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Emmitsburg Library Celebrates 100 Years of Readers, Writers and Artists

Kathleen A. O'Connor

(12/28) The baby library born on December 1, 1906, was a preemie, as Sterling Galt's famous editorial that inspired the people of Emmitsburg to form a library committee was only published in the Emmitsburg Chronicle on June 22, 1906 -- less than 6 months gestation. Mr. Galt of Washington, DC, had only taken over the newspaper on June 8 that year and had only in July "purchased the brick store building of G.W. Row's heirs, and moved the plant into it. The old hand press has been laid by, a new outfit installed, with all the modern improvements." So he was moving fast!

By June 29, the library was a "go." "We seem to have hit the public fancy when we advocated a library for Emmitsburg and we are glad to state that already preparations are being made to carry out the project." By August, a committee had been formed and the first meeting held. By October, Mr. Galt announced "that the Emmitsburg Library is to become a reality" and he "offered to donate 25 volumes as a nucleus." The committee had now 52 members and they were already preparing a list of books to purchase.

Thus, the library was off to a great start and has grown over the years through hard work and endurance. In the early years, the library was staffed and supported by volunteers both as librarians and board. Its many homes have been documented. It has been cared for by 10 different librarians so far. Katie Warthen breaks the ribbon with 37.5 years and Joan Fisher is a close second with 21 total years.

A librarian has an influence on a library and its patrons. She determines how the library is arranged, which books are purchased, and what the atmosphere feels like. She makes you feel comfortable reading there. She may set the tone for the town's culture by the events that are planned. "Some books change your life," says Katie Warthen.

Many of the new books they purchased had been published within the last two years, so they were trying from the start to make the library up-to-date. Many of these are still available in "plain vanilla" through Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation at Sometimes, books just never grow old, even though they be 100 years old!

The Emmitsburg Library has been so much more than books. Both Katie Warthen and Joan Fisher agree that the commitment to art and culture ran long and deep. Katie remembers lending art in the 1960's; you could check out a framed painting to take home and hang in your living room.

The first art contest was held in 1964 by Ronnie Stauter and John Wagerman was a prime mover. Often these events were to raise money for the plumbing. "It was the good, the bad, and the beautiful," said Joan.

"Elizabeth Prongas taught art to those in the Emmitsburg Art League and the art exhibits by regional artists started in 1976," said Katie, "Meetings were held once monthly with a speaker specially invited to speak or to demonstrate his or her particular talent, such as tole painting, painting on glass, watercolor or oil painting. It was a very successful group. Joan Boyle would set the tables and Bea Kielholtz would bring in flowers."

Katie Warthen

A youth art exhibit and contest, and a tea party in were held as early as April of 1988. A watermelon party or ice cream social followed the Club 10 summer reading program. The Christmas Tea Party that Katie Warthen initiated was always held the second Saturday in December, as it will be this year at 10:00 a.m. on December 11. The children dress up, listen to stories, eat treats, and drink tea from real china. Several china teapots have been donated over the years and are on display in the library community room. "When I came," said Joan, "I was surprised that even the boys really like it." Last year, about 100 children participated.

"The services of the library have expanded…to include many things which were not in existence when it was born," Sheila Chatlos once said. In 1967, LPs records were added to the collection and Katie had a record case made to hold them. In fact, the library was soon to reinvent itself again VCRs were being added to the library and the old movie reels converted to videotape-technology had moved forward.

The next quantum leap was to WAN (Wide Area Network) databases and networked personal computers (PCs). August 30, 1996, Dolores Maminski, the associate director of the Frederick County Public Libraries (FCPL) asked Francis Smith, as president of the Emmitsburg Public Library Board, to write a letter of support for an FCPL grant proposal for federal funding to create a WAN for the entire county system. This included placing one computer and a printer in the Emmitsburg Library and four other branches. The databases were to include a general and a specialized magazine index on social issues, a business index and an encyclopedia. Now the research databases available to Emmitsburg patrons number 31.

"A really good library doesn't need to be bigger," said Joan Fisher. "When we were in the old building before the renovation, a priest was using the library system on the computers. He said, 'This makes this little library a big library!'"

Joan Fisher

Joan Fisher shepherded the renovation of the library in the Emmitsburg Community Center, which included removing asbestos and lead paint. Many considerations for patron use and comfort were considered, including planning outlets and positioning lighting. Once the books were on the shelves, it was discovered that the lights were not properly directed so that you could read the titles. "The lights had to be re-planned twice," she said. "We even ended up placing spotlights on some alcove shelves." "In all kinds of services," Joan predicted, "you need to consult users before designing. 'The Revolution will not be Televised.'" Users initiate grassroots changes such that, if you plan from the top without consulting them, you may find your expensive plans unused.

One of the main priorities with patrons today is time. People are mobile. With the virtual branch, you can access most of the databases from your home computer or MP3 player, and download videos at home. You can search, send messages, put materials on hold and receive notices. Although the Community Fall Analysis 2006 showed that the Community Center has lots of daily activity-people stop in to read the news, the bike rack is convenient, and the library is within walking distance of most homes in the town-the traffic pattern has changed. Instead of coming in daily to check on an interlibrary loan, patrons might put several books on hold from home, then only come in to pick them up once they have received an email notice. Also, they may not even check out some books any longer, but download a virtual copy, an ebook. "It's a new way to fold clothes!" said Joan.

Now the Emmitsburg Library is celebrating 100 years of readers and writers and artists. The most recent art contest, "100 Years of Service," was sponsored by the Emmitsburg Town Hall. The winners' art entries are displayed throughout the library. Joan Fisher introduced Darrell Batson, director of FCPL, and Jim Hoover, mayor of Emmitsburg, after which she presented a history of the library. Francis Smith, former president of the Friends of the Library (FOL), spoke about how he had retired, but offered to volunteer at the library. He was invited to attend an FOL meeting, "But it was a trap!" he said, "They elected me president at my first meeting! I had been trying to get away from work, but then they said, 'You don't have to do anything. All you have to do is preside over the meetings.'" So he did, and we are thankful that he wrote that letter for the WAN. Katie Warthen presented to Joan, on behalf of FOL members, a framed painting by local artist, Linda Postelle. The Martin Family Singers and Home Comfort Band provided entertainment. Almost 100 town residents and interested persons attended the celebration.