Clarissa Young, daughter of Brigham Young, noted in her journal of 1850 that there was a "library in every wagon" as the Utah pioneers crossed the plains. President Young's concern that every child would learn to love to read was basic to the educational systems that was planned for the state of Deseret.
The oldest library was a continuation of the LDS Church History Library, which had been a part of the Nauvoo settlement. Because this was organized by the Seventies of the church who were also in charge of international missionary work, the collection included books from all over the world.When Congress under President Fillmore created the Territory of Utah in 1850, it made an appropriation of $5,000 for the purchase of reading materials to be placed in a library for all citizens. Dr. John Bernhisel, territorial representative, made the selection, which was largely modern and ancient classics. The books and two large world globes were sent by emigrant wagons across the plains. This first collection of books was housed in the Council House, the southwest corner of South Temple and Main.
By 1860, 12 libraries with 5,476 titles were listed in Utah, as well as other facilities that resembled the lending libraries established in the East that required a fee.
While the private collections of many church groups were still important in educating people, school libraries were being developed. One such was by John R. Park, whose rural school in Draper was reported to have a "library of splendid books." When Park was named president of the University of Deseret in 1869, a Deseret News article said:
"Most of the books are already numbered and on the shelves. It will comprise something over 2,100 volumes - 1,600 of which are the personal property of Dr. Park, under whose immediate direction and at whose suggestion the library is being got up."
Other educational institutions that established early libraries during the 1870s were the Methodist Seminary, St. Mark's and the Congregationalist Academy.
"The first attempt to implant the idea and set up a truly public library in Utah was made by the Ladies Library Association in Salt Lake City in 1872 when a reading room was opened in the First National Bank Building." The carpeted room and fine decor were meant to be inviting and open to everyone, although a small box did exist for "slipping in of any loose change" to defray costs. The support for the Ladies Library Association was largely drawn from the Masonic Fraternity. Later the library changed its name to the Pioneer Library and held a collection of all books written about Utah. In 1894 the Pioneer Library - now with 10,000 volumes - was transferred to a large room in the newly erected Salt Lake City-County Building.
The influence of Andrew Carnegie was felt in Utah, where he contributed $225,470 to build 23 libraries in many counties - including the Chapman Branch in Salt Lake City. While this philanthropy was welcome, there was criticism of Carnegie for only providing buildings and not providing books. A Mr. Dooley wrote: "A Carneygie libry is archytechoor, not lithrachoor."
During the 1920s and '30s, Utah reeled under the stock market crash and the Depression, and the effects were felt in the drastic measures taken by the libraries, such as fewer acquisitions or even no books purchased for the year. Wages were often limited to $15 dollars a month and some were not paid at all. Tax dollars could not cover the needs of building maintenance and the upkeep on the grounds. Some libraries closed during this era.
Even though this was a difficult time for Utah libraries, many exceeded some of the American Library Association standards such as circulation, which was four and one-half volumes per capita compared to the national average of two.
The United States was in financial difficulty when the New Deal came into effect to bolster the economy. The unemployed were often put to work in Public Works Administration services. One such effort was the PWA grant of $500,000 for the Thomas Library at the University of Utah. It was because of this effort that the University of Utah moved from an undergraduate to a graduate focus with a research-oriented facility. One example is the College of Medicine, which shifted to a four-year program. While this was a major transformation for the university, it also made significant demands on a new library. Almost from its founding, the university library had "overgrown its capacity." In later years, the medical and law libraries were established as separate entities, but even then the demand for a larger structure and better trained professionals was inevitable.
During the 1950s, surveys recorded the lack of library facilities for patrons in Utah's rural areas. The Utah Library Association is credited with aggressively seeking funds and grants. Federal aid in the form of the Library Services Act supplemented their efforts, and $500,000 was appropriated by the state.
Special services noted during this time were bookmobiles in outlying counties, services for the blind and physically handicapped and the creation of free audio-visual departments.
Major developments during the 1960s to the 1980s were the Salt Lake City Public Library, (east of the City and County Building), which was completed in 1964, and the addition and renovation of many city and rural buildings.
Through the philanthropy of J. Willard Marriott, the University of Utah built a new facility that was the "largest academic building constructed in the United States during 1967" and qualified it as the only Utah library eligible for membership in the American Research Libraries Association. Unfortunately, it, too was "bursting at the seams" before many years. Today, the Marriott Library is undergoing major additions to meet university standards.
University libraries also were erected on other sites during this important era, such as the Lee Library at Brigham Young University; Merrill Library at Utah State University and those at Dixie College, South Utah State College, Weber State College, Snow College and Westminster College.
The LDS Genealogical Society Library is the largest of its specialty in the world and has developed a network of branch libraries in internationally.
In recent years the libraries and staffs in Utah have tried to keep pace with the world in various ways. They have become leaders in meeting the needs and problems of a burgeoning population. While funding problems continue to exist, grants, training and bonding have developed with vigor, beginning with the Governor's Conference in 1979, where leaders met to face the library "state of affairs" head-on. What resulted were upgrades in standards, ongoing evaluations and particularly the Library Network Initiative, which has established a statewide area network as a telecommunications "backbone." According to Chip Ward, development services manager at the State Library Commission, "This initiative's goal is to link Utah's public libraries to the Internet and to state and national information highways through Utah's state government-wide area network and the Utah Education Network. This connectivity will transform each community's library into a gateway to the world. The initiative complements technology planning for library connectivity within public and higher education."
Such progression could hardly have been dreamed of by those first settlers of Utah who brought the first few volumes to the Territory.
In 1901, at Theodore Roosevelt's first Annual Message he read: "Perhaps the most characteristic educational movement of the past 50 years is that which has created the modern public library and developed it into broad and active service . . . "
Now, 94 years alter, we all can applaud this statement and endorse its truth.