Early History of Library Movement in Wilmette by Anna E. Law, 1905
Wilmette Library Association,
a literary society was organized in December 1880. There were about fifty members and each paid an initiation fee of $1.00. The association flourished about three years, accumulating 150 books and six periodicals.
Under the Illinois law, the school house could be used for public libraries and literary societies open to the public. They applied and received a charter for a public library. They gave lectures in school house; but did not charge admission but a box was passed around for contributions. When the books were turned over to the Elmwood Association there were only twenty books left and no magazines. The books were kept in the rear of a grocery store (Mr. Kinney's).
The facts stated were gathered from old members of the association by A. E. Law, librarian in February 1905.
[p.2] The second movement for a library occurred in 1889, when a little "Library and Social Club" was organized by Mrs. Barker February 19th, 1889. Mrs. M. E. Barker was the first president and her S. School [Sunday School] class the nucleus of the club. All the young people of the town were invited to join. At the first annual meeting there was an enrollment of twenty-three members. They met at the different homes and a few books which were donated were kept in the Methodist Church. Entertainments were given once a month and the proceeds with the initiation fee went into the library fund. January 20, 1891. At the second annual meeting there were forty members and $21 in the treasury. February 1892. At 3rd annual meeting the club
[p.3] voted to incorporate under the name of "Wilmette Library Association". In March, 1892 the Committee on Incorporation reported that the Secretary of State refused to grant a charter, there being another corporation of that name in Wilmette which no one in this association had heard of. Inquiries were made of old settlers and it was ascertained that a society had been formed some years previous and they had a few books in Mr. Kinney's Grocery Store. In April the name was changed to "Elmwood Library Association" to accord with the charter received from Springfield. The Association voted to rent Arcanum Hall and the building was leased for three years paying $6.00 per month the 1st year, $7.00 per month the 2nd year, and $8.00 per month the 3rd year. The Library Association was to paper and repaint the interior of the building, and the Royal Arcanum
[p.4] was to paint the exterior. A new impetus was given the "Elmwood Association" and the membership increased to a hundred. Mr. W.E. Dibble by personal effort raised $53.00 by subscription towards repairs on the Hall. Mr. Dibble made a proposition to the Elmwood Association in May 1892 which was accepted. He was to furnish the library with $200.00 worth of books and the Association was to pay him $10.00 per month until the books were paid for. Entertainments were given and money poured in the treasury and then it was decided to buy a piano, which cost $250 and to be paid for in monthly installments of $10.00. In 1894 their troubles began. It was to much exertion keeping up the entertainments for the work fell on a few faithful ones. The membership dropped off and the president had to advance monty to pay the rent.
[p.5] The last winter of their stay in the hall, the winter of 1895, a fire broke out and all the books were more or less damaged by fire and water. Some boys who acted as janitors left greasy rags in a closet and it was a case of spontaneous combustion. The Hartford Fire Insurance Co. promptly paid up and $158.50 was put in the treasury, which gladdened the hearts of all the members. A special meeting was called and all the debts paid. Then an offer was made by John Panushka and accepted to place the books in a small room back of his office and he would act as librarian for $5.00 per month. (During the previous year A. E. Law had acted as librarian.) The books did not circulate as it was out of the way and people did not know where to find books. The Woman's Club came to the rescue. About 1897, the Woman's Club rented rooms over a store on Central (the Christian Science [Church] rented the store) and offered to give house room
[p.6] to the books and the different members could act as librarians for a certain length of time. That was a splendid move, for the Elmwood Association took a fresh start. The books began to circulate again. A few entertainments were given and new books bought and by the personal effort of Mrs. C. W. Crocker who went from house to house to solicit new members and to agitate the question of a free Public Library. Many new names were added to the roll of membership. If it had not been for the Woman's Club, I think the "Elmwood" would have given up struggling against fate. It was such hard work keeping alive the little interest that existed. It took a fresh start under the wing of the Woman's Club. When the question of a Free Public Library came up for election, it was lost through lack of interest, the people did not take enough interest to vote. Next year it was carried and the "Elmwood" at the annual meeting held in
[p.7] January 1901 voted to loan their books numbering 1000 volumes to the Free Public Library with the understanding that when the Public Library was established on a firm basis, the books would be turned over permanently. In the meantime they were to pay rent at the rate of $1.00 per year. [The books were given to the Public Library in February 1903]. When the "Woman's Club" moved into Wilmette Hall, the library was moved over in the lumber office on Central Ave. & paid $3.00 rent per month from May 1st. Free Public Library opened July 6th 1901. The new board bought 336 new books. The Public Library occupied the lumber office for six months and then moved into Wilmette Hall, which they occupied three years.
[p.8] In January 1905 moved in their new building. The Public Library opened with 1347 books in the library. At the end of the first year there were 1700 books and 500 application cards issued. During the whole sixteen years of "Library Association" there were never more than 150 members. A. E. Law, Librarian 1905 This report was written up just after we moved in the new Carnegie Building. I had been librarian off and on for a great many years previous to the Public Library A. E. Law