"Above all things, talk the library up -- not down; be a booster for this organization that means so much to you, your children, and your town."
This was an admonition in a library report of February 1913, published in a newspaper article concerning the library.
"Talking the library" began not long after the arrival, in 1909, of a young Christian church minister, the Reverend Tom Dean. Finding no library facility in Jacksonville, his enthusiasm for one spread and a room above Tucker Furniture Company (at 207 East Commerce Street) housed the first public library. In November 1912, the Jacksonville Library Association was formed.
Officers in 1913 were Tom Dean, president; Mrs. H.H. Parker, vice-president; Mrs. O.D. Jones, secretary; Mrs. T.R. Gragard, treasurer. The officers and purchasing committee members, including Mrs. Parker, Mrs. E.S. Park, Mrs. C.H. Rhodes, and J.W. Hoppe, constituted the executive committee. Mr. Hoppe of Jacksonville College gave 500 books from his private library, other volumes were donated and a few purchased. Ladies of the Shakespeare Club, organized in 1904 as a literary club, volunteered their services in assisting with the organization and as librarians.
As interest heightened, space diminished and soon the library was moved to larger quarters on the fifth floor of the First National Bank building. Within a year or so, with Mr. Dean's perpetual boosting and contributions of money and time by many people, a rough-shingled frame structure "representing about $800" was built for library purposes at the corner of Larissa and South Bonner streets, directly across Larissa Street from First United Methodist Church, where union services were held in dedication of the small building.
During Jacksonville's Golden Jubilee, August 8-9, 1922, the Tuesday afternoon program included the announcement "At 2 o'clock, the doors of the Public Library will be thrown open and the public invited to inspect the Heirloom Exhibit. This exhibit also will be on display from 9 to 10 o'clock in the morning!"
In the mid-1920s, problems relative to the property resulted in the closing of the library and storing of books. The structure was moved to Georgia Avenue, and was still in use as a residence in 1972.
Records show that in 1933, Mrs. T.R. Gragard, who was a charter member of the original Library Association, was president of the City Federation of Women's Clubs. She appointed a committee composed of Mrs. George Singleton, chairman, Mrs. W.F. Ivers and Mrs. E.S. Park, to formulate plans for re-organizing a library in Jacksonville.
On April 20, 1933, a library association was formed and Mrs. Singleton elected president; Mrs. Ivers, vice-president; John C. Box, Jr., treasurer; Mrs. Park, secretary; and Larue Cox, C.D. Molloy, Mrs. T.R. Gragard, Mrs. A.G. Adams, Bryan Miller, Miss Roberta Barcus and the Reverend Tom Dean, directors. Mrs. H.H. Parker was named a director later in the year to replace Mrs. Park, who resigned.
On April 24, 1933, application was made to the City for a charter, and on April 26, 1933, the charter for the Jacksonville Library Association was issued to Mrs. George Singleton, Mrs. E.S. Park and Mrs. W.F. Ivers, for a period of 25 years. At a Federated Club luncheon, Mrs. C.A. Childs, acting as spokesman for the Garden Club, pledged $10 to secure the charter. The City Commission granted use of space vacated by removal of the Jacksonville Building & Loan Association to its new location and on July 10, 1933, there was once again a Jacksonville Public Library.
Miss Edwin Sue Goree, state library organizer, came here to assist Miss Elizabeth Albritton, a high school teacher, and a corps of high school girls in organizing the library facility.
In October, at the first annual board meeting, the library had 914 volumes, 400 borrowers, and 1,608 books circulated. Volunteer staffers came from members of the Shakespeare Club, the Wednesday Study Club, Utile Dulce, Arno Art Club, Mothers Study Club, and Music Club.
In September 1933, under the Civil Works Administration, services of Miss Lillian Golightly of Dallas, a graduate in library science from Texas State College for Women, now Texas Woman's University, were made available. Following termination of C.W.A. assistance, a salary, secured by subscription, was paid Miss Golightly. Miss Fain Goodson, Miss Mary Forrest and Mrs. Fred Fuller followed Miss Golilghtly as librarians.
Plans made by the City Commission and Library Board as early as 1933 for a new building on a lot the City had donated on Bonner Street, presently the site of the fire department practice tower, did not materialize because some of the C.W.A. projects were abandoned, including the proposed library structure.
In 1936, by vote of the people of Jacksonville, the library became City-supported. Memberships continued being sold and supplemented library funds. On October 11, 1939, citizens voted in a bond election for sufficient expenditures to build a public library and granted permission for it to be built in the City Park. Completed in 1941, through the aid of the Works Administration, a formal opening was held in October in the spacious structure of pink native rock quarried near Alto, with an estimated value (including furnishings) of $20,000. Board members at the time were Mrs. C.A. Childs, president; Larue Cox, vice-president; Mrs. F.D. Newton, secretary; John C. Box, treasurer; and Mrs. H.H. Parker, Mrs. George Singleton, J.L. Brown, Ernest Whitaker and A.E. Garner.
There were 5,757 volumes transferred to the new building, along with numerous files of newspapers and periodicals. Mrs. Fuller and her assistant, Mrs. Mildred Fulton, classified the books according to the Dewey Decimal System. Mrs. Marguarite Miller had been added to the staff under W.P.A. The succeeding years saw continued growth of the library. Mrs. Fuller resigned in 1951 and was succeeded by assistant librarian, Mrs. Lee G. Carter.
In the early 1960s, an agreement was reached whereby funds derived from a park area that the J.L. Brown Estate had deeded to the city north of Love's Lookout, might be used for construction of a new wing to the public library. This was accomplished in 1965, with 3,200 square feet of floor space added, along with 812 square feet to house the Vanishing Texana Museum, which was assembled by the efforts of many, through the coordination of Mrs. Frank W. Ebaugh, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.L. Brown, who acted as curator. The museum opened on June 7, 1965.
Mrs. Carter resigned as librarian on April 1, 1966. She was succeeded by Mrs. Ross Causey, along with Mrs. Robert R. Adams, assistant librarian, and Mrs. Earl Williams and Mrs. Richard Sheffield, clerks.
In 1969, additional impetus was given to the Library by the organization of the Friends of the Library, composed of interested people who wanted to promote and improve the facility. Mrs. Finis L. Harris, Jr., served as the first president.
Since 1972, the library has continued to grow. Mrs. Richard Sheffield succeeded Mrs. Causey as library director. She was followed by Mrs. Betty Landon, Mrs. Carolyn Simon, Mrs. Barbara Crossman, and in 2016, Mrs. Trina Stidham who currently serves as library director and is the first African-American director at Jacksonville Public Library.
In 1980, the City of Jacksonville purchased the former supermarket at South Jackson and Nacogdoches Streets as the future site for the library. The Friends of the Jacksonville Public Library agreed to direct a campaign to fund a complete renovation of the building on the new site after receiving a request from the Jacksonville Public Library Association to do so.
After a feasibility study showed that such a campaign would be successful, a professional fundraising agency was employed to conduct the actual fundraising campaign.
In 1981, the "Library Now!" Fund Campaign to finance the new library was conducted March through June. Scores of Jacksonville leaders were involved in the campaign. It passed the $ 400,000.00 goal in May, and then passed the $ 500,000.00 challenge goal in June to assure success in funding.
"Front money" funding was assured when the City of Jacksonville issued $600,000.00 in Certificates of Obligation for the project and the First National Bank of Jacksonville purchased the entire issue at below-market interest rates to help get the project moving immediately. The certificates were to be repaid from "Library Now!" Fund receipts in four annual payments at no cost to the public and without any state or federal government financial assistance.
On July 1, 1982, the contractor began work on the renovation after the City of Jacksonville awarded the contract. The contractor completed work on the building within a year, and on June 12, 1983, the new library building was formally opened.
The cost of the renovation and furnishings of the library building was paid in full in 1984.
In May 1998, through the auspices of the Summers A. and Mary Nell Norman Foundation and the Jacksonville Public Library Association, the library implemented an automated circulation system.
The library's collection now contains more than 70,850 items, with an annual circulation in 2015 of over 84,880. More than 7,000 people visited the library in 2015; approximately 6,108 children attended events at the library. The library also maintains a Web site that receives over 24,300 visits annually.
-- Adapted from Jacksonville: the story of a dynamic community, 1872-1972