Oshtemo Branch Library
Serving Oshtemo Township Since 1966
Each branch location of the Kalamazoo Public Library serves a neighborhood with its own unique personality. Every branch has a story, and the Oshtemo Branch Library’s story is especially compelling.
Branch Library Service
Under the guidance of chief librarian Isabella C. Roberts, Kalamazoo Public Library’s branch service began in 1910 with the opening of library rooms in the Portage Street and East Avenue schools. These eventually became the Washington Square and Eastwood branches, respectively. In 1915, a third branch library was established in the West Main Street School atop the West Main Hill, and a fourth branch was opened at the North West Street (Westnedge) school. Other branch libraries followed in similar form, but the Oshtemo Branch Library as we know it today began with a somewhat different story.
A “Quiet Campaign”
During the early 1920s, a “quiet campaign” was underway to extend the services of the Kalamazoo Public Library beyond the city’s public school system and into the many rural schools scattered throughout Kalamazoo County. In 1922, an effort spearheaded by Kalamazoo librarian Flora B. Roberts created such a system, modeled somewhat after countywide systems in California and elsewhere. “The purpose of the library was to get the books to the people,” said Roberts during a January 1923 meeting of the Women Voters’ League. “It should be easier to get books than to endure the thought of going without them.”
It took time, but eventually a county library system was put in place and “branch” libraries began appearing in many of the rural schools. During the 1930s, some fifteen such branch libraries were opened throughout Kalamazoo County. So unique was the program that a film about the service called “Kalamazoo County Library Service” was completed in 1941 and made available to the Parent Teacher Association and other organizations for public showing.
Oshtemo’s First Public Library
The first evidence of a public library in Oshtemo Township appeared in 1940, when county librarian Irene Herringa established one of these so-called branch library stations in the Oshtemo Village District #10 School (the brick school in Oshtemo village center). Sponsored jointly by the Oshtemo school board and the PTA, the Oshtemo library was opened in October 1940 on the second floor of the school with 360 juvenile and adult books and magazines, which were made available to all township residents. The school (and perhaps its library) remained open until 1965 when the Oshtemo Community Schools were annexed into the Kalamazoo Public School system.
Oshtemo Community Library
In 1964, a group of interested citizens spearheaded by Margaret Minott began meeting to discuss the formation of a community library in Oshtemo Township. Mrs. Minott was a business owner and mother of six, who engaged in a lifelong pursuit for equity within the local school system. She was the first African American to be elected to the Kalamazoo Board of Education and was instrumental in the effort to desegregate Kalamazoo Public Schools. It was largely through her efforts that the Oshtemo Branch Library came to be.
Led by Mrs. Minott, the five-member committee included Virginia Rhodes, William L. Locey, Rev. Wayne Sparks, and Mrs. Earl Hilliard. The group’s initial discussions focused on ways to finance the project, possible locations for such a library, and what kind of library would be most suited to the community. Mrs. Robert Brown, Louise Carver, and Anthony Stamm soon joined and formed a subcommittee called Friends of the Oshtemo Library. As the collective continued its work, the Oshtemo Township Board allowed them to use the basement of the Old Hurd School building on M-43 (currently the home of Hockey and Golf Services) for temporary storage.
After some two-and-a-half years of planning, Oshtemo Township approved $3,000 to establish a community library on a trial basis. In June 1966, Margaret Minott, Lillian Anderson, Virginia Rhodes, Janet Campe, Barbara Johnson, and Fred Buckham formed the Oshtemo Library Advisory Committee, which was appointed by the board to further study the community’s library needs.
A Cooperative Arrangement
By August 1966 the initial plans were in place. A library “book station” would be located inside the “Old Hurd School” under a cooperative arrangement with the Kalamazoo Public Schools (which operated the Kalamazoo Public Library) and the Oshtemo Township Board. Books for the library would come from the Kalamazoo Public Library’s collection and from community donations. The station would be staffed by volunteers, and the Kalamazoo Public Library would provide furniture, books, training, and support, while Oshemo Township would provide the building, rent, heat, and lights. Library director Mark Crum made it clear that the Oshtemo branch station would not be a fully equipped branch library. For the time being, reference materials and trained professional librarians would not be available.
Furnishings loaned by the Kalamazoo Public Library began arriving at the school building in mid-October. With additional book donations from community volunteers and from the Portage Public Library, the Oshtemo Station began service on November 15, 1966. The building was open just sixteen hours each week.
The Oshtemo Community Library’s permanent collection at the time consisted of 893 books: 779 adult titles and 114 children’s titles. The Kalamazoo Public Library purchased a small collection of children’s books to strengthen that collection. Approximately 100 young adult titles and 200 children’s books were added to the permanent collection on a rotating basis from Kalamazoo’s main library, branches, and bookmobile.
The winter of 1966 was a difficult one. Inclement weather caused the library to be closed on several occasions. Even so, the library circulated 2,240 books during its first six and a half months of service, including 755 adult titles and 1,485 children’s titles. The library also found that many of the Oshtemo users were regular Kalamazoo Public Library patrons.
Hurd School District
By the early 1950s Oshtemo’s Hurd School District No. 3 had outgrown the Old Hurd School building and needed larger quarters. In 1954 a larger two-room building was built along the south side of the road, just west of the existing building. Kindergarten through third-grade students continued to use the old building (typically referred to as the Old Hurd School or the Standard School), while fourth- through eighth-grade students attended school in the new building (known as the New Hurd School).
Following Oshtemo Community Schools’ annexation into the Kalamazoo Public School system, the New Hurd School was closed in 1966. A year later the building was converted for use by the Tri-County Enrichment Center to accommodate junior and senior high school students with disciplinary issues. That use continued until 1971 when the building was closed completely due to budget cutbacks.
Oshtemo Branch Library in the “new” Hurd School, 1989 Kalamazoo Public Library Archives Photograph, uncataloged
Why Did the Library Cross the Road?
The unused New Hurd School building presented an opportunity for the Oshtemo Branch Library, which had all but outgrown its quarters in the Old Hurd School building. Kalamazoo Public Library director Mark Crum asked the Kalamazoo Board of Education for permission to move the library into the significantly larger 2,800-square-foot quarters of the newer building. The Oshtemo Township Board agreed unanimously, and the move was made in the spring of 1972. An open house for the new library location was held later that year in July.
With the Oshtemo schools now part of the Kalamazoo Public School system, the Oshtemo Branch Library became fully part of the Kalamazoo Public Library system in 1973 with Betsy Watts as the first head librarian. Despite a major road construction project to widen M-43, which made accessing the library extremely difficult, the branch continued to grow. Within a year of its move, the Oshtemo Branch Library saw a fourfold increase in circulation. By then the library was then open 27 hours per week with a staff of four. By 1982, annual circulation had quadrupled again, topping 58,000.
The Oshtemo Branch Library has hosted many noteworthy events over the years, but perhaps none more exciting than one that occurred during a 1986 thunderstorm. Three local nurses happened to be attending a preschool story hour with their children when a call for help came from the library parking lot. It seems that an expectant mother had been on the way to the hospital in Kalamazoo when a blinding rainstorm forced them to stop at the library. The baby, however, had no intention of waiting. Firemen from next door held a tarp over the vehicle while the nurses braved the weather and delivered little Ashley Michelle Denney right there in the library parking lot. Cheers went up in the library when the announcement was made, saying “It’s a girl!” The rain abated and the family continued to the hospital, where mom and baby were said to be doing fine.
In 1990, Kalamazoo Public Schools, the City of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Township, and Oshtemo Township approved an agreement, which would remove the library from the school district’s control and create an independent institution. On Monday, April 2, 1990, the Library of Michigan officially recognized the formation of the Kalamazoo District Library.
Oshtemo Branch Library at twilight, 1998 Photo: Fred Golden for David Milling & Associates (architects)
Today’s Oshtemo Branch Library
The library continued to grow and by 1995 the Oshtemo Branch Library was bursting at the seams. That year, Kalamazoo Library District voters approved a 1.19-mil tax increase for the library by a 3-2 majority, which paved the way for $40 million in improvements throughout the library system. During 1996 and 1997, the Powell Branch Library would be refurbished, Washington Square would undergo restoration, Central Library would see a complete makeover, and new branch library buildings would be built at Eastwood and Oshtemo.
With annual circulation exceeding 100,000 items, ground was broken in October 1996 and construction began on a new 18,000-square-foot Oshtemo Branch Library to be located directly behind the existing library building. Designed to appeal to children and the young at heart, the whimsical new building appears somewhat like a medieval village and castle. Service continued in the old building until the new one was completed. The old building was burned and removed in a joint firefighting exercise between the Oshtemo and Texas Township fire departments.
Today, the Oshtemo Branch Library serves a population of 23,700 as circulation approaches 40,000 items per month. The branch features nature trails and programming in conjunction with the Oshtemo Township Park next door, along with high-speed Wi-Fi, Chromebooks, iPads, Science Kits, “All In” Kits, and countless other library services.