Jasper Public Library celebrates 85 yearsDecember 19, 2019
By LEANN BURKE
JASPER — It was Jasper 1934, and “the library movement was in the air.”
That’s the way it’s remembered in the “Historical Notes on Dubois County” compiled by historian George R. Wilson and his sister, Margaret, who would become the city’s first librarian. Now, 85 years later, the Jasper Public Library is celebrating its 85th anniversary with a look at the old scrapbooks and picture albums kept by librarians throughout the years.
Wednesday, the library held an open house to let patrons share the celebration.
Jasper Branch Manager Beth Herzog-Schmidt said the reception received a steady trickle of visitors all day, with a few stopping by the genealogy room to look at the scrapbooks. Several of the patrons have been lifelong Jasper Public Library users, and they shared their own memories.
“There have been a lot of stories about being a child and coming to the library,” Herzog-Schmidt said. “They would come through the back door.”
At that time, the library had a separate entrance for the children’s area, Herzog-Schmidt explained, and she — a Jasper native herself — remembers walking through the back door as a child. Those days are gone, however, and now children enter through the main entrance on the west side of the building like all the adults.
But the library wasn’t always located where it is now on the corner of 12th and Main streets, nor has it always had enough shelves of books to fill an entire building. When the library began in 1934, it was located in a single room in the Jasper city offices with a collection of about 400 books. The collection quickly grew, however, and by the end of 1935, the library required “two large rooms,” according to the Wilsons’ history. Back then, it was a big deal for the library to get even a few new books, and a brief article appeared in The Herald each time a new title was added to the collection. That practice continued after the library moved to its current location in June of 1952.
Today, the library houses thousands of books in its collections, and librarians no longer announce the arrival of new titles in the newspaper. If they did, Herzog-Schmidt explained, they would need an article every day, as new materials are shipped in almost daily.
Although the Jasper Public Library wasn’t founded until 1934, the history of libraries in the city dates back about 100 years further to the county’s founding. According to the Wilsons’ history, the 1817 law that established Dubois County also included provisions about forming libraries, should the citizens desire one. As it turns out, they did, and in the mid-1800s, township libraries popped up across the county.
As today’s librarians sorted through the piles of scrapbooks and artifacts from the library’s history, they came across a tattered, tan book with a crumbling spine. It turned out the shabby relic was one of the books once housed at and circulated from the township libraries. The book is now on display in the genealogy room, along with the other scrapbooks and photo albums that chronicle the library’s history.
Once the township libraries closed, Jasper remained without a public library for a few years, although St. Joseph Catholic Church did maintain a small collection. That changed when the women’s clubs around the town organized to raise the funds necessary to persuade the city council to establish a property tax levy to fund a public library. The Twentieth Century Literary Club led the efforts, and the community rallied around them. The end result was a public library the community was proud of.
In the “Historical Notes on Dubois County” from 1935, Margaret Wilson wrote, “This newest civic enterprise of which Jasper is so justly proud has grown by leaps and bounds.”
If only she could see it now.
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