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Postcards: County’s library wasn’t always the well-established jewel it is today

By Linda Emley

I love books. I collect many things, but my book collection is my true obsession. It’s fun to find a rare book, but I don’t need an expensive first edition because I don’t judge a book by its cover.
It’s the words inside that make a book valuable to me. I’ve always dreamed of having my own library, but since my last name is not Rockefeller, I’m just happy that I have a Ray County Library card. Over the past 50 years, I’ve spent many hours at our county library checking out books.
We’re so lucky to have a wonderful library. It took many years to reach the level of service we have today because in the good-old days, Ray County didn’t have a public library. There were a few private home libraries and lawyers and doctors had reference libraries, but most homes only had a few books and a Bible.
The 1881 Ray County History Bbook gave an example of an early collection that belonged to one of our leading citizens, William Mosby, M. D.
“He is thoroughly read in his profession, and has a large, well selected library, and spends much of his leisure time in the study of the more modern authors on the theory and practice of medicine and surgery.”
The first attempt at a public library in Richmond was when some civic-minded citizens tried to pass a bond for matching funds to obtain a Carnegie Library collection. I’ve read some stories about this in the old newspapers and it would have been wonderful, but the bond didn’t pass.
The second attempt proved to be more successful and a library was opened in the basement of the Methodist Church around 1916. A few years later, this collection moved to the Women’s Club. Due to lack of funds it closed in 1929 and once again Ray County was without a library.
The next chapter in our library history was written by the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Richmond. A very dear lady, LaVon Blair, was the BPW president and with her guidance they chose the task of creating a county library. In April of 1946, the citizens of Ray County voted to finance a library and once again we were able to enjoy a public library.
This early library was housed in a vault at the surveyor’s office at the courthouse. From there it was moved back to the Women’s Club and later to West Main Street on the north side of the street.
A permanent home was needed and on June 21, 1954 the new building at 219 College St. was dedicated. This is the library that many of us remember from our childhood. Some of our best memories were the story hours in the children’s section of the basement.
I remember being so proud of my first library card. As we got older, the library was a fun place to go after school.
In the spring of 2004, the Ray County Library moved to its current location at 215 E. Lexington St. It took several years to get this building ready, but thanks to The Ray County Library Board and the Ray County Library Inc. Board, the two not-for-profit boards that watch over library operations and finances, it all came together.
This move started a new chapter in the life of our library and now we can enjoy all the advantages of the modern world. You can access the library Web site at raycountylibrary.homestead.com to check and see if a book in available, to renew your books and a variety of other services. The staff will also help you find other books with the interlibrary loan program. Story hour is still a favorite with today’s modern children.
There are 7,476 library-card holders, which means 1 in 3 people in Ray County can borrow library materials. In 2010, the library checked out 96,701 items, so it looks like many of these library cards are used on a regular basis. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing a young child standing at the front desk waiting to check out a stack of library books.
Our library has a great collection of genealogical books and old newspapers on microfilm. I’m able to share stories about Ray County’s past because of these resources. The library added a new microfilm reader that can scan and then print, download or email copies. This is a great resource that will make reading old newspapers easier.
I’ve been a member of the Ray County Library Friends since 1992. We’re a small group but we continue to host book sales at the library. All money raised is used for the summer reading program and other projects that benefit the library
If anyone would like to donate books to the sale, please drop them by the library. Some donated books are added to the library’s collection and the rest are sold to raise money for new books
We will be hosting a book sale Oct. 25-26, 28-30 these hours:
Friday, Oct. 25, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 26, 9 a.m. to noon; Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 28-29, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday, Oct. 30, 9 a.m. to noon.
Our library is in good hands with Steve Meyer, who has been director since 2004. He is supported by a wonderful staff.
This story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the bookmobile that once made stops all over Ray County. In the summer time, it would go to many towns and deliver books so you could get your summer reading certificate.
Ted Weber was the bookmobile driver in 1955-56. He said he remembers stopping at every small town in the county, which included 15 country schools.
I remember it pulling up in front of school during the 1960s and we would take turns going out to the parking lot to pick out books.
Several friends commented on still being able to remember that wonderful smell of books as they walked up the steps of the bookmobile. It’s just like the smell of a new car, you can’t really describe it, but it’s something you never forget.

Have a story about the library or bookmobile? Let Linda know at rayc...@aol.com.

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