Letter to the Editor

Building is precious

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dear Editor,

Over the past Thanksgiving holiday I had the pleasure of once again visiting your wonderful little town of McCook. As a resident of California's third largest city, San Jose, I find it very refreshing to experience the warmth and flavor of your small town.

I have been very fortunate that my friend Linda McGooden Hedges, daughter of Ken and Lois McGooden and a longtime resident of McCook, showed me many local landmarks, including the Sen. George Norris home, the Methodist Church, the Red Willow County Courthouse and the High Plains Museum. I was especially interested in the latter because it stands next to your Carnegie Library, a beautiful, historic building in its own right.

As a librarian (retired) I was thrilled to be able to tour the library, complete with all the books on its shelves, the librarian's reference desk as well as study tables and comfortable chairs in the reading room.

It was through the vision of Andrew Carnegie, an early 20th-century businessman, that the concept of "free" libraries was introduced in the United States. Using his own money, Carnegie offered grants to cities and towns all over the country so they could build a library for their community, a library open to everyone. Public libraries as we know them today was not common during these early years. Individuals either had to know someone who owned a private book collection or had to subscribe to a few private libraries in existence.

That changed when from 1901 to about 1933 approximately 1,689 Carnegie libraries were built, including 69 in Nebraska. McCook's library, one of the first, was built in 1902. Today only half of these buildings across the United States are still being used as libraries, the rest have become museums, community centers, office buildings, or, sadly, been torn down and replaced by private or commercial buildings.

In my own hometown of San Jose, we once had three Carnegie libraries, one being my childhood branch library in East San Jose. Now there are only two because one was torn down in the 1940s to make room for the expansion of San Jose State University. Unfortunately the college was not aware of the historical significance of this library.

There is no doubt that having a Carnegie Library in the community is a source of pride. Several years ago the Smithsonian developed a traveling display of photographs of Carnegie libraries across the United States. Unfortunately many towns today have no idea of the historical significance of these buildings. The truth of this was never more apparent to me than when I looked at the colorful brochure entitled "The Historical Walking Tour of Heritage Square, McCook, Nebraska." This brochure contains a map showing the various historical buildings one can see on this tour, yet, there is no mention of the Carnegie Library even though the photograph of the High Plains Museum shows a portion of the building without a reference to its significance.

On my recent visit to your town I had the privilege of looking at the recently published book McCook Memories in which I saw a picture of the Carnegie Library, as well as the current public library, accompanied by a list of all the librarians who had so faithfully served the citizens of your community over the years.

There is no doubt that this Carnegie Library played an important role in providing books and other materials that enriched the lives of its users.

It would be only fitting that in the future the "walking tour" brochure emphasized this historical library as an important landmark in McCook.


Lenora P. Blouin

San Jose, Calif.

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