For years the idea of a public library had been entertained by D. Darwin Hughes, known as the “Father of the Marshall Public Library.” Although he met with much discouragement, he never abandoned the idea. He decided to lay the matter before the women of Marshall, hoping to win their support. The ladies’ Library Association was organized January 18, 1869 and was instrumental in founding the community’s first lending library. By March 20, 1869, actual library service had begun, every Saturday afternoon, with 207 books on the shelves of the Common Council rooms located at 141 West Michigan Avenue. A two-day festival in the Eagle Hall just before Christmas raised $300 to provide and suitably furnished a more permanent home for a library and reading room.
Efforts of Elizabeth Kerr Hughes
Marshall’s volunteer library association grew slowly over the next forty years until the year 1910, when Miss Elizabeth Kerr Hughes became its president. Largely because of Miss Hughes’ single-minded determination, the Marshall Common Council acted to form a city public library. Its Board was to be appointed by the mayor and its tax millage was set at 1 mil, the highest amount permitted by State law at that time for a public library. During the following year about $13,000 was raised, mostly by public subscription. In 1913 the long hoped for public library designed by renowned architect Frederick Spier was built at 111 East Mansion Street. Miss Hughes, whose death occurred in 1921, generously left the library a legacy of $5,700, which has now grown to more than $40,000 with the addition of other private donations, and of which the interest remains available to this day for supplemental support of library service.
Leadership through the Years
Since the Library’s reorganization as tax-supported service, there have been eleven library directors: Victoria Monk who served from 1913 to 1924, Margurite Geer 1924 to 1955, Betty Reyer 1955 to 1959, Helen Powers 1959 to 1963, Mae L. Stewart 1964 to 1966, Barbara Hulyk 1966 to 1968, Marian Bennett 1969 to 1988, David Tacia 1989 to 1990, Renwick Garypie 1990 to 2005, Laurie St. Laurent 2005 to 2010, and Angela Semifero 2010 to present.
In the mid 1990s the Library Board faced two challenges. The library building erected in 1913 was increasingly inadequate; and the use of the library by persons residing outside the City of Marshall had grown to 50 percent. While the townships did pay approximately .3 mil into the library’s budget, that did not entirely cover the cost of the service provided.
A planning committee was formed in 1993, including representatives from the city and six surrounding townships. After more than a year of monthly meetings, they offered a plan to reorganize and expand the library’s tax-base to include the City of Marshall, Eckford, Fredonia, Marengo, and Marshall Townships except for those residing in Harper Creek School district. A new library board representative of the entire new Library District was created with an operating millage to be spread evenly across the District. The amount of the new millage was kept at the same rate as the tax that had existed since 1911, namely 1 mil. Residents of areas farther away from the library in Convis, Lee, Clarence, and Newton Townships would continue to pay library support at lower amounts proportionate to their use of the library. This plan was submitted to the library Board, the Marshall City Council, the four township Boards, and the State Librarian; it was approved by all. The new Marshall District Library came into existence on April 1, 1995, replacing the former Marshall Public Library, and the voters approved the operating levy the following July.
In 2006, The Marshall District Library Board of Trustees decided to discontinue providing library services by contractual arrangement to Clarence, Convis, Lee, and Newton Townships. The Board Treasurer, trustees, library director, and legal counsel spent several months attempting to develop a revised contract that would protect the interests of taxpayers residing within the library district while offering contracting townships the opportunity to share in library services. No satisfactory agreement was realized and at a special meeting on October 12, 2006, the Library Board voted to discontinue contractual services.
Building Inadequacy Issue Addressed
Eighty-five years of growth and change had transformed the library’s once lavish facilities into a congested maze of books, magazines, books-on-tape, compact discs, videos, and computers (not to mention their tangled cables!). It was very difficult for two people to occupy the same aisle in the bookshelves. The addition of new books required the removal of others, whether they were outdated or not. After giving the matter much consideration during the tenancy of several Library Boards, the decision was finally made in February 1996 to place before the voters a Bond Issue for $2.535 million for the purpose of building a new facility. It passed by a large majority. The bonds were sold in May of that year and the Library Board purchased the former Myers Supermarket at 124 West Green Street to be remodeled into a library. Koster & Associates of Cleveland, Ohio was chosen as the architect.
The Marshall District Library opened its doors to the public in its new building on April 6, 1998. The new facility provides 18,000 square feet of space in comparison to 7,120 in the old building. It will be able to house 80,000 items as opposed to 40,000.