A fictitious recreation of Thomas Struthers' desk.

Warren Public Library Celebrating 150 Years With History Exhibit

October 19, 2023

WARREN, Pa. – The Warren Public Library is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and patrons can see all that history courtesy of the current exhibit in the Wetmore Gallery.

The exhibit, spearheaded by staff members Julie Miller and Jenn Knisley, as well as Kitty Hagberg, takes you on a picturesque history of the library from 1873 until today. It will be open until Nov. 18.

From Thomas Struthers and the library’s beginnings through the freshly completed renovations, it’s a work of art, and is dedicated to Barb Tubbs, who worked at the library for over 50 years.

The exhibit is dedicated to longtime library employee Barb Tubbs.

“It really started with Glen Schofield and William Rankin,” Miller said. “Glenny had a whole bunch of books that he wanted the community to have, and so he talked to William Rankin and Rankin was like, sure, I’ll overlook this collection, and the rest is kind of history, even though there were threads of this back in the 1830s.”

There are scenes of Warren from the 1870s that visitors can contrast to the present day.

“We have some nice scenes just to see how things were back in the day versus now,” Knisley said.

The constitution of the library was officially adopted in 1873, older than the Philadelphia Free Library.

“The library was in the Struthers Library Theatre building on the second floor,” Miller said. “When it first open, there was a ticketing system, so people had to pay for a membership for the year. In 1895, it officially became anybody could join.”

There is also a section on Mary C. Weiss who served as the head librarian for over 40 years and was the last librarian at the Library Theatre and the first head librarian at the current location, retiring in 1931.

“She holds the distinction of being librarian at both, which is pretty cool,” Miller said.

The current building was designed by Warren and Wetmore, an architecture firm that also designed Grand Central Station.

“The whole original building was designed by them,” Miller said.

The original library at the new location did not include the current children’s room. That parcel of land was donated to the library and the house that was there at the time was torn down to build the addition.

Pictures from the 1960 renovation.

“We actually have one of the shovels from the 80s groundbreaking,” Knisley said.

There was a renovation in the early 2000s, as well as the current one that was just recently completed, which presented extra challenges working through the COVID pandemic.

Through the exhibit, the staff felt it important to highlight the role the library has played through some of the tough times in American history.

“We thought it was important to focus on where we’ve been in the community scheme of things and tough times,” Miller said. “World War I, World War 2, the depression, we filled a big gap during the depression. People were here reading newspapers, learning job skills, and we were free. People didn’t have a lot of money, so we filled a big gap during that time frame.

“World War II, we sent a lot of books to troops who participated in the big book drives that they would do.

“COVID, everybody knows COVID, but we had to include it, it had to be here. It’s important to know what that was like.”

Photos of the library helping out during tough times in U.S. history over the last 150 years.

They also focused on funding, and how the library has adapted to funding crises’ throughout the years.

“Once we moved out (of the Library Theatre), there were issues with the school district and who funds us and this and that, and then it came to a head in the 1990s with the county.”

Director Kelli Knapp noted the role that the Library Theatre was to play in the funding in the early years.

“The businesses in the Library Theatre were to support the library,” Knapp said. “But we’ve had a lot of funding woes, most recently in 2003, with a significant decrease in funding in the state, around 34 percent. The county has been very generous and increased our funding two or three years ago, we’re still receiving less than we received in 1979.”

It’s an exhibit you have to visit to truly appreciate. And it’s been a labor of love for all involved.

“We worked hours and hours,” Miller said. “We’re lucky because all the people that came before us are good record keepers, so we didn’t have to do all of the leg work ourselves. Before it was hung, it was all over the floor, it looked like chaos. You looked at it and wondered how it was all going to come together, but it did. It’s also the first one since before COVID since we’ve done. Filling it in and seeing it all come together was a good feeling.

“I think I can speak for all of us, we love this place. Work here, love it, this is a big part of my life, but when I retire, it moves on without me. It’s not about any one of us. We’re all doing the best work we can for the community, but it lives on in the community beyond us.

Knapp also noted to keep an eye out for future exhibits.

“Watch for future gallery shows,” Knapp said “We’re trying to bring things back. It’s been a long haul with two year of COVID and the renovations.”

         

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