staff includes Della Carpenter and Marilyn Gerber. The current Library Board includes Robert Taylor and Bernard Smith, appointed by the County Commissioners; Loren Wood and Lennie Hedden, appointed by the County Council; Judy O’Connor and Gary Armstrong, appointed by the Spencer Schools; Wiley Truesdel, appointed by the Cloverdale schools, and Treasurer, Becky Brown.

As to the future of the library, we know that we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the library in the year 2006.Plans will be underway for that in a few years. A planning committee is being established to organize and plan for the future of the library. This committee will give the library direction as well as establish a mission statement. Other than that, the future can be difficult and almost impossible to predict. One can only speculate. Technology will most likely play a major role in the direction the library will take in the future. Changes are constantly taking place with technology and it will be a matter of keeping up with the changes and staying current. One thing is for sure, reading will not disappear from the picture, as computers require one to read the screens and spell in order to locate information. Books will be with us for some time to come, as people still like to have the printed word to hold in their hands, to feel and look at on paper. The library is ultimately blasting into the future with the increased growth and interest in technology in just the past couple of years, so join us on our ride into the future!


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