KPL in the News

Since the library came into being in October 1872, its services and programs have generated a fair amount of headlines and daily news coverage–most of which have been of the affirming, positive kind. Over the course of 150 years of service to the community, there have been plenty of humorous, entertaining and heartfelt stories that reveal the affectionate connection between library administrators, staff and the public they serve. As much as the library has changed over the span of a century and a half, these news stories also uncover a continuity of particular professional principles and practices that sustain despite historical shifts in society at large. What you discover when plumbing the the library’s historical archives, is that the library has always been so much more than just about circulating books and promoting the benefits of reading. Here is a small sampling of stories about the library that have appeared in the local newspaper, chronicling the long history of Kalamazoo’s gateway to knowledge.

A hospital patient uses library technology that projects a book’s text on the ceiling, c.1947

“Send Your Books to Men Overseas”, 9 December 1918

The library participated in a community-wide effort to get books into the hands of American soldiers serving in World War I. “The men need more books than ever if the morale is to be kept high among them.”–Flora B. Roberts (Library Director)

“Doughnuts, Pragmatism Wrestling, Economics and So On, Keep Kazoo Librarians Always on the Hop”, 23 February 1919

As was the case in 1919, librarians continue today to field a wide variety of questions that cover a broad range of subjects.

“Kazoo Library Is Great Help to Young People Who Are Intent on Bettering Their Position in Life”, 18 July 1920

The library has always prided itself in having relevant and helpful books that can make a real impact on the lives of users. “The oldtime notion that libraries were created especially and solely for idle folks and school children has most decidedly been put in the discard. Nowadays it is realized that the busier a person is, the more he needs the library. This particularly true of young men and women who seek to better their place in life, and find, in the library, the best sort of assistance to that laudable end.”

Library billboard, c. 1930’s. Uncatalogued Photograph

“Every Time You Pay a Fine for Hitting Somebody You Help Buy Books for the Library”, November, 1920

Certainly a cheeky headline, this Gazette article discusses the small amount of money the library earned from penal fines in the early 1920’s–those punitive costs sometimes coming as a result of assault and battery or traffic violations.

“Traveler’s Insurance Against Dullness”, January 1930

KPL promotional advertisement, 1930

“Library Books Treat Depression Causes and Cures”, 1 April 1932

During times of great economic and social upheaval, the library has prioritized getting into the hands of library users, the kinds of materials that can provide knowledge and practical tools for those looking to understand their times. “Those interested in the depression, its causes and cures, can find plenty of reading on this timely subject in several new books recently placed on the shelves of the Kalamazoo public library.”

“Public Library Answers ‘What’s Right Socially?’”, 31 October 1932

“What is correct?” is a question asked so often of Kalamazoo public library that the institution is fast becoming the arbiter of social custom for Kalamazoo folk. Hardly a day passes that the library does not receive calls asking how to eat peas or artichokes, what one should wear to an afternoon party, what is proper on certain occasions, what to say, and how to say it.”

“Want a Book, But Can’t Get Away? Call Library”, 4 July 1937

Today we call it Via Mail, a service that mails books to patrons who are not cable of visiting a library, but in 1937, the library experimented with a very similar service of sending materials to patrons through the post office at a small cost.

“Library Installs Outdoor Display”, 30 November 1939

Exterior view of the library’s outdoor display case, installed in 1939, c.1940’s. Uncatalogued Photograph

“What’s the Answer? Ask the Library”, 3 March 1940

Early in 1940, decades prior to the advent of internet search engines, librarians worked diligently to answer some of the following questions asked by patrons:

  • What is the meaning of the musical term tempo divalse?
  • In what position do bananas grow?
  • Exactly where is the Mason and Dixon line?
  • Why was Georgia named the Cracker State?
  • What is the correct abbreviation for “trustees”?
  • In food preparation, what is meant by jardiniere?
  • What is the state flower of Utah?
  • Which state has the claim to being the birthplace of the most presidents?
  • On what day of the week did July 9, 1850 fall?
The Circulation Desk of the downtown library, 1947. Uncatalogued Photo

“Radio Installed in Library to Receive News and Addresses”, 4 February 1942

As a way to keep those without access to a radio, informed about important war and national news, the library made available a radio to be used during special broadcasts.

“Library Becomes War Information Center for City”, 3 March 1942

“The mobilization of the resources of Kalamazoo public library into a “War Information Center” has resulted from the entry of the United States into the war, and the demands of the Kalamazoo public for information on phases of the war, reports Miss Flora B. Roberts, the librarian.”

Entranceway of public library, c.1943. Uncatalogued Photograph

“Robber Batters Library’s Safe”, 22 June 1942

Not only have books been stolen from the library over the years, but so too, the library’s safe.

“First Military Funeral for Woman Held Here on Saturday”, 29 August 1943

Mabel Virginia Rawlinson, the former secretary to library director Flora B. Roberts, was killed in an aviation accident while serving in the Civil Air Patrol at a North Carolina base.

Kalamazoo Gazette, 8-29-43

“Library to Quit Answering Radio Quiz Phone Call”, 29 September 1946

“Overloaded telephone circuits have forced the Kalamazoo public library to discontinue telephone service to radio quiz program fans. A check-up reveals that the library receives more than 500 of these telephone calls a day.”

“Bedside Service”, 14 April 1947

A popular service in the late 1940’s saw librarians visiting hospital maternity wards to distribute booklists regarding infant care to mothers.

“‘Lizzie, the Movie Car’ Takes Rest After 24 Years Service”, 29 May 1949

“Known to hundreds of small and not-so-small fry as “Lizzie, the Movie Car” because it carried Miss (Mamie) Austin about the city with education films from the library, the elderly Ford has been in constant use ever since she bought it, May 27, 1925.” The Model T amassed 102,000 miles before the ‘Movie Lady’ decided to upgrade.

Marilyn ‘Mamie’ Austin, aka ‘The Movie Lady’, c.1940’s. Uncatalogued Photograph

“He Won’t Dance? Take Him to the Public Library”, 22 January 1950

In the late 1940’s the library began circulating records of all kinds, including those that helped assist the nascent dancer with the rhumba, those seeking to learn a foreign language, or those looking for the newest jazz album from drummer Gene Krupa.

“School Board Backs Public Library in Stand Against Suppression of Books”, 3 November 1953

A longtime advocate of the first amendment, the library has a long history of defending the purchase and circulation of materials that some find offensive, including books, newspapers and magazines produced during the repressive McCarthy Era.

“Something for a Nickel”, 23 January 1967

In an almost unbelievable twist, this 1967 article detailed the price of a photocopy, which surprisingly, still remains the price of a copy in 2022.

“King Collection to Open”, 4 December 1968

After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a memorial collection in his honor was established by various donors throughout the community. The collection was housed in the downtown library for many years until the books were integrated within the broader fiction and nonfiction areas.

“They Call It a Buchewagen”, 12 July 1969

In an effort to get books into the hands of kids throughout the city’s eastside neighborhood, Eastwood Branch librarian Lorna Chapman used her own car, a Volkswagen station wagon, as a mini-bookmobile, delivering books hand-to-hand during summer months. Beginning in the summer of 1969, Chapman would drop off popular paperbacks to children who were not regularly attending patrons, kindly asking them to bring the books back after a week’s time. Chapman called the direct-to-hand outreach program as “casual”, noting that while there were no late fines for books that were not returned, most kids and their families did return the materials. Once Chapman had connected with a child, she would give them free tickets for a summertime film series, encouraging them to stop by and participate.

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, 8 July 1970

When it comes to censorship, librarians are typically in the business of defending the value of a challenged book title. But in 1970, it was not a book that upset a particular citizen, but rather the window art at the Eastwood Branch. Deemed as counter-cultural and too “psychedelic”, the rather benign window art designed to beautify its rather unattractive storefront came under fire. The bright blossoms were a project intended to provide a bit of color to an otherwise drab, unappealing building, and was painted by children and a former library employee. But after an angry citizen expressed his displeasure with the painting at a school board meeting, Dr. Mark Crum, director of the library, caved to the pressure. Rather than resist the call for its removal, Crum requested that the window be returned to its banal, blossom-less character. So much for the era’s Flower Power.

Eastwood Branch Library, c.1970. Uncatalogued Photograph

“Reference Work on Black Americans Compiled”, 21 November 1971

Mary Mace Spradling’s seminal bibliography that brought together in a single document, a list of African American authors and their works, was published in the early 1970’s, a time period in which the profession began to heed the call of civil rights activists, and to expand and diversify their collections.

Head of Young Adult Department, Mary Mace Spradling, early 1960’s. Uncatalogued Photograph

“Prisoners Cataloging Kalamazoo’s History”, 3 February 1972

Prisoners at the penitentiary in Jackson, Michigan collaborated with the library and the Southern Michigan Prison Jaycees in a project to index the newspapers, Kalamazoo Gazette and Michigan Statesman.

“The Library Goes to Them”, 23 April 1976

In the mid-1970’s, the library expanded their outreach services to include patients at the Kalamazoo State Hospital, and to those held at the county jail and juvenile home. To those who could not access a library building to use its services, the library went to them with books, movies and legal research materials.

“Emotions Run High As Jeering Crowd Cuts Rally Short”, 10 April 1983

When a right-wing, homophobic minister from Three Rivers, Michigan came to Kalamazoo to rally for the banning of books with “homosexual themes”, brought with him members of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis from Illinois, a tense, mostly verbal clash took place in the library’s Van Deusen Auditorium between Edward Varner and counter-protesters. For roughly 40 minutes, Varner and his opponents loudly lobbed insults back and forth, while library and police officials stood nearby to intervene if necessary. Eventually, Varner and his supporters were evacuated through a back stairwell and put into a waiting van that rushed them out of town.

“Library Ends All Book Fines for Children”, 22 April 1989

Today, the trend to move to a fine-free system has begun to sweep across the country. Back in 1989, KPL eliminated fines for checked-out children’s books, recognizing the importance of ensuring that children and parents always have access to literature.

Children’s Room, early 1960’s. Uncatalogued Photograph

“The Library Shelves Card Catalog”, 17 September 1991

It was an end of an era, when in the Fall of 1991, the library’s longtime card catalog system was replaced by a computerized version of library holdings.

Library card catalog, early 1960’s. Uncatalogued Photograph

“Library Changes Policy on Cards for Homeless”, 29 April 1992

Seeing the need to address an ever-expanding homeless population, which often included families with children, the library changed their library card policy to include those who could not provide evidence of a permanent residence within the library’s district, so that families and individuals could access helpful resources.

“Kalamazoo Library Offers Internet Service”, 10 July 1995

It is often difficult to remember a time when the internet did not exist, but by the mid-1990’s, KPL had embraced the novel landscape that was the first version of the World Wide Web.

“Library First in U.S. to Loan Digital Audiobook”, 26 February 2001

As digital technology advanced with evermore speed in the early years of the twenty-first century, the library adapted to the significant changes to the publishing industry, despite occasional hiccups and challenges to training both staff and patrons on how to use Web 2.0.

“Library Board Against USA PATRIOT Act”, 30 November 2003

Much of the library profession, including KPL, stood firm against the intrusive, anti-privacy tactics that law enforcement had begun to use to investigate library patrons and their reading habits after the 9-11 attacks.

“Library Program Aims to Help Nonprofits”, 2 March 2009

As was the case in the twentieth century, KPL has continued to be open to developing unique services that speak to particular community needs, with [email protected] being only one example.

“Book-dwelling Bed Bugs Prompt New Policies at Library”, 17 February 2013

Yikes! A sign of the times headline for sure. Even the bugs sometimes want to visit the library for a good book. Luckily for patrons, the library continues to be proactive about making sure that such critters don’t become permanent residents.

“Library Branches to Reopen Monday”, 21 June 2020

Not even a global pandemic could keep the library from ensuring that patrons had access to their beloved mysteries and action movies. Children and Teen librarians creatively put together bags of home-oriented activities to do while in a state of quarantine, while reference librarians continued to field account questions and place reserves by phone. Despite closing library buildings during several local COVID-19 spikes, KPL continued to serve the public with curbside services, running through snow and rain to deliver bags of books to awaiting patrons.

“Patrons Can Borrow Tools, Cookware from the Library”, 18 July 2021

“The Kalamazoo Public Library is building a new collection of useful items, which will be available for checkout through its “Library of Things.” The Library of Things will include items such as tools, household electronics and cookware. Patrons of the library can check out the items similarly to library books, according to the KPL website.

Written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, August 2022

Kalamazoo Public Library Archives

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