St. Thomas Public Library History
The precursor of the Public Library was the Mechanics Institute whose reading room in 1873 was in the Heard Block above Caulfield's Drug Store. The fees were $2 for male adults, $1 for ladies, apprentices and minors under 18. In 1884 the Mechanics Institute was located on the second floor of the Imperial Bank Building, 301 Talbot Street, where now stands the Art Gallery of St. Thomas and Elgin. The duration of a loan depended on the length of the book, for example a 500 page book could be kept for 5 weeks.
In 1884 the St. Thomas Free Library was formed with Archibald McLachlin as chairman. The assets, liabilities and books of the Mechanics Institute were transferred to the new Board. City Council financed the new library by issuing debentures for $3000 over a 20 year period.
The first librarian was George W. Morgan who also acted as Secretary and Caretaker at a salary of $360. Rooms for the new library were rented from J.S. Upper in a new building on Talbot Street, and the library was officially opened in 1885.
Books were considered so precious and so important that a printed catalogue was prepared. The early Board members often borrowed money on personal notes to finance operations until City and Provincial grants came through.
In 1889 the St. Thomas Art School became the responsibility of the Library, an association which lasted until 1905.
By 1893 the rented premises on Talbot Street had become inadequate and a committee was formed to plan for a new building. When the new City Hall was being built, the Library Board was granted accomodation, and in 1899 both the Art School and the Free Library moved into the City Hall.
In 1896 the name Free Library was changed to Public Library. The new quarters in the City Hall alleviated the space shortage for a while, but by 1903 additional space became necessary; in 1904 help became available from the Carnegie Foundation for a new building. The Library purchased the lot behind the City Hall from W.E. Idsardi for $1500 and Neil Darrach, architect of the City Hall, was hired to design a new library. On February 6, 1906 the new building was officially opened with its wide central aisle with busts and statues lining either side.
The main idea in the early library was to separate the people from the books; browsing was not allowed and only one book could be borrowed at a time. To secure a library card, which cost five cents, an applicant who had to be 15 or older and had to be recommended by a responsible citizen. At the first Free Library Site on Talbot Street, the police force was requested to have a constable drop into the reading rooms in the evening to control 'obstreperous and noisy boys'.
When reading the old minutes, it quickly becomes clear how seriously the Board members regarded the Free Library as an educational boon to the general public. Hence, they regarded every book and newspaper as being worth its weight in gold.
By the early 1940's the Library once again suffered from inadequate space. Plans for a new library or the renovation of an addition to the old building were drawn up in 1944, but not until 1973 when special grants became available under a Federal Provincial Winter Capital Projects Fund was a new Library possible. As soon as the new grants were announced, the Library Board petitioned City Council for permission to build; the Council, long aware of the need for a new library but never able to give a new library top priority, decided that the special grants, available for a short time only, were too favourable to pass by, and preceeded with great dispatch to make an application. Both the Library Board and the City Council welcomed the decision of the County to participate in the building. The current, but then brand new, building officially opened on October 4, 1974.
In March of 2011, St. Thomas Public Library moved out of their building to a temporary location in Elgin Mall, 417 Wellington Street. The building underwent "Library Revitalization" with major interior demolition, construction, and upgrades. Some of the highlights of the project included accessible family washrooms on each floor, the Children's and Teens' Department moving to the lower level, thereby gaining three times the floor space, and the Administration Department moving to the upper level. St. Thomas Public Library staff were delighted when Dorothy Palmer donated $300,000 to the Children's and Teens' Department to help Revitalize the new space. The $1.4 million project took nearly 10 months to complete. St. Thomas Public Library re-opened its doors on Monday, January 16, 2012. The Children's and Teens' Department was renamed "The John and Dorothy Palmer Youth Library" in honour of the Palmers and their generosity. The Grand Re-Opening of the building took place on Thursday, March 9, 2012.
Today the library has become an information hub for the community, averaging almost 850 visitors a day and providing access to information through the internet, extensive online databases, books, DVDs and BluRay discs, CDs, hundreds of magazines and newspapers, and more.