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First free public S.L. library had 10,000 books

For those who love books and other library materials, the Salt Lake City Library centennial couldn't come at a more appropriate time.

It was on Valentine's Day 1898 that the library first opened its doors to the public. And that same day this year has been set aside for Salt Lakers to celebrate a century of library service to the city.The first free public library was located in what appears to be dingy and rather cramped quarters on the top floor of the Salt Lake City-County Building. The library collection consisted of approximately 10,000 volumes donated to the city by the Pioneer Library Association.

While the public library was established shortly before the turn of the century, the first library books arrived 47 years earlier when the LDS Church acquired the first volumes of books for the Utah Territorial Library. The materials were later divided between the Utah State Supreme Court Law Library and the University of Utah Library, said Colleen McLaughlin, community relations librarian for the Salt Lake City Library.

A number of other organizations established libraries or reading rooms in succeeding years. They included the Ladies Library Association, which had a public reading room with 400 books in the First National Bank Building. But the library lasted only four years. In 1877 the Masonic Order founded the Masonic Public Library, whose collection expanded to 10,000 volumes within 14 years. But the lack of financial and public support forced closure of the program, and the books were given to the newly established Pioneer Library Asso-ci-a-tion.

The association's collection became the nucleus of the Free Public Library of Salt Lake City, which opened in the City-County Building. Annie E. Chapman, the association's librarian, was appointed the first city library director.

The Chapman Branch Library was named after her. Joanna Sprague, after whom Sprague Branch Library was named, was director of the Main Library from 1903 to 1940.

A building site was donated to the library at 15 S. State, where a $100,000 building was constructed and where library services were offered beginning in late October 1905. The building, now the Hansen Planetarium, served as the city's Main Library until the present library was erected in 1964 at 209 E. 500 South.

In addition to the present five-story Main Library, the city has five branch libraries, with two of them, Chapman and Sprague, opening in 1918 and 1928, respectively.

Anderson-Foothill Branch Library was built and opened in 1985; an expansion of facilities took place in 1992. The Avenues Branch (the name was later changed to Corinne & Jack Sweet Branch) was also opened in 1985. Day-Riverside, the city's newest branch library located at 1575 W. 1000 North, was opened in 1996.

Officials at the library system, which owns more than 500,000 items and checks out more than 2 million items each year, are now planning for another new Main Library. The library board and its staff plan to ask voters to approve a bond issue of $40 million to $50 million this fall to finance the construction.

I. Kenneth Luker Jr., library board president who grew up in northwest Salt Lake City, says everyone has their own first impressions of a library.

"My impression is of pushing open the big heavy leather-covered door at the John D. Spencer Library at 800 West and 100 North (on the grounds of what is now Jackson Elementary School) and having that first whiff of the aroma of books and dust," Luker said.

He said he also remembers going as an elementary school student for his first visit to the "big" main library, which was located for many years in what is now Hansen Planetarium.

"Everyone has their own personal feelings about a library . . . We come to know our library very well, and it becomes almost a personal possession. I believe that explains why a librarian and the library board really have an obligation to preserve the library as a place that can meet the almost innately personal needs of the people who use it," Luker said.