Salem Online History This site is provided by Salem Public Library (Salem, Oregon).
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Salem Public Library
The Salem Public Library is one of the highest used libraries in the United States (on a per-capita basis). It has long been a source of pride to Salem residents and a community center.

Early in 1904 the Salem Woman’s Club put on a book social in the residence of Mrs. T.T. Geer. Fifty books were donated and these became the nucleus of the Salem Public Library. In November of that year, Mayor Frank W. Waters persuaded the Salem City Council to grant the Salem Woman's Club the use of the east end of the city council chamber for a library, "provided it should not cost the council anything." Miss F. Phillips was subsequently hired as librarian at $20 a month. (The historical record does not show where the money came from).

In October 1905, the Salem Woman‘s Club offered the library to the City. The City refused to accept it. Then, in 1907, the library board (which had been in existence from the earliest days) began thinking about applying for a Carnegie building. Andrew Carnegie, the wealthy industrialist, had begun funding the construction of libraries throughout the nation. It was May 1909 before the board took an option on the lot at the corner of State and Winter Streets where the first library was subsequently built. The lot cost $5500 and was evidently paid for from money raised for that purpose by the Salem Woman’s Club.

About this time the Salem City Council, apparently sensing the possibility of getting some free money, applied to the Carnegie people for an $18, 000 building. However, they refused to allot more than $1400 annually for maintenance. Since the Carnegie policy was that 10% of the cost of the building be allotted annually for maintenance, Carnegie offered $14,000. The council voted to accept. But since the library board of the Woman’s Club had not been consulted, they immediately wrote to Carnegie’s secretary to the effect that the building did not belong to the City and that the council was not authorized (by the Salem Woman’s Club) to accept their offer. Further, the women asked the secretary to ignore the council’s acceptance and to defer the matter until some future time.

In November, 1910, the President of the Library Board, Mrs. A.N. Bush, persuaded the council to increase their annual library maintenance budget item to $3000. She then persuaded the Carnegie secretary to grant $27, 500 for building a library. The existing library and the property were then deeded over to the City.

On September 12, 1912 the first library building opened to the citizens of Salem. This building served until July 6, 1972 when the library in the new Civic Center was dedicated. That building was itself extensively remodeled in 1990-1991.

A branch library was established in West Salem (in the old city hall) in 1957 and moved into its own building in 1987.

In 1997, a research study showed that the Salem Public Library was in the top 5% of U.S. public libraries in terms of overall use and use per capita.

Every research project on Salem history should begin with a visit to the Salem Public Library. This web site, the Salem History Project, is developed and maintained by the Library. In addition, Historic Photograph Collection, is an Internet site which contains a variety of historical photographs. The Hugh Morrow Collection, located to the right of the Salem Heritage Room, contains an extensive collection of books, city and telephone directories and various pamphlets on Salem history. The Ben Maxwell Collection is an excellent source of photographic images of Salem as well as clippings and copies of Maxwell' s news stories. Back issues of the Capital Journal (1892-1972), Oregon Statesman ( 1851 - 1980) and Statesman-Journal (1980 to present) are available on microfilm along with other Oregon newspapers. Genealogical researchers will find a wealth of information in the Oregon Marriage and Divorce Index, the Oregon Biographical Index and the Oregon Death Index.

Compiled and written by Dick Lutz

Rubey, James T., The Salem Public Library, Its Record and Service, The Oregon Magazine, vol. xxxv, no. x, pp. 3-7 & 14, 1937.

Salem Public Library, Library Development Plan, January 1997.


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Salem Public Library entrance.
Salem Public Library entrance.
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Using the card catalogue files in the 1970s.
Using the card catalogue files in the 1970s.
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