From the humble beginnings, library continues to see growth
By Karissa Minn
In 1911, the Traveler’s Club began a library in a tiny Salisbury law office, hoping to learn more about the world.
In 2011, more than 290,000 books line numerous shelves next door, and the world is just a click away.
Rowan Public Library celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Director Jeff Hall said the library has faced plenty of challenges over the past century, but it always seems to come out doing better than ever. “Many times, people said technology was going to be the end of the library,” Hall said. “But every year, our circulation is still going up.”
Nearly 97,000 people are members of the library. In the past year, customers made more than 398,000 visits to the library, borrowed more than 800,000 items, and used computers more than 100,000 times.
It’s come a long way since the beginning.
The Traveler’s Club, the first federated club in Salisbury, issued an invitation to all other local clubs, associations and societies to join in its effort to establish a Salisbury public library. The members were partially driven by a desire to research world events, Hall said.
On March 13, 1911, in the Elk’s Hall, the library association was first formed. Archibald Henderson Boyden was elected chairman.
The Boydens offered the small Henderson law office, still located today on the corner of Fisher and Church streets, as a temporary home for the library. Later, the family donated a portion of their property as the site of today’s headquarters on Fisher Street.
Six community libraries were established in the 1940s in China Grove, East Spencer, Landis, Rockwell, Spencer and Yadkin.
Those were later closed, but full-service branches exist today in China Grove and Rockwell, in addition to the main Salisbury branch.
The Edith M. Clark History Room at the main library now draws visitors from across the country, Hall said. Its expansive collection focuses on western North Carolina genealogy and history, including all areas of old Rowan County, and includes resources that can’t be found anywhere else.
Billy Pless Jr., of Spencer, said he likes to look up old newspaper articles on the library’s microfilm machine. He said he’s found graduation photos and old pictures of friends and family.
“I’m surprised by some of the gas prices I see — 32 cents a gallon,” he said. “I’m glad they’ve got a history room like this.”
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Technology has changed the library even further, replacing card catalogs with computerized ones.
As e-readers have risen in popularity over the past few years, many libraries began lending them out. Rowan patrons can check out one of 24 Amazon Kindles pre-loaded with more than 80 best-sellers and other titles.
On Tuesday, Hall said the last time he checked, 152 people were waiting to borrow reserved Kindles.
“I know technology is a challenge, but this library over the years has adapted to that technology,” he said. “I don’t see technology as hurting libraries. I actually see it as helping us deliver content in a different way.”
The library didn’t have the means to go into publishing in the past, Hall said, but now it can publish its own digital collections and Internet projects.
Items in circulation at the library include audio-visual content, Hall said, but most by far are print materials.“People are still checking out books — more now than ever before,” he said. “More things are published in print now than ever before.”
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Two or three times a week, Harold Casperson reads books at the library as a “diversion.” The widower lives alone in a seven-room house in Salisbury, but he prefers to spend time at the library, where staff members know him by name.
Casperson, who previously lived in Charlotte, said he was sad to hear news about the public libraries there.
Mecklenburg County shuttered three of its 20 library branches last year due to budget shortfalls and may soon close more. The remaining branches have seen steep funding cuts and layoffs. “If you’ve got money to spend, it would be better spent here (at the library),” he said. “It’s a place to read and learn. … It’s an important part of the community.”
About 1,400 children participate in Rowan Public Library’s eight-week summer reading program. Adults can attend a variety of computer classes that address different purposes and skill levels.
The library also serves as a meeting place for several community groups and tutoring programs.
Chad Mitchell, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said libraries are an “invaluable resource” for their communities.
Especially in a recession, he said, people rely on libraries to connect to the Internet and help them find and apply for jobs.
Mitchell also praised the sheer amount and variety of information available to the public.
“Anybody can go and, for no charge, get any piece of material they want,” Mitchell said. “It’s a great thing to have lasted 100 years.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.