Carnegie Library

Carnegie Library (1903 – 1973)

The new Carnegie Library opened in 1903.  The two-story brick building’s entrance faced Victoria Avenue and included a main reading room, a stack room where the books were shelved, and an auditorium.  The library had a capacity for about 60,000 volumes.  At the opening of the library, Mayor Drake had the honour of being the first customer and borrowed the first book, fittingly, “The Empire of Business” by Andrew Carnegie.

Carnegie Library's children's entrance,1960sThe launch of the new library generated new services and programs.  In the new building, those over the age of 16 were able to select books from the shelves themselves, a move that was hoped to encourage reading.   A lecture series was also begun which hosted professors from Toronto University to put “this method of entertainment and instruction within reach of every person.” (Andrew Braid, WPL Annual Report, 1903)

Under the direction of the WPL Board, library staff began to build up the selection of reading material.  While more than half of the books in circulation were fiction (which was the most popular reading material), there were also books on most subjects including history, philosophy, science, religion and the languages.  The reference department became a common resource for academic purposes for students and teachers. The librarians began creating lists of books on specific subjects and advertised them in the paper and distributing them in the library.

Over the next decade, Windsor’s population grew, as did the volumes of books in the library, and the need for more room and additional shelving became apparent.  The library board discussed offering branch services on the east and west end and in 1914, an east end branch opened which offered biweekly deliveries of books.

World events affected Windsor and the library when World War I began in 1914.  Many Windsor residents joined the forces overseas while many others contributed at home.  Encouraged to join community groups or service organizations, many Windsorites raised money, made blankets and clothing and created care packages for soldiers.  The library also offered space to use for war work such as lectures, meetings and the packing of boxes to go overseas.

Discussions of the war and its effects in newspapers, social groups and everyday life created a need for information in the community.  People turned to the library to learn all they could about the conflict and war literature was in demand.

In 1915, the WPL board established library branches for soldiers of the 241st Battalion and the quarters of the Construction Corp in the Windsor Driving Park grounds at Ouellette and Tecumseh, where Jackson Park is today.  The library board also allowed circulation of pamphlets and leaflets in the library regarding recruitment, public service and rationing. 

In 1921, arrangements were made with the Town of Sandwich for library service at a rate of $200 annually.  This arrangement was dissolved after Sandwich established its own library in 1923. 

In 1925, the Board made extensive modifications to the interior of Carnegie Library in an attempt to relieve the crowded conditions.  The location of the front door was changed, making better use of the space, various departments were moved and shelving was built along both walls of a hallway that extended the length of the building.

The modifications alleviated the congested conditions of the library however, it was realized that a larger building was required for the library’s services and programs.  Carnegie Library had been built when the population of Windsor was around 13,400.  Amalgamation of the Border Cities (Windsor, Walkerville and East Windsor) in 1935 brought the population to 120,000, further rendering the building inadequate. Amalgamation also brought all of the libraries into one system.  At this time, the WPL system included eight libraries:

–          Sandwich Library in the former Teachers’ Training School at 615 Mill Street

–          Carnegie Library at Victoria and Park Streets

–          John Richardson Library (at Wilson Park), children’s library only

–          Prince Edward Public School, Giles Blvd and Parent, children’s library only

–          Victoria Public School, Victoria and Ellis, children’s library only

–          Willistead Library, main floor of Willistead Manor

–          Hugh Beaton Public School (previously called South Branch), Chilver Road at Lens

–          Ontario Street Public School, Ontario and Ellrose

A lack of space forced the WPL Board to split their headquarters between Willistead and Carnegie libraries.  The chief librarian, business office and catalogue and children’s departments were housed at Willistead while Carnegie became the Chief Reference Library. 

Willistead had specializations within the WPL system by the 1960s: a Picture and Sculpture loan collection which netted about $80 a month in revenue for the library, and a film collection with projectors could also be rented for a nominal fee.  The Willistead Branch even staged outdoor picture shows in the adjacent park in the summer.  They also provided “Projected Books” which involved a special projector of microfilmed books that would display images of the books on the ceiling for bed-ridden customers.

The WPL vacated Willistead Manor soon after the Carnegie Library opened.  Some fittings were sold off, and still exist in local Walkerville homes in the area.

Carnegie Historic PlaqueBy the time the WPL celebrated 50 years of its service to Windsor in 1953, the Carnegie building held 59,847 books and seating areas were reduced to provide more shelving. The lower floor had been in use as auditorium, then given over to a children’s library.  That in turn was moved out of the building to the John Richardson Branch in 1932.  The collection of French books had been moved to the Willistead Branch in 1950.  Over 42,942 books had been borrowed that year and the business and technical subject area was most popular.  Head librarian Gladys Shepley confessed to the Windsor Star that fewer books were being purchased in spite of the high demand, “’Windsor is so often said not to be a cultural city, yet our fine arts and business and technical [sections] are held down in size so the building will not be too overtaxed’” (Douglas, November 14, 1950). 

The Windsor Public Library was too successful for its own good in terms of serving the public, and it was a complicated but well-loved working space for staff.  Former WPL employee, Ronnie Filby began her career at the Carnegie Library and worked at that location for 10 years. She described the experience as “like being in Little Women” – the Carnegie building with its books and built on rooms had “all sorts of places to hide, that the public couldn’t see, such as attics and magazine rooms” (Interview, November 9, 2012).

While a call for funds for a new building went out to Windsor’s community leaders, librarians applied their resourcefulness to making the best of the Carnegie building, by expanding next door.

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