Scottsdale library’s 60th anniversary opens portal to rich history

Storing Books in the Adobe House Oven 1959. (Photo by the Scottsdale Public Library)

Storing Books in the Adobe House Oven 1959. (Photo by the Scottsdale Public Library)

In 1955 there were less than 10,000 people living in Scottsdale and the list of things to do — especially for those who endured the long, hot summers — was indeed, very short.

For recreation, the options were limited: hiking Camelback Mountain, riding a horse through the desert or venturing into Phoenix for a day of shopping or visiting a movie theater.

Visiting a local library was not on that list.

All that changed, however, in the summer of 1955 when two Scottsdale residents — two women who shared a passion for reading —  began “loaning” out their books to fellow residents.

A simple card table, a recipe file and a floor fan — and about 300 books — were all Lou Ann Noel and Beth Fielder needed to create what

Lou Ann Noel on April 16, 2012. (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Public Library)

Lou Ann Noel on April 16, 2012. (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Public Library)

would eventually become the Scottsdale Public Library.

Sixty years later, their efforts are alive and well as the city library — now with access to millions of items in a collection that spreads out over five branches — prepares to celebrate the beginning of its seventh decade of service.

That original effort was housed in the Adobe House and open to the public four hours each week.

“Two moms said we need books for our kids and other kids, so they started collecting books,” said Kathy Coster, senior library manager for the Scottsdale Public Library.

Since that first summer, the library has grown into five branches throughout the community and is home to 3.1 million items — including 500,000 physical items as well as ebooks and music.

“Our community has always been committed to education. Our community has always looked to the libraries as portals of information,” said Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte.

The growth and success of the Scottsdale Public Library, says Councilwoman Korte, is due to the dedication of local residents.

“The road to the success of the libraries is parallel to the growth and success of Scottsdale. I believe Scottsdale is Scottsdale because of its citizens,” said Councilwoman Korte.

Shortly after the two moms started loaning their own books, the Scottsdale Woman’s Club adopted the fledgling library as its community service project and began overseeing operations.

Three women — Phyllis Beston, Miriam Stires and Mary Moore — then put their talents to work. They issued library cards, began circulating books and kept the library open one evening a week.

“Libraries Through the Ages,” a book written by Mildred L. Palmer, includes a history of the Scottsdale Public Library. According to the book, the library quickly outgrew its Adobe House facility.

But as the city’s population began to increase, more and more people began to use the library. By the fall of 1958, it was apparent added help was needed.

Until that point, supplies and shelving were generally purchased from donations, book fines and rentals.

By 1960, the city’s population was projected to reach 35,000. Arthur W. Gutenberg with the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce prepared a list of recommendations on how a library could best meet the needs of the burgeoning population.

His suggestion: build a 10,000 square-foot-building that could house a collection of 70,000 books. A staff of five paid employees would be needed to maintain this new facility.

In 1959, the Friends of the Scottsdale Public Library organization was created. Its objective was to assist in developing library service in the community. Communitywide interest boomed and books were donated by the hundreds.

The Adobe House in 1955. (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Public Library)

The Adobe House in 1955. (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Public Library)

Within six months, the small cottage that housed the new library was too crammed and thus the library was forced  to move back to the Adobe House.

Friends of the Library paid for renovations, painting and rewiring of the building. By 1959 the library had 3,500 users and was open 16 hours a week with close to 8,000 books.

Still, there was “no money in sight with which to operate.” according to “Libraries Through the Ages.”

All that changed in 1960.

After a number of conferences, meetings and negotiations between the Library Steering Committee, directors of the Civic Coordinating Council, Friends of the Library, city council and the City Manager Gordon Allison,  the Town of Scottsdale agreed to assume control over the library.

Scottsdale finally had an official library to call its own.

“In 1960 the budget for the library was $10,000,” said Ms. Coster. “It is $9 million today.”

As it celebrates its 60th anniversary, Ms. Coster says the library’s long history is well documented — and preserved for others to enjoy.

“We have a very extensive photographic collection from residents and newspapers, and from other people who have given us things,” said Ms. Coster.

“We are also doing oral histories with people who have either grown up here or have some historical perspective, and that is also available on our website.”

According to records, volunteers were the “lifeblood of the library” during the first few years. The records state the number of volunteers grew from a handful of four or five in 1955, to around 20 in 1958, to having 62 volunteers by 1961.

During 1960-61, the recorded volunteer hours of service were equivalent to four 40-hour work week staff members. The transition from volunteer to paid staff began in 1960 as well, records show.

According to the city’s website, library volunteers have now donated over 38,000 hours valued at $665,000 in hours worked. Over 1.3 million customers have visted the library.

Librarian Joyce Segner, left, wife of Wes Segner, and an unidentified woman check a box of books at the Adobe House library. Wes Segner, an artist, co-founded the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce, then led the fight to incorporate the city. (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Public Library)

Librarian Joyce Segner, left, wife of Wes Segner, and an unidentified woman check a box of books at the Adobe House library. Wes Segner, an artist, co-founded the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce, then led the fight to incorporate the city. (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Public Library)

“As a community, we have been able to invest in these libraries on a regular basis,” said Councilwoman Korte.

“And it is through our bonds that we passed in 1989 and 2001. Those bonds allowed us to expand our library system extensively.”

The success of the community is based upon the active citizen leadership that Scottsdale embraces, according to Councilwoman Korte.

“They allowed that to be a vision of the community, and that’s why Scottsdale is so special,” said Councilwoman Korte.

Even after 60 years, the library remains a popular destination in Scottsdale.

“We are one of the few community agencies that has a 97-percent approval rating,” said Ms. Coster. “That is pretty amazing when you consider all the services we offer — for everyone from babies to older adults.”

Despite the popular myth that more and more people are turning away from print and preferring electronic books and materials, Ms. Coster says recent surveys show that not to be true — at least in Scottsdale.

“We know that people come for the books, that’s the No. 1 reason,” said Ms. Coster.

“The library has definitely changed in the 60 years since it was founded; a lot more services are available online, which helps to expand the depth of our collection.”

The city will be hosting a Mayor and Council breakfast celebrating the 60th anniversary open to the public 7:30-9 a.m. on Sept. 10, at the Civic Center Library, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

For more information on the Scottsdale library and its services, visit www.scottsdalelibrary.org.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.