Excerpt from the novel ‘Dewey’ by Vicki Myron.
Chapter 13 A Great Library
“A great library doesn’t have to be big or beautiful. It doesn’t have to have the best facilities or the most efficient staff or the most users. A great library provides. It is enmeshed in the life of a community in a way that makes it indispensable. A great library is one nobody notices because it is always there, and it always has what people need.
The Spencer Public Library was founded in 1883 in Mrs HC Crary’s parlour. In 1890, the library moved to a small frame building on Grand Avenue. In 1902, Andrew Carnegie granted the town $10,000 for a new library. Carnegie was a product of the industrial revolution that had turned a nation of farmers into factory workers, oilmen, and iron smelters. He was a ruthless corporate capitalist who built his United States Steel into the nation’s most successful business. He was also a Baptist, and by 1902 he was deep into the pursuit of giving away his money to worthwhile causes. One cause was providing grants to small towns for libraries. For a town like Spencer, a Carnegie library was a sign you had made it not exactly to the top, but farther than Hartley and Everly.
The Spencer Public Library opened on March 6, 1905, on East Third Street, half a block off Grand Avenue. It was typical of Carnegie libraries, since Carnegie had mandated a classical style and symmetry of design. There were three stained glass windows in the entrance hall, two with flowers and one with the word library. The librarian perched behind a large central desk, surrounded by drawers of cards. The side rooms were small and cloistered, with bookshelves to the ceiling. In an era when public libraries were segregated by sex, men and women were free to enter any room. Carnegie libraries were also amongst the first to let patrons choose books off the shelves instead of making requests to the librarian.
Some historians describe Carnegie libraries as plain, but that is true only in comparison to the elaborate central libraries of cities like New York and Chicago, which had carved friezes, ornately painted ceilings and chrystal chandeliers. Compared to the parlour of a local woman’s home or a storefront on Grand Avenue, the Spencer Carnegie library was impossibly ornate. The ceiling was high, the windows enormous. The half-underground bottom floor held the children’s library, an innovation at a time when children were often kept locked away in their homes. Children could sit and read on a circular bench, while above them a window looked out at ground level on a flat grass lawn. The floorboards throughout the building were dark wood, highly polished and very wide. They creaked when you walked, and often that creaking was the only sound you could hear. The Carnegie was a library where books were seen, not heard. It was a museum. It was quiet as a church. Or a monastery. It was a shrine to learning, and in 1902 learning meant books.
When many people think of a library, they think of a Carnegie library. These are the libraries of our childhood. The quiet. The high ceilings. The central library desk, complete with matronly librarian (at least in our memories). These libraries seemed designed to make children believe you could get lost in them, and nobody could ever find you, and it would be the most wonderful thing.
By the time I was hired in 1982, the old Carnegie library was gone. It had been beautiful but small. Too small for a growing town. The land deed specified the town must use it for a library or return it to the owner, so in 1971 the town tore down the old Carnegie building to build a bigger, more modern, more efficient library, one without squeaky floorboards, dim lighting, imposingly high bookshelves and rooms to get lost in.
It was a disaster.”
Fortunately for the community of Castleton, although the library services have been moved to our community centre we still have our beautiful old building which is being restored and refurbished at the time of this article going to press.
Castleton Labour Councillor, Billy Sheerin has organised a Maypole dance to celebrate the Carnegie Library coming back into public use when it becomes a community centre for health and wellbeing. We will have some info on display about Andrew Carnegie himself, the man who paid the original £2,500 to have this iconic building built in 1905. Come and have a look inside before the renovations begin and enjoy the age old tradition of Maypole dancing...PS. If you have any old photos or stories of your experiences of living in Castleton we'd love to hear from you!
The Old Post Office Ale House provided a great meeting place and people gathered.The owners of The Old Post Office decorated the micro pub to make it a bit spooky, got dressed up and provided food. People gathered in anticipation and soon a party of Edwardian ladies and gents arrived to escort the audience to the first tour.
The sight of these century old characters walking along Manchester Road caused some merriment as passing cars tooted and waved. The tours were a great success as people looked round the library and reminisced; they even had the opportunity to see parts of the library they had never seen before like the basement.
At 9pm the ghost hunt began with Paul Hunt and Pauline Montgomery (Psychic Mediums) leading people from room to room picking up on energies. Many names were mentioned and Pauline drew pictures of four individuals that "came through".
The whole evening had a great atmosphere with a lot of laughter. Of course many people expressed real sadness that the building has fallen into such a sorry state but also relief that it is finally in safe hands. We want to thank everyone who came and showed their support and donated generously. We raised £370 which will go towards providing match funding in applications to trusts for the renovations.