Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fundraising and community building in the 1880s: Warren's "Library Loan"

Last Saturday, I double-checked the Warren Library Association's online catalog one last time to ensure that I had found every item pertaining to its 140-year history. I realized that I hadn't yet seen something titled "Warren Library Loan Daily." At first, thinking it was some type of circulation ledger, I debated whether or not to track it down. Some historians, like Ron and Mary ZborayChristopher Phillips, and faculty at the Center for Middletown Studies at Ball State University, have made hay of those kinds of library records, but they are too granular for the type of research I do. This said, the bibliographic record indicated Warren Library Loan was some type of newspaper. In the interest of due diligence, I asked the library's staff to bring it to my table.
Front page of the Warren Library Loan newspaper, April 21, 1884. 
Turns out, the "Warren Library Loan Daily" is an interesting group of artifacts. In late 1883 or early 1884, the library's executive committee decided to host a series of entertainments in its newly-constructed Struthers Library Building. The multipurpose building included not only a public library, but also meeting rooms, stores, and a theater. Kicked off on April 21, 1884, the week-long schedule of events was planned both to raise awareness of the new building and to generate funds for its library. Collectively, the effort was called the "library loan" because local residents were asked to "lend" talents and salable items.

A local newspaper, the Warren Sunday Mirror, volunteered its press for the purpose of publishing a short-run paper, the Warren Library Loan, which was printed each afternoon from April 21st through 26th. Sold in Warren and surrounding villages, it recapped the previous days events and advertised upcoming ones. It also announced out-of-towners who were arriving at local hotels, thus enabling old acquaintances to reconnect. The Warren Library Loan also included information about local stores, many of whom were holding special sales to entice visitors. For instance, Theodore Messner's was offering free majolica pitchers to its first 100 visitors, and a prize for anyone who bought a pound of premium coffee.

For a town that boasted fewer than 3,000 citizens at the time, the number and variety of happenings were impressive. A group of high-powered residents, formally presided by former Pennsylvania Governor Charles W. Stone, but really run by J. P. Jefferson, C. H. Noyes, Mrs. A. D. Wood, and Anna Sill, formed a special "Loan Committee" to coordinate everything. Others headed up subcommittees for "antiquities," entertainments, pamphlets, refreshments, and other tasks.

One room at the top of the building was reserved for an art exhibition of more than 300 canvasses. In the library proper, there were a variety of exhibits, including civil war relics and industrial machinery. There were also special displays, including an autograph collection, a baby show, and a baby alligator (yes, live!), owned by Mrs. Charles W. Stone. There was even a microscope exhibit, with slides changed during the afternoon and evening, through which many Warren residents likely saw life on the cellular level for the first time.

Each night, different events were scheduled in the building's opera hall, including an "old folks concert" on Tuesday evening, a showing of stereoscopic views on Wednesday, a "musicale" (concert) on Thursday, and a performance of the "Merchant of Venice" on Friday. Cake, ice cream, and other treats were served each day from noon until 10:00 p.m.. There were also full meals served each night, including a "New England Supper" on Tuesday. Being born in Massachusetts, that dinner menu in particular made my mouth water: ham, roast beef, creamed corn, baked beans, cabbage salad, chow-chow, "Saratoga potatoes" (i.e., potato chips), pumpkin and apple pies, doughnuts, and much more. The Philadelphia and Erie Railroad ran a specially-scheduled train to Kane to enable people up to 25 miles away to attend nightly events (to document the above paragraphs, see pg. 1 of each issue of the Warren Library Loan Daily, April 21-26 1884).

Broadsides advertising Warren's "Library Loan."
These days, public libraries undertake a variety of fundraisers. I am growing fat on candy, since a tempting box of local dollar-bars can be found at service desks in Clarion (Dan Smith's), Pottsville (Costa's), and many of my other research sites. Pennsylvania libraries sponsor golf tournaments, quilt auctions, and many other events, too. Still, I think we may be able to derive some new approaches if we brainstorm while we examine the efforts of yesteryear's libraries. Can we use community dinners, industrial technology, group sing alongs, and other unusual activities to attract new users, as Warren Library Association did so many years ago?


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  2. Great article - thanks for sharing. I've really enjoyed reading this. I've recently discovered that Tony Charalambides and the rest of the Listen Fundraising team are raising money for the Damilola Taylor trust. I really hope they manage to achieve this. They have set a target of £20,000 and if they raise this amount they will match every penny and donate it!