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Instant Libraries

During the last quarter of the 20th century, the West Virginia countryside was dotted with small public libraries of an unusual, playful shape. The building program began in 1973, when the West Virginia Library Commission expanded its ambitious library construction project, which was launched in 1965, by adding the ‘‘instant’’ library program. The program placed small library buildings in communities that had never had library service and in communities that received mobile library services only once every three or four weeks. Some city libraries used the instant libraries as a dynamic and inexpensive method of expanding branch services.

Under the guidance of Frederic J. Glazer, secretary of the West Virginia Library Commission from 1972 to 1996, an eight-sided building was designed. The distinctive shape gave instant identification to the library, provided 1,200 square feet of usable space, and suggested the fun of a carousel.

Supported with state and federal construction funds, the Library Commission encouraged communities to organize library boards, obtain site approval, and agree to provide annual funding for library operations. The Library Commission matched local initiatives by providing the building, furnishings, library materials, professional assistance, and state funds to help support operations.

In 1973, the Buffalo Creek Memorial Library in Logan County received the first instant library and, thanks to the donation of a second unit by the AFL-CIO, demonstrated how two modular units could be linked. By 1976, 26 instant libraries were serving the residents of West Virginia, not including the demonstration model that was installed in the Culture Center at the Library Commission offices. A survey conducted in 1996 listed 39 instant libraries in West Virginia. There were also 34 ‘‘outpost’’ libraries, smaller and less architecturally exciting modular facilities.

Written by Karen Goff


  1. "Public Library Construction." Charleston West Virginia Library Commission, 1976.