Mission, Strategic Plan and History
The mission of the Kent Free Library is to meet the educational, recreational, informational, and cultural needs of the community and citizens of Kent.
Kent’s present public library had its beginning on September 29, 1875, when a number of employees of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad and other interested citizens met in a room on the second floor of the railroad station and organized the Atlantic and Great Western Railway Reading Room Association. Applications for membership in the association had to be approved by the directors. The annual dues were $1 and a member was allowed to draw one book at a time, to be kept not longer than three weeks.
The reading room association flourished for some time but interest in it finally waned. From 1884 until 1892 the books were locked up in a room at the station. At that time there was no law which enabled a town with less than 5,000 inhabitants to tax itself for library purposes. However, through the efforts of Scott Williams and George E. Hinds such a law was finally passed by the Ohio State Legislature, and Kent became the first town which obtained a library as a result. The village council passed an ordinance to establish a public library to be known as the Kent Free Library and Reading Room and to maintain the library, a tax of one mill was approved.
The second floor of the north room of the Worthington Block was rented for the library, shelves were put in and tables and chairs were purchased. The 800 books of the railway library were given as a nucleus for the town library. Mrs. J. M. Woodard was employed as a librarian at a salary of $12.50 a month. The library was soon ready for the use of the public and at once became popular with the book lovers and children of the town. In 1895, Mrs. Woodard resigned and Mrs. J. S. Cook was appointed to succeed her. In 1896, the library was moved to the second floor of the then new Williams block where it remained until 1903 when it was moved into its own library building.
In 1901, through the efforts of George E. Hinds and the members of the members of the library board, Andrew Carnegie became interested in Kent and he agreed to give $10,000 to erect a library building on condition that the town provide a site and agree to contribute 10% of the gift yearly for the library’s maintenance. Marvin Kent donated the lot at the corner of Main and River Streets and the town voted by an overwhelming majority to make the necessary tax levy. Plans for the library were drawn by Charles Hopkinson of Cleveland, and in June, 1902, the contract for the building was awarded to A. C. Stambaugh.
The building was completed in the spring of 1903. At the request of the Board, Carnegie gave an additional $1,500 for the furnishings of the library. Nellie Dingley of Painesville was employed as librarian and Janet M. Green, library organizer for the state of Illinois, was engaged to organize and catalog the new library in a systematic manner.
On September 25, 1903, the doors of the library were opened to the public. From then on, it rapidly grew and prospered. In 1904, the plans and model of the building were sent to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, as a perfect model of a $10,000 building.
In 1923, the Coterie planted on the library lawn in the northeast corner a Norway maple tree in memory of Nellie Dingley. In 1928, the rooms in the basement which had been used as family rooms for the janitor were remodeled into one large room. With a fireplace, shelving, many windows and window seats, linoleum on the floor and new comfortable chairs, this made a pleasant assembly room for the various clubs of the town.
Additions were made throughout the years, however, in 2005, all previous additions were demolished and a new, three-story addition was constructed which tripled the previous amount of available space. This new addition opened on September 26, 2006, exactly 103 years after the original library opened. The original 1903 library building still stands today; The Carnegie Section, as it is designated, currently houses The Burbick Foundation Genealogy Room, with the library’s collection of genealogy and local history materials; The Keller Room; and The Bumphrey Room, a quiet reading room. In recent years, generous support from community members has provided for the Wiland Room, a small conference room; the Woodward Room, a quiet reading area; the James Benedik teen area; the Gillis bequest to provide homebound services; and the Solem bequest which supports the library’s purchase of audio books.
From: Grismer, Karl H. The History of Kent: Historical and Biographical. Kent Historical Society: Kent, OH. 1932 (rev 1992). 129 – 131.