MOUNT VERNON — The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County is 125 years old this year. It was first chartered as a municipal library and was located on the corner of Sugar and North Main Streets, across from the Congregational Church. It opened to the public on Feb. 16, 1888. At that time, it served only residents of the city of Mount Vernon.
John Chidester, library executive director since 1976, said the library anniversary committee plans to honor its roots on that site in July with an old-fashioned ice cream social.
In 1924, because the municipal library board was low on funds, the library became a school district public library, expanding its services to include the entire Mount Vernon school district. The municipal public library board continued to own the building and its contents, but the school district public library board paid to run the library.
The library moved into the building on Sugar and Mulberry streets in 1952. In 1985, the school district library board was replaced by a county board partially appointed by the Common Pleas Court and partly by the Knox County Commissioners. Thus, The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County was born.
“That gave us a lot more territory,” Chidester said. “Before that, even though we had branches in Fredericktown (since 1948) and Danville (1965), our territory was the Mount Vernon School district.”
An addition to the library facility was constructed in 1988-89. The “new” facility is energy efficient, completely accessible to the handicapped and boasts three times the space for children’s library services.
Bookmobile services started around 1948, when library volunteers took books to patients in the hospital, to people who were shut-ins or living in nursing facilities. At that time, there were no school libraries so the bookmobile also served essentially as a surrogate school library.
In 1993, the big bookmobile was discontinued, but books are still delivered through the outreach services department of the library. They do deliveries to shut-ins, the jail, the hospital, nursing homes, Amish schools and daycare centers.
The biggest change in library operations over the years, said Chidester, is library automation. The elimination of the card catalog and moving to an online public access catalog system is probably the change most noticed by library patrons.
Audio and visual media have also exploded over the years. The federal talking book program was the first wave. Originally flat record-type platters, they were replaced with eight-track tapes, then cassette tapes and are now available on CDs and MP3s. Ebooks are becoming increasingly popular as are self-contained playaway books.
Videocassettes first made their appearance at the library in the early 1980s. Those were replaced by DVDs and now even videogames are available.
Dial-up Internet access was launched in 1995, with Knoxnet. Next came fiber optics and 24-hour WiFi access, and some laptop computers are on hand for library patron use, too.
The number of people who use the library has grown exponentially from 3,404 patrons (library cards issued) in 1975 to more than 35,000 patrons today. The community has also supported the library with the passage of a levy in 1986 and most recently, in 2009, with a 1-mill continuing operating levy.
“From the very beginning,” said Linette Porter, “we had a community that wanted to have a free public library. The community has a sense of ownership, on a government level, on a personal level, on the library level. Everyone is really proud of our library.”
The year-long anniversary celebrations kicks off with a gala reception on Saturday, from 1 to 4 p.m. Community members are encouraged to attend and share library stories, photos and artifacts. Live entertainment is scheduled for 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. with special remarks at 2 p.m.
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