History of the North Kansas City Public Library:
The First Fifty Years (1939-1989)
In 1927, Myra D. Cotter (1896-1990) was elected the first president of North Kansas City's Parent-Teacher Association. Mrs. Cotter and members of the P.T.A.'s newly-formed children's reading committee lobbied civic clubs for the next seven years about a library for North Kansas City.
At one point during their campaign the organization wrote a letter to the Carnegie Foundation inquiring about having a Carnegie library built in North Kansas City, but the effort never materialized for unknown reasons.
Edward A. Hecker (1888-1968), North Kansas City mayor from 1931 to 1943, was strongly in favor of a public library. In 1934, the P.T.A.'s children's reading committee approached the mayor about a local library. He appointed a committee chaired by Chamber of Commerce President Harry Brunner to see if there was any interest in the idea.
About the same time, the Chamber of Commerce appointed its own committee to investigate the possibility of offering library service to North Kansas City. In September 1935, 23 people attended the first committee meeting. The group adopted bylaws and became known as the North Kansas City Library Association. Any resident of the North Kansas City School district could become a member of the Association by paying yearly dues of $1.00.
The Association agreed that anyone who joined between October 1936 and October 1937 would be considered a charter member. The committee's membership increased to 201 people over the next year. They also asked the community for donations of books to start the library. People throughout the city donated 1,237 books for the Library. The North Kansas City School Board agreed to house the public library in a corner of the high school library.
Verna Nistendirk (1907-1999) was the North Kansas City High School librarian from 1929 until about 1938. She helped select and catalog new books, and catalog the books donated to the public library. She later moved to Florida where she worked for the state library.
The North Kansas City Library opened to the public on October 17, 1936. The collection featured 1,455 books. The Library was open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The high school and public library books were interfiled, so there was no way to maintain separate card registration or circulation statistics.
The public library's location in the high school library soon proved impractical. The committee approached the City Council again, and a plan was designed to build a facility with two reading rooms, an auditorium with a stage, and an outdoor swimming pool. The land was donated by the North Kansas City Development Company. The Library-Lecture Hall & Swimming Pool proposal was easily approved by voters in a bond election. The final construction costs were $70,000.
Harry Brunner was appointed president of the Library's first board. Myra D. Cotter was also a charter member of the Board. Margaret Hodge, wife of Dr. Russell Hodge and mother of Dr. Robert Hodge, was the Board's first vice-president.
The North Kansas City Library and Recreational Building was dedicated on January 18, 1939. More than 300 people attended the ceremony. The original Library was located where the Local History room and children's area are found in the present-day building. The Library was open four mornings, five afternoons, and three nights a week. A play area for children ages 2 to 6 years old was opened in the basement. The room included toys, such as a rocking horse and a wooden train set. Library fines were one-cent per day overdue, per item.
The first librarian at the new Library was Ida Rosemyrl Feeback (1908-1989). She was born Rosemyrl Grover in Iowa and raised in Ohio. She graduated from The University of the City of Toledo (Ohio) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1930, and in 1932 from Western Reserve University with a Bachelor of Science in Library Science. Ms. Feeback relocated to Kansas City for a position with the Kansas City Public Library. She was the Westport Branch's children's librarian from July 1935 to May 1937. Ms. Feeback resigned in May 1937 to marry, but continued working as a substitute clerk at the branch until December 1938. She was hired as Library Director in December 1938 by the North Kansas City Council, who agreed to pay her a salary of $100 a month. The Library Board also persuaded the City Council to invest $500 in general reference books and an additional $500 for business reference books.
The City also hired a "Mr. Williams" as custodian for the Library and auditorium, as well as a life guard and manager of the swimming pool. The Federal Works Progress Administration provided the Library with three employees, including a "daily assistant" named Ruby Reece.
In the Library's first month only 747 books were checked out and 107 new patron registered for Library cards. The new Library's collection included only 50 children's picture books. Within five months, the number had increased to 419. The Library's overall collection size increased to nearly 4,000 books in the first year. Ms. Feeback began a summer reading program, called the "Vacation Reading Club." Children who read 12 books received a diploma; children who read 16 books received a diploma with a gold seal.
Ms. Feeback also began the Library's first story hour--held on Saturday mornings--in March 1940. The book read at the Library's first story hour was Walt Disney's "Pinocchio." Sixty-one children were in attendance. As the story hour attendance grew, so did the interest of the parents of the children. Despite the initially slow start, library cards were issued to over 1,000 people and 12,000 books were checked out in the Library's first year. On September 9, 1940, table tennis and other activities were added to the recreation rooms in the Library basement.
The Library construction plan failed to provide funds for books and the Board had to appeal to the City Council every six months or so for additional money. While many local organizations donated books to the new Library, they were not enough to meet the community's need. Mayor Hecker recommended that the Board go to the public for an operating and materials fund. On April 5, 1941 voters approved a library levy of 3½ cents per $100 assessed valuation.
The Library had their books catalogued and processed at a central processing facility called the Library Service Center of Missouri.
In December 1942 the Library and other public buildings were ordered closed at noon on Saturdays to conserve fuel for the war.
Mrs. Feeback resigned in November 1944 and had her first child in December. She relocated with her family to Springfield, Missouri, in 1951.
In 1945, Frances Wuest (1899-1979) became the new librarian. She was born Frances Campbell in Kansas City and graduated from Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, with a degree in English in 1921. She worked for the Kansas City Public Library as branch manager of their Swope Branch between 1921 and 1931.
While employed with the Missouri Library Commission, Mrs. Wuest (then known as Frances Davidson) was responsible for successfully leading the first campaign to establish a tax-supported library in Missouri with the creation of the Platte County Library in 1941. Mrs. Wuest later took a one-year leave of absence from North Kansas City Public Library in January 1947 until October 1948 to establish another tax-supported public library in Texas County, Missouri. While she was on leave, Mrs. Ecru K. Miller was the interim director.
In 1949, the Library increased its hours to 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. By the early 1950's, the North Kansas City Public Library had outgrown it's original building. As early as 1951 the City Council gave the Library permission to use a room in the basement of City Hall. Due to inadequate funding, the Library even discussed charging rental fees for books. In April 1952, voters approved an increase in the library levy to 10 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
In the spring of 1954 the Library was checking out 11,000 books each month and owned 15,000 volumes. Every two weeks classes from the lower elementary schools visited the Library. The Library began a plan to remodel and expand to accommodate the growth in May 1954. The auditorium was converted into an a third reading room which provided shelving space for an additional 8,000 books. The circulation desk was expanded, and new furniture purchased for the Library. The renovations were completed in November 1954 and cost $11,000.
In 1955, the YMCA vacated the Library's basement where they had leased office space since 1946. The Library agreed to allow the Board of Education to occupy the basement until their new office space was complete.
As the Library grew, Mrs. Wuest enlarged the staff. In August 1959, a bookkeeper was hired. In April 1963, the Library hired a second trained librarian, Edna Gatton (1910-1992). She had a Master's degree in Library Science from the Kansas State Teacher's College in Emporia, Kansas, and had been a librarian in Pierce City, Kansas. Frances Wuest had an area enclosed for an office in January 1961.
In the early 1960's, the Library began to utilize some new technology. The Library purchased it's first photocopy machine in August 1961. Gaylord charging machines were leased by the Library for $50 a year beginning in January 1963.
In November 1963, the Library's accounting services were transferred to the City Clerk's Office. Until the mid-1960's North Kansas City Public Library was one of only three libraries in Clay County, along with those in Liberty and Excelsior Springs. During the decade between 1956 and 1965 the North Kansas City Library led the state in per capita circulation every year. Annual circulation peaked in 1964 at nearly 250,000 more than Joplin, Missouri, and almost three times more than St. Joseph, Missouri.
In the 1960's Frances Wuest became active in the improvement and expansion of library services in Clay, Jackson, and Platte counties. In the spring of 1965, she served on an advisory committee to study library service in the Kansas City metropolitan area. In September 1965, she met with other Clay County library directors in Liberty to discuss the possibility of either joining the Jackson County Library or establishing an independent county library.
Frances Wuest accepted a position as Coordinator of Clay and Platte Counties with the Mid-Continent Public Library in 1966. Her new position paid $10,000 a year and was responsible for establishing new branch libraries in Platte and Clay counties. She retired in 1973 after fifty years as a librarian. In her twenty years at the North Kansas City Public Library, the collection had grown from 4,000 to 45,000 volumes. Prior to her resignation, Mrs. Wuest established a sick and vacation leave policy for the Library staff. With Frances Wuest's recommendation, Assistant Librarian Edna Gatton was promoted to Library Director.
In 1966 the Mid-Continent Public Library opened new Clay County branches in Antioch Shopping Center and on North Oak Trafficway in Gladstone under the direction of Frances Wuest. The new libraries caused a two-thirds drop in North Kansas City Public Library circulation. Many part-time employees at the library left for jobs with Mid-Continent.
Mrs. Gatton expanded the Library's hours in October 1966 in response to Mid-Continent's longer hours. The North Kansas City Public Library remained open until 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, instead of 1:00 p.m.
North Kansas City Councilman Ernest Mosby suggested reducing the Library's tax levy due to decreased circulation. The Library responded with an expansion of services. In January 1967 the Library purchased a record player and began adding records to its collection. In the summer, a film projector was purchased; the Library joined the Missouri Film Cooperative and began receiving films in July 1967. They showed fifty to ninety films a month. A shut-in service was started providing books to homebound residents. Later in the year, the Library purchased three compact cassette tape players, along with Berlitz language tapes, and a Library art collection was purchased for check out. In March 1968, the City Council decided not to push for a decrease in the Library levy.
The Jackson County Public Library, under the direction of James Leathers, had merged with the Platte County Public Library and libraries in Clay County to form the Mid-Continent Public Library. Mid-Continent also provided services to Cass County Public Library. A proposed merger of the Mid-Continent Public Library with the North Kansas City Public Library was placed on the ballot in a June 1971 special election in North Kansas City. Former North Kansas City Public Library Director Frances Wuest personally collected the required signatures.
During Mrs. Gatton's tenure, the Library Board voted to join the Missouri Local Government Employees Retirement System (LAGERS) (in 1969) and provide Library employees with Blue Cross & Blue Shield hospitalization insurance.
In May 1971 Edna Gatton retired from her post the month prior to the June special election. Jacquelyn Rush Hershewe, who had been the Library's Assistant Director since the previous September, was promoted to Director.
The Library Board, City Council, and Chamber of Commerce all strongly opposed the merger. The North Kansas City Dispatch ran many local editorials against the merger. The measure would have doubled the City's library levy. The existing Library's land and building also would have reverted back to the North Kansas City Development Company. North Kansas City attempted to block the election in court and City Council members lobbied door-to-door against the measure. Supporters of the merger campaigned very little and the proposal was soundly defeated 949 to 22.
When hired as director in 1971, Jacquelyn Hershewe expressed an interest in increasing the number of children visiting the Library. Since the opening of Mid-Continent Public Library's branches in 1966 the North Kansas City Public Library's Summer Reading Program attendance had steadily decreased each year. Throughout Hershewe's tenure, the Library displayed elaborate decorations for Summer Reading Programs and other events in an effort to draw area children.
The 1971-1972 budget included funds for an expanded business reference collection. Popular titles published by Standard & Poor, Moody's, and Dunn & Bradstreet were purchased for the Library.
Jacquelyn Hershewe also continued the Library's involvement in regional library organizations. She donated the Library's weeded books to area hospitals, prisons, and schools. In 1977, she received an award in recognition of the donations. The Library also sponsored a float in the 1976 Clay County Bicentennial Parade held in North Kansas City during Mrs. Hershewe's tenure.
The Library's first interlibrary loan system was established through the Northwest Library Network in 1977. The system consisted of a telephone loop with Park College, William Jewell College, Mid-Continent Public Library, Central Missouri State University, and other area libraries.
In 1977, the Library hired an architectural firm and underwent extensive remodeling which culminated in an open house in July of that year.
The Library began purchasing 8mm and Super 8mm films in the early and mid-1970's, and in 1978 purchased a video-cassette player for programs. They also continued to receive 16mm films through the Missouri Film Cooperative.
In August 1978, the Board approved the Library's first written personnel policy. They also approved Censorship Guidelines, which amounted to the Library's first collection development plan.
In October 1978, Mrs. Hershewe announced her resignation. She remained in her position until the end of the year and assisted the Library Board in screening candidates for a new director.
Walter J. Hartmetz, of Harrisonville, was named the new Library Director effective January 1, 1979. He had previously been the Cass County Public Library Director.
In 1979, the Library's former director Frances Wuest passed away. Her brother and nephew donated money to create the Frances Campbell Wuest Memorial Library Scholarship Fund. A Board was established consisting of members of the Library Board to administer the fund and scholarship.
In 1979 the City conducted a study of the swimming pool after concern about the condition of the facility. The Swimming Pool Committee determined that the facility would require $80,000 in repairs. The City considered closing the pool. The Library expressed an interest in expansion should the pool area become available.
The Library joined the Kansas City Metropolitan Library & Information Network (KCMLIN) in 1979. The following year KCMLIN paid for the equipment and installed the Library's first teleprinter for interlibrary loan.
In 1980, the Library purchased a microfiche reader and 1600 microfiche. It was also awarded a state grant for the purchase of a microfilm reader.
The State of Missouri phased out the Library Services Center for centralized processing and cataloging in 1980. It was replaced by the Southwest Missouri Cooperative in Bolivar, but the organization dissolved after a year. In 1981 the North Kansas City Public Library began processing its own books and using Springfield-Green County Public Library cataloging cards. In September 1982 the Library purchased an Apple II microcomputer for staff use.
A recession in the early 1980's resulted in a 50% reduction in state aid. The cutbacks resulted in financial problems for the Library. In November 1982 the Library Board decided to put a levy increase on the April 1983 ballot. North Kansas City residents approved the levy increase from 10 cents to 20 cents. The City loaned the Library $50,000 the following year as a stopgap measure until the new tax funds could be collected.
The Library Board discussed the possibility of purchasing video cassettes in June 1983. In July 1983, the Library began leasing books from McNaughton. Leasing books were a popular way for public libraries to temporarily provide patrons with bestselling titles.
The Library Director was advised by the Board to explore the possible purchase of a library automation system for circulation.
In 1985 Mayor Clark Ferguson requested that all City departments and the Library be placed under the supervision of the City administrator. The Library Board rejected the proposal.
The North Kansas City Public Library signed a reciprocal borrowing agreement with the Kansas City Public Library which went into effect May 1, 1986.
The City provided the Library with $75,000 to make the Library building handicap accessible, which included the construction of a wheelchair ramp. The improvements were completed during the 1985-1986 fiscal year.
The same year, the Library levy was rolled-back from 20 cents to 13 cents per $100 assessed valuation due to reassessment and the loss of the Merchants and Manufacturers tax.
The Library also purchased a 25-inch television and VCR for public use in 1986. With the purchase, the Library began adding videotapes to its collection. The collection began with 30 videotapes. Patrons could also request videotapes, which the Library was able to borrow through the Missouri Film Cooperative. Around the same time, the Library also purchased a microfilm reader-printer.
In the mid-1980's the Library Building, which belonged to the City, was in need of extensive repairs. The Library was also in need of additional storage space. There were extensive discussions about the issue with the City, and the Library considered the possibility of buying a nearby church for additional storage space.
Much-needed renovations were made to the building's exterior, including new gutters, for which the City reimbursed the Library. Inside the building, downstairs basement storage space in the pool area was renovated and converted into office space.
In 1987, the Library increased fines from 2 cents to 5 cents per day, per item. All the other metropolitan area libraries were already charging 5 or 10 cents per day.
The Library Director created a Five-Year Strategic Plan in 1987. The plan included the purchase of a library automation system for circulation, an electric typewriter for staff use, a personal computer, and to seek a 5 cent levy increase in the April 1989 election.
The Library also began a public awareness campaign. Two hundred informational brochures promoting the Library's shut-in service and large print books were sent out in January 1987. In May 1987 the Library mailed a survey to all North Kansas City residents. In the summer, a promotional brochure was distributed to local businesses.
In 1988 the Library received a free personal computer (PC) from the State. The Library also purchased two personal computers (PCs) and acquired Microsoft Works software free from the State.
By the late 1980's the Library had developed an extensive print business reference collection which was used by local business people.
The Library purchased several hundred dollars of advertising in several local newspapers to publicize National Library Week. It also began giving "goodie" bags to new patrons in June 1988. They contained a Library magnet, two emory boards, bookmarks, two pencils, and information about the Library.
A popular tradition every year was the Library's fire safety program for children, which featured "Smokey the Bear" and the North Kansas City Fire Department. Children's Librarian Marie Jackson orchestrated the program for over two decades.
The Library's fiftieth anniversary arrived in January 1989. The Library Board and Director agreed to delay an official celebration until the spring.