Laurie Muelder: Public library a vital resource

From The Register Mail:

The idea of a public library was Benjamin Franklin’s; he formed our first subscription library in Philadelphia in 1731. As the frontier moved west the idea of libraries as civic institutions followed. A century later the frontier was in Illinois.

By 1858 the Young Men’s Literary and Library Association had been established in Galesburg. In 1872 the Illinois Legislature passed a law allowing city councils to tax citizens for library funding. The following year the Galesburg City Council began planning for the Free Public Library for the city of Galesburg which they established by ordinance in 1874.

Our first Free Public Library and Reading Room opened over a storefront on Main Street in 1874. Although the need for a library building was obvious, it was not until recovery from the economic panic of 1893 that the Library Board purchased, in 1900, the land on the south side of Simmons Street running east from Broad Street.

The City Council appropriated $50,000, to be raised by a tax levy of $12,500 a year for four years, to construct a library, and Knox College President Thomas McClelland persuaded Andrew Carnegie to give a matching $50,000, contingent upon the City Council guaranteeing an annual appropriation for the maintenance of the library. The handsome building was the source of great civic pride when it opened in 1903. At its dedication Col. Clark Carr said, “The most gratifying thing … is that it is ours … it belongs to the people.” That building served the people well until its destruction by fire in 1958.

The current library was erected in 1961as a temporary replacement, paid for by the insurance money Carnegie library and a loan at generously modest interest from a local bank. Subsequent additions in 1967, 1984, and 1996, were paid for from the library’s capital improvement fund and loans from the city; the final repayment of $10,000 for the 1996 loan was made to the city this year.