History  of the West Branch District Library 

In the Beginning – The First 100 Years

On September 2, 1905 the City Council signed Ordinance number 33 establishing the West Branch Township school library as the West Branch City Library.  The newly appointed library board held their first meeting and elected George Donovan, chairman; Arthur L. Nauman, treasurer; and James B. Ross as secretary.

“When people borrowed books from the library 
in the early days, all they had to do was 
sign their name upon a slip of paper and 
hang it on that ‘nail on the wall'”

Flora McDonald (school teacher) was the first librarian until 1906 when Josephine Woods (school teacher), became Head Librarian. They were paid approximately $5.50 per month.

This first city library resided on the third floor of the West Branch Hotel (near the present day Mercantile Bank), which was owned by D. Wright and Company.  Fire destroyed this block on July 3, 1906.  Next, library business was set up on the top floor of the Tolfree Livingston Block (which is the present day location of A&B Coffeehouse and Cafe) Rent was $4.00 a month.  

There are a few missing records from 1911-1922, but the minutes of the Library Board indicate that Mrs. Marion (Archie) C. Irons was employed as librarian and in October 1922 Mrs. Grace Everhart was elected that position.   The librarian now earned one dollar a day plus all the fine money from any overdue books.  

A fire in January 1923, did serious damage to the roof of the Tolfree Livingston building. By early February, the library had quickly moved into the top floor of the two-story Fire Station/City Hall building on Houghton Avenue(where Kimball’s Glass now resides).

In the month of June 1923, Mrs. Martha Churchill temporarily held the job as librarian.In early July Miss Loletia Cripps (young school teacher), filled in as another alternate director, whereupon Miss Edith Donavan was elected Head Librarian by the end of the month.

During Edith’s care, the library grew substantially. Story-time was offered to children and library hours were extended and were open two days a week. 

In many editions of the Ogemaw County Herald are articles listing the new titles added and now available at the library.

Unfortunately a set back occurred on November 1, 1926, which hit the library hard.  It was the failure of The Ogemaw County Bank in West Branch, where the Library held their account.  By February 1927 Library Trustees had to approach the City Council for assistance to keep the library operating.  The council granted them funds so expenses could be made.

In 1930 they investigated the practice of cataloging the collection.  The next year supplies were purchased.  By June 1941 Mrs. Donovan and her helpers complete this project. Every book could now be traced by looking up the author, title or subject in the sturdy wooden card catalog.

“When Mrs. Donovan retired in 1941, the library had grown from 2,000 books to 4,000 ~ doubling during her 18 years of service.  There were 600 registered borrowers from a city population of 1,950.”

In 1941, Mrs. Gertrude Neiman became the librarian at the age of 60.  Again, there was a considerable period of growth during her time with the library. Story-time continued and Library hours extended.  By 1952, the City Library was open 30 hours a week. 

Much organizing and shifting was done to fit the library into that small place on the top floor. By the late 1940’s the library was literally bursting at the seams!  The floor began to sag so drastically that they could see the fire truck below through the cracks. 

A movement began to get the library into a safer place.  Then, in September 1949 the City Council approved the library’s move into the Community Building.  Plans were designed to remodel the kitchen and dining area in the Community Building for the new library.  By early April 1950 many citizens of the community came out to help with the move into their new home. 

In September 1963, the Library was eligible to receive penal fine monies by the Michigan State Board of Libraries. The Trustees established contracts with the townships in the county that desired library services.

By June 1964, the planning phase for an expansion began with architect Mr. Westlock. Ground was broken on November 5, 1964, and was built by Virgil Curtis Construction of West Branch.  Then in May 1965, on Hospitality Day of Michigan Week, an Open House was held to celebrate the new addition on the library.

On June 1, 1973, the hours were expanded to 40 per week.  Then in 1974 they met the standards (set by the State)   to become a Class III Library (serving population of 5,000–12,999 people). 

Mrs. Neiman retired in August 1974 after 33 years of service at the age of 93 Douglas Hughey agreed to take over as Director.  Library Hours were expanded to 44 per week. The first photocopy machine was purchased in June 1975, very unique for the public.

Then, in October 1976, the library joined the White Pine Library Cooperative, which opened the doors to many new services.  By 1977 children could telephone Dial-a-Story, and listen to a prerecorded story on tape.

When the Community Building was being torn down, the library moved to a the house at 336 N. Fourth Street, formerly owned by Margaret Valley. It reopened for business in April 1979. Much effort was made to make the public aware of the new location.    

During the summer of 1979, Douglas Hughey accepts the Librarian position at Surline School. The Board promoted Assistant Librarian, Mrs. Loree (Richardson) Morris in September 1979, as Director.  Loree returned to college in May 1980 to complete her degree.  This left Amy J. Winter, assistant Librarian, along with Mary Ida Jackson to operate the library until Loree received her degree in 1981.

In August 1979, Mayor Richard Werth and the City Council authorized the division of the old Community Building property into equal parts for the Library and City Hall.   Then, in early August 1980, the West Branch City voters approved the Bond Issue for the construction of a new Library by more than 50% (Yes: 190 / No 80).

Construction began in May 1981 with architectural plans from Tom Schmitt (Saginaw) and Ken Schaaf Builders (Tawas City).  The doors opened for customers on March 18, 1982.

Half way through construction in 1981, the State Library informed the Library Board, that Logan, Richland and Mills Townships terminated their service contracts as of June 30, 1982. Most libraries (especially West Branch) in Michigan rely heavily upon penal fine monies to operate.  The budget was adjusted heavily and other fundraising ideas are discussed, including establishing a non-residence fee.  In November 1983 City Hall rents the basement space (Community Room).

A Friend’s of the Library group was formed in 1983.  Esmini Zubalake and Mary Ida Jackson led this organization.  One of the group’s first projects was to establish “The Book Nook.” This used bookstore is run and operated by Arlene Gingrich (1983-1992). With the Friends of the Library’s help, they sponsor children’s events, furnishing of the Children’s Room and other special projects.

In August 1984, plans were made to hold an election to form a District Library.  Since the wording on the ballot was confusing this proposal was defeated.

Luckily by early spring 1985, the major source of the library’s source of funding (penal fines) began to rise to a healthier level.  Once financing became a bit more stable, the first order of business was to eliminate the non-residence fee. The Book Nook, craft sales and other fundraising events were maintained. A regular story time for children was re-established with Kathy Zettel as Children’s Librarian in 1988. 

When City Hall moved next door into their own building in 1989, walking on the shared courtyard style sidewalk became very dangerous for pedestrians. Many drivers thought it was a drive through, so the walk had to be redesigned. It was interesting watching the drivers’ reactions as they hesitated when they came across that “speed bump” at the end (the curb). Many confused drivers just drove right off the curb onto the street. While other motorists chose to turn left or right and continued driving down the front sidewalk on North Fourth Street.  Needless to say, a few innocent people had to move quickly out of the way. After all, the sidewalk was meant for walking upon, not driving. To solve the problem, two large boulders were placed on the west side of the sidewalk (see City Hall picture above) to discourage traffic of the motorized kind.  Once again, it was safe for people to walk out of the building.

Late 1992, Loree Morris-Kelly-Richardson announced she would be retiring after 17 years of service (13 years as Head Librarian).  Marsha L. Boyd was appointed in January 1993 as Director.

Marsha realized the need for culture and educational programs in our area.  Art Exhibits, musical programs, travelogues, books-for-lunch, visits from authors, workshops and many other topics of interest made the library the “place to be.”  Dial-A-Story once again was re-established. Library now offers video, audiocassette and compact disc collections to patrons.

Also available at the library in 1995 was a multi-media CD-Rom system, which held educational games, sound clips & pictures. Soon after that in early 1996, the community was introduced to the World Wide Web (Internet) for the first time at the library. With assistance from technicians at the White Pine Cooperative, the first dial-up Internet station was assembled at the library, another quickly followed. 

A superior advancement in technology happened when the library became a member of Valley Library Consortium in 1996.  The library’s collection was included in an online database (Dynix) with major libraries in Saginaw, Midland and Bay City region. This also allowed patrons to have a faster connection with the Internet, switching to a direct line.  By 2005, Internet stations grew to include 6 adult and 2 children – with a speedy wireless connection.

The library’s major funding is through Penal Fines. This is a very unstable way to run a business, when you get right down to it; it’s basically hoping people get speeding tickets. In 1998, penal fines had gone down substantially, $30,000.00 compared to previous year. The budget had to be cut so extensively, one full time position had to be eliminated at the library that year.   Because of the uncertainty in revenues, the City of West Branch got together with the surrounding Township Officials in the hopes of becoming a District Library.  The first step was to take it to the voters to see how they felt.

On Election Day of August 2000, voters from the City of West Branch, Ogemaw, West Branch and Edwards Townships approved the formation of the “West Branch District Library.”  Horton Township voters quickly agreed to join in 2002. Appropriations are received from Churchill and Foster Townships.

The West Branch District Library is Born

In the last few years the community has grown substantially. So much growth in fact, that when the new library was being planned and built in the early 1980s the space requirements were underestimated. Since then, with creative planning, shifting and shuffling the library made due with the space they had.  Places for Patrons to sit were eliminated to fit Internet Stations and other modern equipment, while the shelves were bursting at their joints because they were so full and no space for additional shelving units. Luckily, this buildings’ foundation was better constructed, so the floors never sagged. The Library Board began to do some long range planning for an expansion.

An exciting event of West Branch District Library happened in May 2004.  The ground was broken in a ceremony for an expansion to the existing library building. Many fundraising events occurred from the past, which helped with the funding of this project (alongside a low interest bond). Future fundraising events will occur to pay this off.

Architectural plans from Wigen, Tincknell, Meyer & Associates (Saginaw); Library Space Designer, Alyce Reimenschnider (Ann Arbor); and David Wakefield Construction (Houghton Lake) worked together on this project.  Building began in May 2004 and was completed in March 2005. An Open House was planned in conjunction with National Library Week (mid April) to celebrate the grand opening.

When somebody wanted to check out a book in 1905, all they had to do was put their name on a slip of paper and hang it on that nail on the wall.  By 2005, the library has a computerized circulation system along with an automated card catalog that could find a book anywhere in the nation. What a far cry from the nail on the wall!

by Amy J Winter,
Technical Processor

The History Continues – The Next 100 Years
Following the retirement of Marsha Boyd in February 2012, Emily Boersen joined the staff as the Library Director. Emily brings a strong background in Reference Librarianship and experience as the Director of Fife Lake Public Library. The library continues to grow and adapt to changes in the library world.

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