Early libraries in Western Virginia were subscription libraries supported by their members. Among the first subscription libraries was the Buffalo Creek Farmer’s Library of Monongalia County (1813), with others established at about the same time in Wheeling and Morgantown. Romney, Harpers Ferry, Lewisburg, and Martinsburg had libraries by 1826, with others established in Pendleton and Jefferson counties in the 1850s. In 1859, a library company in Wheeling was chartered by the state of Virginia. This became the Wheeling Public Library in 1883, under the control of the Board of Education. It was the only real public library in the state before 1900.
Early in the 20th century, libraries were built in West Virginia with funds provided by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who built libraries nationwide. The Carnegie libraries were at Huntington (1903), Parkersburg (1905), and Hinton (1924). In 1915, the legislature passed a bill ‘‘to empower cities and towns to levy taxes for the purpose of establishing and maintaining public libraries and reading rooms.’’ The West Virginia Library Association, organized in 1914, campaigned for this legislation. Fourteen public libraries were established between 1917 and 1930. In 1929, the legislature created the West Virginia Library Commission, but did not provide funding. In 1935, Governor Kump, in a message to the state legislature, said ‘‘I should like to see a beginning made in the direction of placing library service within easy reach of every citizen.’’
Conditions improved very little until the State Federation of Women’s Clubs hired consultants Paul A. T. Noon and Mildred W. Sandoe to study the situation. Their report, completed in 1938, showed that 88 percent of West Virginians were without library services and recommended substantial funding by the state legislature; in 1941 the first funds were allocated. The Library Commission was then located in Morgantown on the campus of West Virginia University. The first executive secretary, Gordon L. Bennett, served in 1942; Clara Johnson in 1943–44; and Dora Ruth Parks from 1945 to 1971. Library service was improved in 1952 with the creation of regional library systems, enabling a small professional staff to serve a large population. In 1953, the Library Commission moved to Charleston.
The passage of the Library Services Act by Congress in 1956 enabled the Library Commission to acquire federal funding for public libraries in West Virginia. The commission hired consultant Ralph Blasin game to make recommendations for improving library service. This report was completed in 1965. By the autumn of 1966, the commission adopted a plan for implementing the Blasin game proposals. These included development of service center libraries and a system of direct service via bookmobiles. The bookmobiles, named Read-O-Rama and the Flying Book Express, provided service in rural counties primarily in southern West Virginia.
In 1964 and 1965, the federal Library Services Act was amended to provide funds for library education and library construction. Between 1965 and 1976, 53 public libraries were constructed with federal, state, and local funds exceeding $17 million. In 1969, state legislation was passed to allow the Library Commission to make direct grants for operating expenses to libraries complying with its administrative rules. When Dora Ruth Parks retired in 1971, great improvements had been made. By 1972, 80 percent of the state’s population had some sort of library service, and 92 public libraries owned a total of 1,644,419 books.
With increased state support and the advent of federal aid, the Library Commission was ready for the new executive secretary hired in 1972, Frederic J. Glazer. Coming from a background of both public relations and public library administration, Glazer set out on a whirlwind of promotional programs for public libraries in West Virginia. State per capita funding had stood at less then ten cents, and Glazer succeeded in increasing it to almost four dollars by 1996.
With the organization of legislative appreciation dinners sponsored by the State Library Association and the selling of everything from candy jars to neckties, public libraries impressed the state legislature with the job they were doing. Most persuasive was the increased use of public libraries. According to the West Virginia Library Commission Statistical Reports, circulation per capita increased from 3.39 in 1979 to 8.15 in 1990 to 9.42 in 1996. Building programs, including small instant and ‘‘outpost’’ libraries, brought the number of public libraries to 178 by 1996.
In 1973, a program was established between the Library Commission and Marshall University to train library personnel in small and remote libraries. This program provided basic training for clerical and support staff and has continued to the present. Other training in library skills was presented by the Library Development section of the Library Commission. Another ambitious program was developed with the University of South Carolina, for granting a master’s degree in library science through distance learning.
In the 1980s the Library Commission contracted with Virginia Polytechnic Institute to provide a statewide automation network. The ‘‘VTLS’’ system gradually replaced card catalogs and allowed users to check online for books in the collection of all participating libraries. It has grown and developed and is still in use in most public libraries in the state.
Controversy followed the Library Commission’s decision in 1996 to remove Glazer as executive secretary. Dave Childers of the commission staff became acting secretary. In 1997, David Price was hired as the fifth executive secretary for the Library Commission. Price resigned in 2001, and J. D. Waggoner was hired from within the agency to fill the top job in 2002. The executive secretary answers to the Library Commission, whose nine members are appointed to staggered four-year terms by the governor.
In 2009, the public library system in West Virginia consisted of 97 library systems serving citizens from 175 facilities and seven bookmobiles. There is at least one public library in each of the 55 counties. Every public library has access to the Internet. In 2009, public libraries in West Virginia owned 5,212,807 items in print, 216,782 audios, 252,890 videos, and maintained 1,613 electronic databases. A total of 1,280 computer terminals were used 1,620,140 times by patrons, while 7,731,735 materials were circulated. There were 6,081,791 library visits.
This Article was written by Merle Moore
Last Revised on October 07, 2010
Blasingame, Ralph. Library Services in West Virginia. Charleston: West Virginia Library Commission, 1960.
Noon, Paul A. T. & Mildred W. Sandoe. West Virginia Library Survey. Charleston: West Virginia Library Commission, 1960.
Julian, Charles Anthony. "An Analysis of the Historical Growth and Development of the Library Association." Ph.D. diss., West Virginia University, 1991.