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Union County Public Libraries share history of branches

by Michael Shine | March 17, 2019 at 5:00 a.m.

Michael O’Connell, executive director of the Union County Public Library System, started doing research into the history of libraries in Union County shortly after he got the job last fall.

Since then, he’s been going to events and civic clubs to share what he's learned.

The Union County Public Library System has six locations around the county and is set up so that a card will work at any location. People are also able to request a book from one location and pick it up at another. The system has over 25,000 items available, which O’Connell said he’s working on growing.

While some of the history is relatively easy to find and track, other aspects of it are more challenging, O’Connell said.

One such piece of history is when the Huttig Library first opened its doors. O’Connell said he’s found a picture of the reading room in the Huttig Library dated 1904, but couldn’t find anything in the Huttig News newspaper about the library until 1907. He said going through the minutes of the UCPLS board, there’s no mention of the location until the mid-1950s when they acted like it had always been there.

His research looked at the county system as a whole as well as the individual branches. O’Connell said he’s still doing more research into the topic.

1915: The El Dorado Library was first started by the Women’s Self Culture Club. The founding 18 women each donated $25, which would be about $625 today when accounting for inflation, and a library card cost $1 a year. It started with 600 books, mostly donated. It was originally held on the Episcopal Church grounds.

1923: The El Dorado Library moved from the Episcopal Church grounds to its location on the corner of East Elm Street and North Jefferson Avenue.

1924: The El Dorado Library hired its first librarian at a salary of $125, which would be about $1,800 today when accounting for inflation. Her contract was for 12 months and she received four weeks of vacation.

1936: The Smackover Library was started on the grounds of the school. It started with 175 books and was started as a public works administration project, which meant it got federal money to pay for the entire project.

1940: Judge George Tatum made the Union County Public Library System, which was on the first floor of the Union County Courthouse. At the time, all Union County residents could use that library, but only El Dorado residents could use the El Dorado Library.

1940: The Junction City Library petitioned to join the UCPLS. O’Connell said the Junction City Library probably existed much earlier, but he hasn’t found anything to say when it was started.

1940: The Strong Library petitioned to join the UCPLS, but O’Connell said it probably predates that. It was housed in the High School for a while, but has also spent time in various storefronts in town. It is the third largest collection in the county system.

1954: The Union County Public Library System was moved to the fourth floor of the Courthouse.

1956: The Norphlet Library had existed for 15 years out of people’s homes at this point, but this is when it was able to move into the municipal building where it currently is, along with offices of City Hall. The library takes up half the building and was started with 800 items.

1958: Col. Thomas Barton donated to the El Dorado Library to build the building the branch is currently in, which was based on Barton’s house. He spent $300,000 on the land and building, which would be about $2.6 million in today’s terms. The branch is now named after him.

1959: The Junction City Library officially became a branch of UCPLS.

1969: The Smackover Library was moved to the former Methodist Church on South Broadway Street, where it is still located and is the second largest collection in the system.

1975: The family of a Dr. Harper donated the funds to build the Junction City Library, which is where the branch is currently located. O’Connell did not have Harper’s first name, but noted Harper was a doctor who lived between Junction City and El Dorado with a practice in El Dorado. He also donated all of his books to the library and the branch is named after him.

O’Connell said he’s working on building all of the branches by increasing their collections and programming. He said there’s currently children's programs at all branches but he wants to expand story time. All of the branches will also have a summer reading program over the summer, which is focused on space this year.

Additionally, O’Connell said the genealogy society is working on reorganizing the genealogy section at Barton Library. There’s currently a project going on statewide to digitize local history through scanning yearbooks and historical papers, which the UCPLS is participating in.

“We want to get people in all of our branches,” O’Connell said.

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.


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