As you walk into the library, you might notice a new display case next to the Bill Wallace display. The new case, still in progress, contains items and documents relating to the people and events during the early years of this library. Founded in 1905 as a Carnegie Library (the current building was constructed on the same site in 1964), the Chickasha Public Library was the first free public library in what was then Indian Territory, and it has been operating continuously for 116 years.
On the top shelf is a copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which was one of the first books added to the library’s collection in 1905. There is also a photograph of Sallie Thompson (1870-1936), who served as the first, fourth, and eighth librarian of the Carnegie Library between 1905 and 1929. At times she was the only staff member; she also occasionally worked without pay in order to keep the library open. A small square photo next to Sallie Thompson depicts school children arriving with donated books for the opening of the Carnegie Library on March 23, 1905. This photo was taken from the second floor of the library building.
The next shelf contains a handwritten librarian’s report from 1907, a postcard showing the Carnegie Library, a photograph of library board president Stella Brown (1861-1911), as well as Stella Brown’s 1906 resignation letter, in which she called the library “a great success.”
The photograph on the third shelf is Frances Manby Hamilton (1860-1919), a prominent library supporter who greeted people as they entered the Carnegie Library for the first time on March 23, 1905. Frances Hamilton is looking in the direction of the front door so that her photograph can continue to greet people as they enter the library. A small paper brochure from 1962 proclaims “A New Library for Chickasha” and gave information to the public about the need for a new building because the Carnegie building had fallen into disrepair and was unsafe. Next to the brochure is an invitation to the opening of the new Chickasha Public Library when the building was completed in 1964. There are also a few newspaper clippings about the library’s beginnings.
The very bottom shelf contains the first accession book where Sallie Thompson recorded the donated books that made up the entire initial collection, as well as handwritten record books containing receipts, notes, expenses, and other daily tasks, from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Finally, there is a framed document on the wall between the display cases. This was from the very first meeting of the Carnegie Library Committee in April 1904, where the women’s club members who had applied for and received a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie began planning and organizing their fundraising and public awareness campaigns. The process of maintaining, adapting, and growing the library with new information, formats, books, technology, and resources is an ongoing process that continues to this day.
The documents and photos currently on display are just a small part of the treasures that have been found in dusty boxes and drawers. Everything from letters, library board meeting minutes, notes scrawled on the back of envelopes, financial records, newspaper clippings, receipts, and book acquisitions can give clues that illuminate the daily life of the library as experienced by its staff, as well as the public. Many of these documents were used as primary sources for research while writing the history of this library (available to check out or to purchase for #10) and are tangible representations of the past and the historical context in which the library existed.
The purpose of the history display is to make these photos and documents available to everyone so that anyone who visits the Chickasha Public Library can learn about and appreciate its role in the intellectual and cultural life of this community during the past 116 years. This library continues to build on that historical foundation while also continuing to evolve to meet the informational and recreational needs of the community.