FORT WAYNE, Indiana-Most days you’ll find reference librarian Dawne Slater-Putt at her desk in the Genealogy Collection at the Allen County Public Library. But Slater-Putt’s not just a lover of books; she’s a book writer who penned a history of the library to mark its centennial in 1995. And it’s a story of dedicated people determined to create something important for future generations.
Allen County’s library was born in 1895 as the Fort Wayne City Library, 3000 books in a small room at then Fort Wayne City Hall. But in 1904 the majestic Carnegie library opened its doors, a gorgeous Bedford limestone building with innovations like a special children’s section, a business and technology department and, eventually, a record room stocked with 78 rpm records. Employees were always finding creative ways to improve things. During the Great Depression head librarians Rex Potterf and Fred Reynolds scoured used bookstores around the state, buying up volumes to add to the collection.
“Because people were coming in to the library during The Depression and using the books and they were becoming more worn out,” says Slater-Putt, “so to replenish the shelves they went out and looked for used books.”
In the 1920’s the branch library system was created with small collections stashed at stores and gas stations around the county. The Aboite collection was housed in Wilders eneral store..the Arcola collection in a local hardware. The outreach continued with the addition of bookmobiles, trucks fitted with shelves built by library staff, delivering books to the most remote corners of the county.
“That’s what’s unique about this library,” says Slater-Putt, “that we’ve done what we needed to do depending on what the time was.”
And the innovation continued, a new library built in 1967 and expanded in 2007. But this is a story of men and women in love with learning, who dedicate their professional lives to widening the horizons of their neighbors...something that has not changed in the now 118 year history of our community’s most valuable asset. This is Eric Olson reporting.
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