|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
Early in 1904 the Salem Womans 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
In October 1905, the Salem Womans 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 Womans 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 Womans Club had not been consulted, they immediately
wrote to Carnegies secretary to the effect that the
building did not belong to the City and that the council was
not authorized (by the Salem Womans Club) to accept
their offer. Further, the women asked the secretary to ignore
the councils 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 &
Salem Public Library, Library Development Plan, January 1997.